Carlos Sam

CLINTON — East Feliciana Parish School Board members had a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday about the school system's struggle to improve student test scores while the state's expectations of school performance are going up.

Superintendents and school boards across the state are asking the same questions that East Feliciana officials face, Superintendent Carlos Sam said.

Last year 24 districts were rated as A districts, but the number dropped to 4 after the state changed its grading system for the performance scores announced last month, Sam said.

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East Feliciana Parish maintained its district grade of C, but Clinton and Jackson elementaries and East Feliciana Middle School were rated as F schools. East Feliciana High School got a C rating, while the Slaughter charter high school and Slaughter Elementary both earned a B grade.

The high school got the C grade despite scoring F's in the areas of student assessments linked to tests and performance on the American College Test. The school offset the F scores with A's for its graduation rate and preparing students for college and workforce certifications.

"What are you doing to bring the F schools up?" asked board member Paul Kent, who noted three schools maintained their letter grade in the face of the more-rigorous standards.

"What happened to East Feliciana Middle and Jackson and Clinton elementaries?" Kent asked.

Board member Melvin Hollins, an educator in East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the problems East Feliciana Parish faces include teacher retention, teacher experience, the level of learning students have when they enter school, and differences in students' economic backgrounds.

Hollins also said he believes many students are leaving Jackson and Clinton for Slaughter.

"If you go to the Slaughter Elementary carpool (line), I see a lot of kids who could go to Jackson or Clinton," Hollins said.

Board member Rufus Nesbitt said he, his wife and daughter tutor his grandchild and another child after school.

"I feel sorry for the kids who don't have the parental support we do," Nesbitt said.

Former board member Tommy Sanches, who was recognized as the volunteer of the month for his work at Slaughter Elementary, said the board needs to find a way to teach parents how to help their children do better in school.

"People in those cars are changing the scores," Sanches said, referring to the Slaughter Elementary carpool line that Hollins mentioned.

Jackson Elementary Principal Megan Phillips said she and her teachers are upset with the performance score and are working hard to change it.

'We are working as hard as we can with the changing rules," she said.

Sam said "if you want to move the needle," the school system must hire the best teachers possible, pay them good salaries and urge the community to raise the parish's tax base.

On another matter, the board heard a report on a trip to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, that Fran and Leroy Harvey, of Jackson, are offering to 20 to 30 eighth-grade students in June.

The Harveys are financing the trip through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Applications will be accepted March 13-22, and an independent committee will choose the participants.

The museum includes many historic buildings, cars, planes and other vehicles that figured in American history, as well as Thomas Edison's laboratories that showcase the spirit of entrepreneurship found in the country.