Barely nine months ago, West Feliciana Parish school district Superintendent Hollis Milton, 42, suffered a massive heart attack.
Less than a week later, he was back at work, and now he is one month into serving as president of the influential Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
“I like what I do,” Milton said. “I am very passionate about it.”
The association advises state Superintendent of Education John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on key public school issues and often plays a major role in whether and how policies are rolled out on testing, Common Core, school letter grades and other topics.
Milton also is chairman of the Superintendents Advisory Council, which meets regularly with White and other state education leaders to formulate school policies.
Milton said he plans to use his year as head of the group to tout the need for universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, which means enrolling all youngsters that age in classes.
It has been a state goal since 2008 but is usually seen as cost prohibitive in Louisiana, especially amid major state financial problems. The West Feliciana Parish school district offered much-praised pre-K classes years before Louisiana launched its own classes statewide.
“The one thing that we don’t talk about is generational poverty,” he said. “It can be overcome, and I always tell folks, ‘You can pay now, or you can pay later.’ Make an investment in those early ages, and you are going to see students be more successful.”
School leaders often complain that health care and teacher retirement costs are their top money worries, but Milton said unfunded mandates are just as important.
“To implement Common Core in West Feliciana Parish cost this district about $1 million,” he said.
One way to advance the message, he said, is for superintendents to be heard more by the next governor than they have been by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“We just want to be at the table,” Milton said.
Classes are set to begin on Aug. 12 in West Feliciana Parish. Like many of its counterparts, the district faces anxiety over testing methods of its students in the second year of Common Core.
The state is seeking proposals for new test contracts.
Under a state law approved earlier this year, less than half of the questions can come from the consortium used earlier this year — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
“I think the biggest issue right now for teachers and administrators is the uncertainty on testing, what tests will look like,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
Milton said districts statewide could use some testing guidance from the state Department of Education.
In addition, he said the state should consider changes in how students in grades three through eight are tested to better prepare them for the ACT, an assessment of college readiness.
Under a new state policy, all high school students have to take the test.
Results announced last week show that Louisiana’s composite average is 19.4 out of 36, up from 19.2 last year.
West Feliciana Parish’s score is 20.5.
Using a series of pre-ACT exams for students in grades three through eight would help improve scores, Milton said.
“It is baffling to me that we have not found a way to have better alignment,” he said.
Milton has been superintendent for about five years.
The district has carried an A rating since 2011, ranked in the top 10 in last year’s school performance scores and has a high school graduation rate of 93 percent, up from about 70 percent a few years ago.
Before his current post, Milton held a variety of principal and other administrative jobs in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Baton Rouge-area superintendents have led the superintendents association for years.
Milton succeeded Patrice Pujol, who heads the Ascension Parish school system.
Before that, Mike Faulk, superintendent of the Central school district, held the job.
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