About 100 people sat in newly renovated seats in the Central High School theater Thursday night to hear about Central Community school system’s four-year-old effort to come up with its first strategic plan for the district.
Soon after arriving, they moved down the hall — not to listen, but to talk to each other.
The idea was to consider the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to improve the school district.
“It’s a community school system,” said Kristy Simmons, a parent. “It’s something we worked hard for and it’s done well.”
“A lot of students affect what I learn because they don’t want to learn and the teacher has to spend all the time with them,” said Victoria Sausse, 14, a ninth-grader at Central High School. “If I need help, I can’t get it.”
“We need more projects,” said Gary Joraanstad, a resident of Central. “We need to teach them how to work as a team.”
These are three of the 18 people, including three students, who filled a history classroom at the high school. They were one of six smaller groups that consultant Tony Arasi created from the original audience of 100.
The three questions that they spent about an hour each answering are also contained in a survey the school system sent out to parents and school employees and is posted on school system’s website: http://centralcss.org/district_office/strategic-planning-survey.
Superintendent Michael Faulk said he expects to receive 300 to 400 surveys in all.
Arasi said he plans to come back in November and meet with a 20-25 member action team who will turn the survey answers into goals.
He plans to have a strategic plan ready for the board to review by February.
“The system has a lot of good things going, but there’s always room for improvement, and the expectations are high,” Arasi said.
Faulk set the stage for the discussion with an overview of how the school system is doing.
It was a positive presentation: 1,400 more students than when Central formed its own school district in 2007; two new schools are being built and set to open next summer; third-graders are scoring highest in the state; and the seniors tied with St. Tammany Parish for the highest ACT scores in the state.
While middle school grades declined compared to elementary grades, Faulk said the school system is a victim of its own success because so many students transfer into Central during those grades.
Parent Sunny Vallaire said crowding is taking a toll. She urged the creation of more activities that bring children together and compensate for the crowded conditions — a shock for her children who had previously attended much smaller schools, she said.
She said the high school has sports, but the lower grades don’t have anything comparable.
“My kids each have one friend,” she said. “There’s no real opportunity (to get to know each other) because there’s so many kids in the schools.”
Joraanstad said he was confused by the third question on the survey that asked for suggestions that would allow Central to become a “world class” system.
“We’ve gone through this at work and no one can give me a straight answer what ‘world class’ means. Everyone says something different. What does it mean in education?” he asked.
Amy McLin, director of special programs and a facilitator for the discussion, offered a personal opinion, saying she thought it meant where schools provide “the best thing for each kid.”
McLin said some people use “world class” to mean that schools are filled with the latest technology. But if the students don’t have a “hunger to learn,” up-to-date technology won’t work.
McLin urged the people in the room to get involved in the schools and stay involved.
“Even when we’ve finished the strategic plan, we’re still not done,” she said.