Over the past five years, the state performance ranking for Jefferson Parish public schools has climbed from 51st to 32nd among Louisiana school districts, which is cause for celebration, business and civic leaders said Friday.
The news was detailed in a report from the nonprofit Jefferson Community Foundation, which commissioned the New Orleans consulting firm GCR & Associates to examine the parish’s schools, as that foundation has done periodically in recent years.
The foundation’s board is composed largely of parish business leaders, who since 2004 have pushed for the reform of the 48,710-student Jefferson system, Louisiana’s largest public school district.
Those leaders helped in 2010 to elect a majority of business-backed candidates on the parish School Board. Along with former Superintendent James Meza Jr., that board is widely credited with the district’s state letter grade jump from a D to a B and its rise in state rankings during that time.
But a power shift came after the 2014 School Board elections, when a majority of candidates backed by the parish teachers union — which has long butted heads with the business community — took charge. Meza, a trailblazer in New Orleans’ charter school movement, retired, and veteran school system administrator Isaac Joseph was appointed as superintendent.
The business community worried that the school system’s progress would be stymied. But with Jefferson’s ranking climbing from 37th to 32nd in the past two school years, that hasn’t been the case, said James Garvey, a foundation board member and president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“I don’t think anybody at this table six or seven years ago would have thought that this would have been done,” he said, speaking to a group of business executives, public school leaders and others over breakfast Friday at Andrea’s Restaurant in Metairie.
Lucien Gunter, the foundation’s manager and a former executive director of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, also pointed to the shift. “We started in 2010 with only eight schools with an A rating. We are up to 12 now,” he said.
Similarly, the number of B and C schools has gone up while the number of failing schools has gone down, he said.
That progress has come even as Jefferson has had to contend with the tougher Common Core state standards and related tests, which were first implemented fully last year, Garvey said.
However, though business leaders praised the overall school performance picture Friday, the Jefferson system’s performance score has ticked up only slightly in the past two school years, from 87.2 to 87.7 on the state’s 150-point scale. Meanwhile, the number of A-rated schools has fallen in that same time frame from 15 to 12, while the number of F-rated schools has risen from three to six.
Joseph told the business leaders that the system is progressing but has a long way to go.
“We would always like to see more improvement,” he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.