Superintendent applauds efforts of local educators
St. Mary Parish Superintendent of Schools Donald Aguillard
In a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Superintendent John White strongly criticized local school boards and districts in Louisiana stating that the majority are governed by “stale politics” that “don’t allow good education ideas to filter up from teachers and improve schools.” He reiterated, “Most school district offices are just loosely conjoined fiefdoms, and in most cases do not work at all with the business of boosting student achievement.”
Since my tenure as a district superintendent began in 2004, I have observed our instructional staff work exceptionally long hours, meet unreasonable deadlines, create instructional calendars and frameworks, analyze copious aggregates of student data, and exceed all of my expectations. To my knowledge, Superintendent White has never visited any St. Mary Parish schools. Although he has dispatched various members of a network team that has spent the majority of their time garnering knowledge and innovative ideas from my staff as St. Mary Parish had previously implemented most of the team’s suggestions and recommendations.
St. Mary Parish has not spent the last 10 years idly waiting for the Department of Education to provide strategies and methods for improvement. My staff has investigated, piloted, and successfully employed research-based interventions and engaging instructional delivery systems that include Fast ForWord, Reading Assistant, Failure Free Reading, Moby Max, Dibels Next, Kahn Academy, Benchmark Formative Assessments, Extended Day, and Credit Recovery. As a result of these and other instructional innovations, the district has been cited in several educational association articles that highlighted our fidelity of implementation, student participation rates, and corresponding academic growth.
School district instructional staff has been working steadily on the transition to the Common Core State Standards since 2010, creating parish workshops, reference guides, frameworks, and curriculum using the new standards. Meanwhile, the Department of Education lagged on releasing resources for curriculum implementation and frequently issued contradictory updates and deadlines.
The productive efforts of my Central Office staff, along with our committed school administrators and teachers are well-documented in the unprecedented eight-year 26.1-point gain resulting in an effective district performance score of 105.2, awarding the district with a “B” letter grade.
The Louisiana Department of Education, under the direction of Superintendent White, has been an organization with ever-changing mandates and no definitive answers. The level of stress that has been placed upon teachers is highly imbalanced. Only 30 percent of Louisiana teachers statewide were evaluated using a Value-Added-Model (VAM) score during the 2012-2013 school year. VAM scores are based upon students’ expected growth in a year compared to the students’ actual growth. The expected growth measure is used to determine 50 percent of a teachers’ final evaluation. In a recent weekly newsletter, Superintendent White spoke about the release of the expected growth measures stating, “We could take these data to be predictive of a student’s future successes, but they are not and should not be taken as such. For one, there is no accurate way of projecting the future. But more important, our job as educators is to shape the future, not to accept a historical trajectory as destiny.” Thus, the expected growth is not a predictor; yet, this is exactly what the state is using to determine the VAM scores of our teachers.
As St. Mary Parish superintendent, it has been professionally awkward to be forced to continuously declare state protocol to board members and district staff because the guidelines change often — many times without warning. My staff and I must research to affirm aspects of current practice to be able to answer teacher questions with the most up-to-date protocol. The personnel evaluation plan and salary schedule has been completely overhauled to adhere to new laws. Although Superintendent White has publicly claimed that districts have control, the reality is that the districts have been pressed to continually meet the fluctuating demands of the state department.
The 2013-14 school year motto of Student Focused, Achievement Driven exemplifies our unwavering commitment to the young people of St. Mary Parish. We began in 2004 with this one focus on student success, and that focus has enabled our district to rise to “B” performance level status, increasing our parish achievement score by over 25 percent. Despite the myriad of changes in curriculum standards, evaluation procedures, financial supports, and accountability measures, St. Mary Parish remains undaunted in its dedication to providing the best education possible. For the superintendent of education to disparage the valiant efforts of our School Board, instructional staff, administrators, teachers, and students on a national stage is offensive. As the superintendent of St. Mary Parish, I applaud the unprecedented growth and consummate dedication of local educators whose tireless work has significantly impacted the educational futures of our young people despite the indecisive and wavering support descending from the state level.
St. Mary Parish