Departmentalization issues still simmer at Morgan City school
Neither side would confirm the authenticity of a letter making the rounds on social media, purportedly from the St. Mary superintendent to Wyandotte Elementary’s principal over the controversial departmentalization issue.
The letter appears to show Superintendent Teresa Bagwell ordering Wyandotte Principal Barbara Leleux to implement a districtwide initiative in which students in kindergarten and first grade would receive teaching in their core subjects from different teachers, rather than staying in one homeroom with one teacher. Wyandotte did not institute departmentalization for students in those grades when the district initiative came down for all parish schools.
Some parents have objected to departmentalization for the youngest students and have argued the decision should be the principal’s.
“I would like to answer your questions,” Bagwell said in an email response to a question about the letter’s authenticity, “but it is a personnel matter I am not at liberty to either confirm or deny.”
An attempt to contact Leleux was made, but she relayed a response saying that she “wouldn’t speak with The Daily Review because she believes it is biased.”
Departmentalization for kindergarten through fifth grade happened last school year to all elementary schools across the parish. The decision is a district initiative, not a state mandate. It was made after district administrators started a conversation on what they believe to be the best way for teachers to present a new, rigorous, Tier I curriculum that public schools have adopted in order to get students to master new state standards.
The idea was piloted in the 2017-18 school year, and after the positive feedback the district administrators received, it was decided that all schools in the parish would follow the model in the 2018-19 school year.
This information was passed from the district administrators to school administrators in a meeting. It was then the job of the school administrators to inform teachers and parents, as well as decide how it would be put into practice daily in a master schedule for the schools.
School administrators were able to decide how the daily schedule in their individual schools would work as well as which teachers would teach which subjects. They were not, however, able to opt out of it.
But at Wyandotte Elementary, that is exactly what happened.
At Wyandotte Elementary, Leleux went back to her school and discussed the district initiative with her teachers. They decided together that they would departmentalize second through fifth grades, but that 1st grade and kindergarten would remain self-contained with the argument that they believe this to be in the best interest of their students.
Coming into the 2019-20 school year, principals were required to submit a schedule consistent with departmentalization to the district administrators.
Parents and stakeholders at Wyandotte Elementary learning about the changes coming to their school requested a meeting with district administrators and Aug. 5. District administrators agreed to host a meeting at the Central Office Complex in Centerville.
Parents and other stakeholders were hoping to present their argument against departmentalization and get the ability to make the decision for their school. They provided proof to the district administrators from psychologists that departmentalization is developmentally inappropriate for very young children.
They also presented numbers showing how Wyandotte is one of the leading elementary schools according to state test scores in the parish without departmentalization.
They argued that Leleaux should be within her right to decide for her school according to Bulletin 741 in the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators that states “the principal shall be responsible for coordinating and directing all activities of the school” on page 3.
“Part of our concern is we don’t have a say, and our teachers don’t,” Jean Paul Bourg said at the meeting.
The district administrators listened to the concerns of the stakeholders in attendance at the meeting, and then addressed as many concerns as they were able to, offering evidence that they both researched and piloted departmentalization before deciding to make it a district initiative. They offered the positive they found with the program and acknowledge that it is a scary change.
But they also informed those attending that this was happening.
Christina Bourg asked Bagwell, “So Barbara [Leleux] cannot make this decision?”
“No,” Bagwell said. “This is a district initiative.”
Bourg then asked, “What changed? How was this allowed last year, but this year it isn’t?”
“That is a good question.” Bagwell said.