Eddie Barker's Letter to the Editor on Education Session
On our most recent session of Leadership Tangipahoa, we discussed the very touchy subject of education in our parish. I say touchy because our parish education system is about to go through major changes. Changes that will affect the children in our parish for many years to come. But, the changes that are being made should be for the betterment of the education of our young leaders of the future. Just how these changes are brought about will be determined very shortly with the upcoming vote on April 30th. The proposed tax increase that the public will vote upon will be dedicated to building new schools and making much needed renovations at current schools, bringing in new technology to the classrooms and most importantly combining all school districts into one parish wide school district. Each and every registered voter is being asked to make a decision on what type of investment they are willing to make for education in our parish. If this proposal fails, a Federal Judge will be making that decision for us and nobody knows what that will entail.
One thing that this vote will not change is the formation of several Magnet Schools throughout our parish. Those funds are already here thanks to grants that were applied for and awarded to Tangipahoa Parish. Mark Kolwe and his staff are working diligently to have everything ready for the upcoming year. They have hired Alison Andrews as the Magnet Supervisor and she comes to our parish with many years of experience in running a magnet program in Rapides Parish. The schools had to apply to become one of the magnet schools and each teacher also had to apply to teach at these schools. Students who want to attend a magnet school will also have to apply to go there, but if you are already zoned for that school, you will not be moved (bused) to another school. That, I believe, is one of the most misconceived rumors about the magnet school program amongst the public; Iíll admit that I was one that thought differently. If anyone would like more information about what schools will become magnet schools, you can go on the school board website and they have them listed.
We visited several schools during the day and each one stressed the same focus; pushing the children of our parish to excel in their studies and giving them the tools needed to succeed. As early as elementary school, they are being asked to raise their standards to help bring our children up to the national average in every subject. Such was true at Independence Elementary where Becky Navarra and Melanie Johnson showed us their plan to increase the students reading capabilities and the schools objective to get them reading at 95% above their grade level. They also showed us one of the newest and neatest things that are in all parish schools; the SmartBoard! Say goodbye to the old chalkboard. This new piece of technology allows the teacher to teach her students in new ways that are both educational and fun. At Hammond High School, soon to be Hammond Magnet School, Principal Chad Troxclair introduced us to two programs geared to push kids to new levels of thinking with the Robotics Program, led by Shelly Gaude, and the Pro Start Program led by Patty Johnson. Both of these programs allow students to apply what they have learned in other classes to the real world applications such as engineering and the culinary arts. Thanks to Mrs. Johnson and the Pro Start students for the delicious meal they prepared for us while we were there.
After lunch, it was time to visit the two higher education establishments that we are proud to have in our parish; the Northshore Technical College and Southeastern Louisiana University. Both establishments are under heavy stress due to major cuts in federal funding, but have continued to produce many educated and work ready employees for our parish. Mark Jackson, Dean, and William Wainwright, Campus Director with NTC offered insight into the new benefits of the technical college, such as transfer of credits to SLU and other 4 yr universities, a wide variety of classes from allied health, welding, networking computers to child care and they are the only ASE auto servicing program in the state. SLU has continued to grow over the past several years and is now the 3rd largest university in the state. They are faced with many challenges due to the recent cuts and higher standards that are being placed upon them. They are being asked to increase their graduation rate and also make the difficult decision to cut some programs, but they still have one of the best Nursing and Business Programs in the State. In 2007, SLU also started an Early Start Program that allows students to take college courses while still in high school and receive full college credit for them to get an early start to their college career. They currently have over 1,000 students enrolled in that program.
Everyone knows that our parish is a great place to live and through the Leadership Tangipahoa program I am learning more and more about our parish and the benefits that it has to offer. As a business man, I also know the importance of a strong educational system and what it can bring to the parish; more industry, better paying jobs and a better way of living for the majority of the citizens living here. Our education system needs improvement and with the great people of our parish making it happen, Iím sure we will see a dramatic improvement soon.