LAFAYETTE — Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White met with Acadiana-area educators Monday to get their feedback on statewide initiatives to provide quality preschools and increase the number of students prepared for high-wage, high-demand jobs after high school.
White’s visit is part of a statewide tour to gather educators’ opinions on the progress of initiatives targeting preschool education and the most recent overhaul of career education called Jump Start.
About 5,000 low-income 4-year-olds are still waiting to get into publicly funded preschool classes, White told a crowd of early childhood educators Monday after a tour of Holy Rosary Head Start preschool.
“We’ve got to get more kids in centers, in schools, if their parents want them there,” White said. Two years ago, the state launched a pilot program to improve collaboration among school systems and child care centers that receive public funding. The effort is a way to ensure children are academically prepared for kindergarten by providing professional development for child care workers. Another aspect of the early childhood network is to create a uniform application system to improve parents’ access to child care centers in their community.
By 2019, teachers at child care centers that receive public funding will be required to hold an associate’s degree in child development.
White told educators the rule will require additional funding for child care centers that will need to pay the teachers an increased wage for the credential. White said the funding issue will need to be addressed in the Legislature to raise the subsidy child care centers receive for enrolling families that qualify for child care assistance based on their income.
“We cannot make that shift if we’re not able to shift funding to help centers pay those teachers,” White said.
Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux suggested to White that cities could provide a financial match to help fund early childhood needs. White said he’ll explore the recommendation.
Later, White met with career education teachers at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center, where educators told him they’re still battling a lingering stigma that not only students, but their parents continue to attach to those students who take a technical college route rather than pursue a four-year university path.
A consistent, statewide message is needed for parents and students to understand the benefits of choosing a career preparation track in high school, suggested Beverly Breaux, Lafayette Parish School System director of student services.
If parents could see the end result of that career training in dollars and cents, it could make a difference, said Paul Bourgeois, dual enrollment coordinator for South Louisiana Community College.
“They’ve got to understand with Jump Start, that earning an industry-based certification or multiple industry-based certifications, how that equates to a salary in five years that could be six figures,” he said.
The state’s Jump Start career education revamp calls on school districts to develop career programs tailored to their region’s workforce needs to ensure students leave high school with industry-based certification to land a job or complete training at a college.
Educators told White they also face a challenge in helping students identify their career interests because there are too few counselors in schools with the time to meet with students.
White spent the afternoon at Scott Middle School visiting classrooms and later met with Lafayette Parish teacher-leaders who are designated liaisons between the district and the Louisiana Department of Education. During the classroom visits, White said, he observed signs of changes in teachers’ instructional methods related to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
He visited math teacher Rachelle Beasley’s classroom, where students scaled down ratios, taking turns at the board. Beasley prompted each student to explain their reasoning: “How did you get that? What did you do?”
“I divided by six,” said one student who scaled down the ratio of 18:30 to 3:5.
Beasley invited other students to find a different common denominator for the ratios, and several popped up to the board to scale down the ratios using different numbers. The class then worked a word problem, solving it using a fraction to find a percentage.
White later said he was impressed with Beasley’s lesson, which is part of a curriculum called Eureka Math, which is under fire in some school districts. The curriculum enforces learning of concepts rather than “tricks like flipping fractions” or other rote mathematical rules, White said.
“What I saw in there was kids being asked to do complex math in their heads, the old-fashioned way,” White said.
Beasley is a teacher-leader for the district who said she had to study to prepare lessons using the new standards and curriculum.
“Before, students were just learning a procedure: Step one, do this. Step two, do this. But then, the procedures are lost. Once they learn the concepts, they’re able to apply them,” she said. “I see the results.”
Beasley and about 14 other teacher-leaders met with White late Monday. In the meeting, the state superintendent wanted the teachers’ input on where the state stands on aligning standards with curriculum, assessments and instruction.
“In high school, we’re years away from alignment,” said Lacey Noel, an instructional strategist at Comeaux High. “We need more professional development so teachers understand the alignment.”
That professional development should include a focus on technology to assist veteran teachers and new teachers with new software systems and how to optimize technology, she said.
White also asked for teachers’ opinions on potential changes to the existing evaluation system by placing less emphasis on student performance as a factor in teacher’s job evaluation, which is now tied to their pay, and giving more discretion to principals in how they rate their teachers.
“That depends on the principal,” said Candy Kelly, Scott Middle principal. Kelly said she thinks principals need more training on evaluations, if that change is made, and questioned the equity of the current evaluation system, which is tied to student performance.
“I do feel that we’ve put a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers to perform,” she said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.