High school redesign to include diploma choice, career options r

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

School Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. said writing a plan for redesigning the parish's high schools and did not think he would have time to rewrite it to resolve White Castle supporter's objections to it in time for action at Monday night's School Board meeting.

The state, however, is requiring school systems to “add rigor” to their curricula, provide remedial education to raise student performance to grade level, provide options for “career” diplomas and increase graduation rates. Cancienne said his plan was intended to raise the Iberville Parish School System's graduation rate from its current 60 percent to 80 percent by 2014.

When the superintendent introduced his proposal last month, supporters of White Castle High School objected to the concentration of both academic honors programs and career education at Plaquemine High School, while putting in magnet remedial literary and math programs at their school. Some said they feared the plan was to weaken WCHS to make a case for closing the school.

“One house has many rooms,” Cancienne told the POST/SOUTH in a recent interview. “We don't have the resources for a mansion at every school.”

The state has mandated school systems to offer three different diplomas. All Iberville's high schools will offer “Louisiana Core 4” graduation programs that would prepare students for college, a “Louisiana Basic Diploma” program and a “Louisiana Career Diploma.”

The “Core 4” program requires four units each of English, math, science and social studies, plus two units of foreign language, a unit of arts and three electives.

After 10th grade, students and their parents could opt for the basic or career diploma paths, which require only three units of science, three units of social studies and a unit of “education for careers,” plus electives related to their chosen career – seven electives for a basic diploma and six plus a mentorship for a career diploma.

All students will be required to take half a unit of health and a unit and a half of physical education.

Remediation, determined by the so-called high stakes tests given in fourth, eighth and 10th grades, would be an important part of the effort, Cancienne said. He said some 45 percent of students at Plaquemine High School would require mediation, and White Castle students' is not much better.

Cancienne presented information showing 44 percent of ninth graders at White Castle are not on a regular high school diploma track, 68 percent of the current eighth grade students are repeating the grade, and, excluding White Castle students attending the Math, Science and Arts Academy, only 23 percent of eighth graders showed proficiency in English.

“Both are not doing well,” the superintendent said of the two high schools. “People want me to lie. I can't lie. Here's the data.”

Data expert, Erin Gross, said the school system is using a new program called EdPerformance that can identify students who are going to fail, allowing teachers to “teach to the test” to help them pass.

Some teachers, school officials said, need some remediation of their teaching styles in the process.

“It can take a while to get people on board,” Gross said.

“If you have a herd full of longhorn cattle, you cannot expect Angus beer,” said Chief Academic Officer Elvis J. Cavalier. “Teachers who are learning the new pedagogy are doing a phenomenal job.”

“The level [of instruction] has improved from 10 years ago,” Gross said. “There are a lot of teachers who haven't moved their teaching to that level...A lot of teachers are digging their heels in and still want to teach at the level they have for years.”

Before he presented his redesign plan to the School Board last month, Cancienne revised it to provide that the standardized test scores of White Castle students who take honors or career classes at Plaquemine High would be included in White Castle's school performance score. He hoped it would resolve fears that he was trying to lower the White Castle's performance scores to make a case for closing it.

“This is about kids, not about school site buildings,” Cavalier said.

Cancienne said he needed to talk to the board before revising the plan further.

In the meantime, he is working to implement a $7 million, five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant aimed at improving classroom teaching, and at a reduction in force to pay for some $2.75 million in additional expenses the school system faces in the next budget year.