LAPLACE — Despite all the challenges students at St. Jean-Baptiste Parish faced last year with virtual learning and instability in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, preliminary information on performance scores schooling showed improvement in most schools in the district.
Acting Superintendent Rebecca Johnson provided an update on progress and goals for continued growth during last week’s briefing with Save Our Schools, a new organization focused on assisting the school system to help ensure the success of the students of St. John’s Parish.
District and school performance scores were frozen after 2019 due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Johnson said the district received academic index results from the assessments that took place in the spring of 2022. The academic indexes will be combined with the progress indexes to reveal the full performance scores, which are expected to be released in November.
“If we projected correctly, we expect many schools to show growth in letter grades,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, academic indices are based on factors such as LEAP test scores and student interests and opportunities. Emily C. Watkins saw an 11.3 percentage point increase in academic index results alone.
Fifth Ward Elementary, which was previously flagged as an “F” grade school, is expected to show growth in letter grades this year based on a 9.4 percentage point increase in academic indexes. Prior to joining the St. John the Baptist Parish School System in 2021, Johnson supported Fifth Ward while working for the Baton Rouge Department of Education, and she is excited to see continued progress on campus.
Other schools showing growth in academic indices were East St. John Preparatory Academy, Garyville Magnet, John L. Ory, Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, West St. John Elementary, STEM Magnet Program, and East St. John High School . Meanwhile, LaPlace Elementary and West St. John High posted declining school indices.
Johnson addressed several issues and concerns during the Save Our Schools session, including student population, bus status, school board meeting transparency, and the district budget.
“We are concerned about the student population of St. John’s Parish. We understand there are 10,000 places, but only 4,000 and some students,” said lawyer Sylvia Taylor, a local businesswoman and one of the leaders of Save Our Schools. “We want to know if we are maximizing where the schools are… We are not advising the superintendent to do anything. We just want answers so St. John Parish can be as productive as possible.
With a current student population of 4,396, Johnson said the district’s population has been declining since 2019. However, from the end of the 2021-22 year to the start of this academic year, the district lost just 38 students. .
“We have room for more capacity, and those seats will be filled once we build confidence in the school system,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that this year’s early childhood seats are near capacity for the first time in years. At present, there are no plans to consolidate school buildings at primary or secondary level.
“We believe as a district that we have a plan in place to increase student achievement, and we don’t want to stop that momentum now,” she said.
According to Johnson, St. John’s Parish Schools are helping uncertified teachers obtain their certifications with funding provided by Marathon Petroleum. All teachers participating in the certification program have given the district a five-year commitment as a retention policy to reduce staff turnover.
All schools use a Tier 1 curriculum and joint district monitoring is in place to more accurately compare performance between schools. The CTE program is expanded to include more opportunities and a partnership with River Parishes Community College.
Speaking about equipment upgrades, Johnson said security features and lighting are being added to the Leon Godchaux campus, where Emily C. Watkins is currently housed as Ida’s repairs continue. . She said the recent burglary at ECW’s base campus was a setback that amounted to nearly $500,000 in damages.
Fifteen school buses have been ordered, but only five are expected to be delivered by November due to supply chain shortages. The district received quotes for the pressure washing and painting of older buses in the fleet.
The final piece of equipment has arrived to begin live streaming school board meetings from St. John’s Parish. In the meantime, Johnson said all videos of the meetings are posted on the district’s website.
To clarify school board finances, St. John’s Parish Assessor Lucien Gauff III provided an update on taxes.
“We are approaching 100 million ad valorem taxes, which is great. Over the past six years, we have nearly doubled our ad valorem taxes,” Gauff said. “It has a lot to do with the industry, and a lot has to do with our homes and our values.”
This year, the school system is expected to receive $31.6 million in ad valorem taxes. Ad valorem tax revenue also supports parish government ($29.8 million), the sheriff’s office ($25.4 million), and other areas such as the library system, assessor’s office, and advice on aging.
Approximately $54 million to $56 million in sales tax revenue is split among the taxing entities, representing an additional $32 million for the school system.
Along with Sylvia Taylor, Save Our Schools is led by retired educator Annette Houston, Eliza Eugene, who coordinates the annual Backpack Extravaganza, and Dayna James, who is president of the Kiwanis Club of Tri Parishes.
Save Our Schools will host a School Board Candidates Forum on the evening of October 11 at the New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace.