PORT ALLEN — The West Baton Rouge Parish school system has set its sights on becoming one of the state’s top 10 districts by 2020.
And on Wednesday, the School Board approved a five-year strategic plan from schools Superintendent Wesley Watts outlining how the district intends to achieve that goal.
“We don’t want to do this just to say we did something,” Watts told the board before its unanimous vote. “We really want this to be a working document, and we’re excited about getting the ball rolling.”
The plan, drafted after a series of meetings last year with School Board members, staff, students and other residents, sets goals for academics, personnel, budget, and building and facilities needs — goals that could require an increase in taxes.
The goals include increasing student performance on state-mandated testing; implementing more college- and career-readiness options for students; boosting the district’s recruiting and retention rate for teachers; and eliminating the use of temporary buildings on school campuses.
The plan also promotes Watts’ desire to infuse more technology into student learning by expanding the district’s wireless network capacities and increasing student use of laptops for classroom instruction.
“It’s really comprehensive,” Watts said of the plan before the meeting. “One of our main focal points is to make sure we maximize our attendance rates (and) reviewing our curriculum to make sure it’s rigorous enough.”
In the Louisiana Department of Education’s most recent report gauging the school system’s academic performance, West Baton Rouge Parish saw a slight decline in its district score but held on to the B grade it had the previous year.
According to the 2015 report, four of the district’s 10 schools received D grades, while two were had C grades.
However, 70 percent of the district’s students scored basic and above on state standardized tests, and 74 percent of the students graduated on time, according to 2015 data.
Since becoming superintendent in 2014, Watts has been passionate about turning West Baton Rouge Parish into an A district — like the one he came from in Zachary.
But to do that, he said, the district must tackle the goals of the strategic plan, which may require public support of a tax to improve both teacher pay and the district’s buildings.
“We’re competing with strong school systems around here,” Watts said. “For us to be able to retain and recruit good teachers, we need to have a strong compensation package.”
The district pays starting teachers $42,733 annually. The average teacher in West Baton Rouge Parish earns about $45,700 a year.
Surrounding districts, on average, pay starting teachers $44,748 a year.
The strategic plan calls for a recruiting budget to help the district attract more-qualified teachers. Also, the plan asks that the board support endeavors to increase teacher pay and benefits to make the district’s salary range one of the top 10 in the state.
Watts also said the district needs to eliminate the use of temporary buildings and floating teachers at each school. The school system currently holds classes in 28 T-buildings on campuses throughout the parish.
“They’re not cost effective,” he said Wednesday. “They are there because you have more students enrolled than a school can handle. And the learning environment in those isn’t as strong as it is in a permanent structure.”
The plan also pushes for more college- and career-readiness options, for increasing opportunities for middle school students to earn high school credits and for getting parents more involved with the school system.
“Hopefully we can meet some of those goals earlier than projections,” Watts said.
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