By Carolyn Roy
Natchitoches Parish Schools Supt. Dale Skinner spoke up about three common criticisms that have persisted throughout his administration during an interview Wednesday morning. The first, “If you have a better plan, tell me what it is.” The second, “I appreciate the great teachers, administration, faculty and staff that we are so fortunate to have who make the school system what it is.” The third, “I will continue to do what it takes to give the students in Natchitoches Parish the best education possible.”
The school board meeting last week was rife with Skinner critics who were vocal about an anticipated realignment of Pre-K through eighth grades and the proposed two-year renewal of his contract. To begin with, Skinner wants to thank the community members whom have supported him on these issues. He says he has received encouragement and backing from many people for which he is grateful. Skinner addressed the realignment that will be in place in the fall. The biggest criticism at the meeting last week was that several parents said they were unaware of the proposed change. “I can understand some saying they didn’t know but we didn’t know if it would pass the school board. It was hard to make the plans without knowing how the vote would go.”
The vote to implement the plan was unanimous among the 11 board members. He doesn’t believe the transition will be plagued with problems as some suggest. “The kindergarten teachers will all be together, the first grade teachers will all be together, and so on. It will facilitate professional development.” He says the teachers will still be teaching at the same grade level as before, in nearly all cases.
The central office staff that proposed the change, collectively, had years of experience, communicated with other systems and worked on the plan for about two years. Research shows that banding the grades is conducive to student achievement and beneficial for teachers and staff. “If anyone has any information that would make things better, my staff and I would be glad to meet with them and have them give us this information.” He believes that the parents who support their students and their schools are more in the know than those who don’t and the reconfiguration plan was not a surprise to many. “At parent-teacher conference, when they can ask questions, the ones who turn out are the ones who have no problems. Normally, they don’t have good turnout at the conferences.” While not a regular on social media, Skinner said he did follow some posts leading up to the realignment and his contract renewal.
“I didn’t recognize many of the critics which means they have done little to help the school system in the four years I have been here or I would know who they are. If anyone has any information that would make things better, I wish they would give us this information. I have an open door policy. Always have and always will, as long as I’m superintendent.”
The vote to extend Skinner’s contract last week was 6-5. As for those who voted against him, he said, “We live in America. You can vote any way you want. But I wish those who voted against me would discuss things with me before presenting things at the meetings. I’m also open to any plan those who voted against me have, but not one has. I have no problem with the board.” He addressed often-heard criticism from some board members who say “great” teachers have left the system because of Skinner. “When we talk about people who have left the parish, or read letters from former employees at a board meeting, the board members never discuss how well they did their job while they were here. I challenge them to give me a list of average or above average teachers who left because they were disgruntled.
Many who left want to come back. The grass is not always greener in the other field.” About the April bond issue election to support maintenance and renovations to City schools, Skinner said he wants to appoint a committee of community leaders since there has been so much interest in the school system lately. “I hope to have them in charge of getting the tax passed. This tax will help 4,000 students and I hope the leaders will offer their support to get better results for the children.” Skinner said he believes the student achievement results speak for themselves since the system has improved from a C to a B letter grade given by the La. State Dept. of Education.
There have been marked improvements in other areas including receiving maximum growth points for the past three years; being in the Top 10 districts in the state for ACT gains; in the Top 10 for growth in graduation rate and increasing opportunities for students with disabilities, African American students and economically disadvantaged students during the 2014-15 school year.