Eloi presents draft of 5-year plan

School Board graphic

System obtains level of PPE comparable to hospitals

By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

Supt. of Schools Grant Eloi presented a 27-page draft copy of “Ready, Set, Grow—-The Natchitoches Parish School Board Plan for Excellence.” The document is a five-year plan that is “accountability for the entire district.”

It covers a wide range of topics with the five main goals as having students ready for kindergarten when they start school, achieving mastery level for students in third, fourth, eighth and ninth grades, having students graduate on time, having students graduate with college and career credentials and being eligible for TOPS. Eloi called it “granular goals” for all phases of the educational system such as plans for raising the graduation rate, increasing leadership among teachers, seeing students at, on or above grade level, higher student/teacher ratio, overall parental improvement, facilities and maintenance and fiscal responsibility.

“If we do this, we can be an A district,” Eloi said. He gave board members a copy of the draft that has been presented to schools and will be posted on the school board website. It will be a living document and he is seeking input/or criticism from education stakeholders. He hopes to have the final document ready in January. Eloi believes the system’s strong response to COVID-19 is the reason parish schools rank well in comparison to others in the state and particularly in District 7.

Visit the school board website to see statistics posted by the La. Dept. of Health and Hospitals and to get week-by-week results of reported cases. Eloi said during a committee meeting Tuesday the system needs to maintain its strong response and is doing so by obtaining a large level of personal protective equipment (PPE). He said the system has a level of PPEs comparable to hospitals that includes gowns, masks, shields, shoe and head covers.

Boxes of gowns, shoe covers and other PPEs delivered to the Central Office are ready for distribution by the Natchitoches Parish School Board. Photo by Carolyn Roy

Every school has access to high-level foggers that can chemically and safely disinfect any room. As for athletic events, the Governor’s latest order calls for 25 percent capacity that includes cheerleaders, dance line and band members.

Eloi spoke to board member Dorothy McGaskey’s questions about a video at a recent high school basketball game in which numerous people did not wear masks. Board member Emile Metoyer had similar concerns about people who wear masks into the gym and take them off once inside. Eloi said when someone buys a ticket, they are subject to follow the school guidelines which includes wearing masks. While he hopes that fans “will want to do right,” he said there is security at every game to encourage fans to wear masks. He is also conferencing with principals to develop a plan in which the Sheriff’s Office would escort people out who refuse to wear masks.

In other COVID-19 news, the Federal COVID Leave Policy is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. The school board voted to extend the policy until further notice or until the Federal Government updates the policy. Also, staff and teachers Goldonna, Natchitoches Jr. High and L.P. Vaughn were not charged for COVID days because the schools closed completely before the Thanksgiving break.

The school board and Northwestern State have partnered to form a teacher preparatory program to help teachers pass the Praxis test and get certified to teach. The Praxis is part of the certification process required by many states, including Louisiana, for licensing. Eloi said many teachers have not passed Praxis I that includes English and language arts, math and writing.

NSU has purchased diagnostic software that tests those who have not passed the test at no cost to them. Then, an individual course is designed for each student to address their weakness. They will be paid to take those classes at NSU. When they pass the Praxis, the school board will pay for the test and help them enroll in an alternative certification program at NSU or any other program. It will be a multi-pronged approach to certification. The school board is working with Dr. Kim McAlister, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, to establish the program.

CPA Roger Cunningham, partner at Thomas, Cunningham, Broadway and Todtenbier, reported on the annual audit of school activity funds. Cunningham found no material weaknesses of the school funds such as those for athletics, 4-H, band, etc. He said there were a few errors such as gate collections where not everyone paid but despite COVID-19, the funds were in good shape and had improved from last year. He said finance supervisor Lee Waskom had a good plan for meeting with principals to explain internal controls for collecting the money.

Cunningham said there was a “lot of activity” in fund raising and the bank balance of all funds at the end of the fiscal year June 30 was $1,142,000. Over $2 million were raised during the school year. Supervisor of Finance Lee Waskom told the board that the employee tax checks will be distributed by Dec. 15. There has been a delay because software that computes the amount of the checks is new and must be specific to Natchitoches Parish. The school board is considering a drug testing policy for employees.

The committee examined policies from several parishes and are favoring using one adopted by the Lincoln Parish School Board.