POSITION: West Baton Rouge
Parish superintendent of schools since 2004.
State accountability scores show that West Baton Rouge Parish public schools are faring better than ever. The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board recently extended David Corona’s contract until the end of 2014.
We asked Corona to discuss the state of education in Louisiana and his plans for improving public schools in West Baton Rouge Parish.
Q. Historically, Louisiana has lagged behind other states in student achievement. As it stands now, what is the state of education in Louisiana public schools?
A. It’s clear academic performance is on the rise. We can attribute that to the focus we’ve put on literacy and numeracy in the earlier grades.
Q. What more can be done by the state to build on those improvements?
A. We need to provide adequate funding to our children. We spend a lot of money on education; however, we’re one of those states that has a high percentage of children living in poverty. Data proves those students are the hardest and most expensive to educate because there is a lot of intervention required to get those students up to grade.
Q. Besides intervention, how can local school districts raise the achievement gap between low-income students and their middle-class counterparts?
A. One thing you can do is focus on the arts. A lot of low-income students don’t have the same opportunities outside of the classroom to go to summer camps, to take music lessons and all of the things that promote success in the classroom. A lot of students are starving for those opportunities.
Q. Late last year, the state landed $73 million in federal grants to expand the Teacher Advancement Program, which can pave the way for yearly bonuses of $5,000 or so for teachers whose students or schools show significant gains. Is TAP a good fit for Louisiana schools?
A. TAP is good for schools because it focuses not only on achievement, but also on the particular strategies children in specific schools need to excel. Part of the program is field testing in schools where teachers can assess what is needed by a specific student in a specific class in a particular school. TAP also allows for teacher improvement where master teachers lead and challenge career teachers.
Q. You recently said West Baton Rouge students have shown the ability to progress out of the lower scoring levels on state standardized tests, but have trouble moving into the highest rungs of achievement. How do you get more students into those higher levels?
A. We’re driven by data results. Breaking down the data will help our teachers and administrators. If it’s in math, we’ll look at the data to define what are our strengths and weaknesses, whether it be problem solving, geometry or algebra. Then we drill down with a laser-like focus on those areas. We also need to challenge our parents and our students not to be happy with being average.
Q. What else are you doing to promote academic success?
A. Seven years ago, we did a needs assessment survey of all of our teachers. Without question, the number one thing we learned is that teachers want more technology and they want to be trained how to use new technology. We responded to that, and we continue to work at that. And our kids and teachers love it.