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Front entrance to the Louisiana School for the Deaf, which shares its Brightside Lane campus with the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired, seen March 13, 2018.

The state is launching a three-year plan aimed at improving oversight and expertise in the troubled Louisiana School for the Deaf and others, officials said Tuesday.

The changes stem from a 2018 report that said the School for the Deaf suffers from low-morale among students and other problems and that major changes are needed in the Special School District, which oversees the schools.

The initial goal is to revamp the district and improve its staff so that high-qualify services can be delivered to students.

The district oversees more than 1,800 students, including those in the School for the Deaf, Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired, both in Baton Rouge, and the Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria.

It is also in charge of four Office of Juvenile Justice sites and eight Department of Corrections sites.

Interim Special School District Superintendent Pat Cooper told a committee of the state's top school board that last year less than five percent of elementary students in the district scored mastery in English and math, the state's newest target for academic achievement.

In 2018 only one industry-based credential was offered to students, said Cooper, former superintendent of the Lafayette Parish School District.

"That is not a blame," Cooper said. "It is the reality."

Cooper said there are basic things the state needs to ensure a solid education experience in the district.

"We found that we did not have a lot of those in place," he said. "Those schools could not operate if they had confusion above them in the school district level."

Goals for 2019-20 include crafting individual school improvement plans, evaluating all school-level personnel based on updated job descriptions and putting in place a "consistent" math, English, science and social studies curriculum statewide.

Other planned changes include better use of technology-based teaching, ensuring teachers keep individual data profiles of students and adding career and technical education classes that can help job prospects for students.

"We need our schools to be models of excellence," Meredith Jordan, assistant superintendent for academics in the district, told BESE.

Cooper said at some point experts will be brought in to address specific problems at the School for the Deaf and other schools.

State Superintendent of Education John White told BESE that, while the three-year plan does not answer all the questions, it will pave the way for a "more rational and coherent district."

Critics said the district still suffers from a lack of input from parents, including on a newly-created advisory panel that includes disability experts.

"I would hope you would be mindful of that and, if necessary, add some more people, get some more viewpoints," BESE President Gary Jones told Cooper.

Holly Boffy, vice-president of BESE, said district changes are overdue.

"I am excited about doing this work but have a lot of regret that we have not done this work sooner," said Boffy, who lives in Youngsville.

The report that sparked the overhaul said some staff members lack the skills needed to help students at the School for the Deaf. It said student and staff morale suffered from a lack of communication and problem-solving between and among administrators, students and families. Without changes in the district, the study said, "insurmountable barriers" would hinder efforts to improve the schools.

Kathy Edmonston, a BESE member who lives in Gonzales, said ensuring more staff is proficient in American Sign Language remains a priority.

Rana Ottallah, who lives in Metairie and is the mother of a hearing-impaired child, said officials deserve time to make changes.

"There is no magic pill," she said. "Reform takes time."


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.