'We're all on go!' Schools open Wednesday

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

Contractors are laboring in record heat to finish new school facilities before the first day of classes on Wednesday, but all the normal back-to-school preparations are nearly complete, Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. said Monday.

“We're sending out people to make sure the air conditioners are working. Transportation seems to be in good shape as far as start times. The budget looks good,” Dr. Cancienne said. “We're all on go.”

Cancienne and company have spent much of the summer organizing for the new school year.

Teachers spent part of their July “vacation time” orientation classes on how to make the most of the new laptop computers and iPods they will begin using this year in the first phase of the “Apple Initiative.” They are learning to use the tools in classroom instruction and also in preparation for helping students, who will get their own laptops in the fall of 2012.

The Iberville Parish School Board adopted the Apple Initiative earlier this year after a number of officials visited the Mooresville, North Carolina, Graded School District for a first-hand look at how it works.

Last week, a group of 33 local school administrators and teachers returned to Mooresville for a three-day math conference.

The week before, Cancienne and Elvis J. Cavalier, newly appointed as the school system's first chief academic officer, met with officials from the Baton Rouge Community College to arrange for more dual enrollment opportunities for high school juniors and seniors parishwide.

Under the agreement that is being finalized for presentation to the School Board in September, the students would be able to earn up to 15 hours of community college credit, giving them up to a year's head start toward an associate degree, Cavalier said.

The Math, Science and Arts Academy-West will be the hub for the program, since teachers with masters degrees are available to serve as adjunct professors, the CAO said. Students at other schools will get their instruction by video, with the assistance of paraprofessionals or teachers at their schools.

MSA-West will offer the parish's first-ever Mandarin Chinese instruction with on-line tutoring through the website to a group of up to 15 seventh and eighth graders, Cavalier said. He said the cost of $600 per child is being paid with the school system's state tobacco tax funds. If financing can be found, the students will have an opportunity to visit China.

MSA-West, established two years ago at E. J. Gay School, will be expanded from grades 6-10 to K-11 this fall. Its student body of 1,000 will make it the parish's largest school.

“This year will compare to year one,” said MSA-West Assistant Director Alicia Franklin. “We're just getting started.”

The magnet program attracted some 300 students back into the public school system or into the system for the first time. The student body also will include 43 gifted and talented students, nearly double the 22 who attended last year.

MSA-East, still in temporary quarters during construction of a new $9 million school, will add fifth grade classes and house grades 5-11 this year before expanding to K-12 at the new facility in Fall 2011.

Cavalier will remain as director of the magnet school program. In his new job as chief academic officer, he is first turning his attention to changing the “culture” at Plaquemine High School with initiatives to cut down on the number of teacher absences and to improve discipline with a “three strikes and you're out” policy.