Cavalier aims to improve student performance by 10%

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter
Iberville Parish School Board Chief Administrator Elvis Cavalier has set higher standards for Plaquemine High School.

The new chief academic officer for the Iberville Parish School System has announced crackdowns on teacher absences and student disciplinary problems as a start toward improving the academic culture at Plaquemine High School.

“The goal is to increase student performance by 10 percent across the board [this school year],” Elvis Cavalier said. “That's a big jump, but I don't make predictions I can't keep.”

The new CAO said he made the prediction based on he knows can happen when teachers come to work, a “three strikes” discipline policy is in place and children are the focus for the school.

Cavalier said PHS teachers missed an “unbelievable” 7,075 hours of work last year, but noted that around 15 percent of the teachers accounted for 90 percent of the missed time from their seven-hour school days.

“That is unacceptable, and it will not be tolerated,” he said. “...That can be fixed in a hurry. What organization could survive with 7,000 contract hours missing?”

At a recent joint retreat for the staffs of Plaquemine High and the Math, Science and Arts Academy-West, Cavalier urged teachers to lead by example.

“You're either onboard or you're overboard,” he said.

Cavalier, who continues to serve as head of the Math, Science and Arts Academy in addition to his new duties, is starting his new duties with a focus on the MSA and Plaquemine High, since together they represent nearly half the public school students in the parish. MSA-West, which will add grades 1-5 this year, will have around 1,000 students, and Plaquemine High will have around 800, he said.

He said he wants to transfer methods that have worked well at the MSA to PHS, starting with the “three strikes and you're out” discipline policy.

The policy has been applied at the MSA since it opened two years ago. MSA is a school of choice, and “three-strikers” could be sent to the local school they would have attended if they had not been accepted into the magnet program.

Cavalier said he is working with PHS Principal Dianna Outlaw and Optional Education Center Principal Alnita Miller to relocate students with three strikes to the alternative school.

“I think we're getting good cooperation from the Op Center,” said Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. “It's not a plan to remove kids from an educational setting.”

Dr. Cancienne said PHS students would be sent to the Op Center for brief periods, unless the charges against them were unusually serious, such as drug or weapons charges.

Plaquemine High's three strikes policy provides for automatic dismissal and referral to the Op Center for these offenses: possession or distribution of illegal narcotics or drugs; possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon; terrorizing, such as making a bomb threat; possession of “dangerous objects”; hitting or threatening School Board Personnel; defying or disrespecting school personal with vulgarity, verbal and/or aggressive behavior; possession or use of alcohol; sexual harassment, molestation, fondling or indecent exposure; gang fighting, and stealing or extortion.

Any one of a list of other offenses will constitute one strike, which could include a suspension. They include such offenses as tampering with fire extinguishers or alarms; leaving campus without permission or other truancy, fighting or disturbing the peace, smoking or tobacco possession, defacing property, obscene language, gambling, willful disobedience, plagiarism or cheating, consecutive tardiness, dress code violations or illegal use of a cell phone or other electronic device.

In a third category, three offenses would constitute one strike. The offenses include failure to follow a teacher's direction or classroom or school rules; littering; eating, drinking or chewing gum in class; lack of instructional supplies or materials; failure to complete punish work or homework, and sleeping in class.

Cavalier said he also plans to address two other issues students themselves cited in a survey – the school cafeteria food and the cleanliness of the school.

“We're making sure the food is designed for high school students,” he said. “We have a very, very capable food service staff and an award-winning school food service.”

Students were not the only ones complaining about the cleanliness of the site, Cavalier said.

“Plaquemine High is our flagship high school, and it needs to shine like a flagship high school,” Cavalier said. “...It's in crisis mode right now.

As the school system's first chief academic officer, he is focusing his attention first on Plaquemine High, and will broaden his focus next to the parish's other two high schools.

“I'm excited about the challenge, about the possibilities of the school,” he said of Plaquemine High. “It's one of the best sites in the state.”