School board gets update on discipline choices; food stockpile in good shape unlike others with food chain problems

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor

The School Board discussed a myriad of issues during a committee meeting Tuesday, Nov. 3. Supt. Grant Eloi said he had questions from board members about disciplinary issues. Parents of students facing expulsion or suspension now have three options to help decide if they want virtual or face-to-face classes at the Natchitoches Parish Technical and Career Center. The criteria for their choice includes seriousness of the offense, parental preference and access to viable internet. Parents work with Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance Anita Dubois to decide the best option.

This article published in the Nov. 6, 2021, print edition
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Natchitoches Parish has 20 expelled students, 15 of whom are in virtual classes and five are face-to-face. UIR-D, the process for assessing school discipline, states that suspension or expulsions must not be more than 20 percent of the school population or schools will be flagged for intervention. Eloi said Natchitoches Parish has a goal of no more than 12. Currently, every school is below 20 percent and 99 percent are below 12 percent. There was a discussion about the Behavior Based Learning Center that addresses students with consistent behavior problems. They attend their regular classes but receive therapeutic attention to respond to their immediate behavior. The plan is in all schools.

On another subject, Eloi said that the Sheriff’s Department will report on a crisis plan and training Jan. 3-4. Testing data shows that ACT scores dropped 4 tenths of 1 percent compared to the State average of a drop of 3 tenths of 1 percent. He feels the pandemic was one cause of the drop because more students recorded zeroes. To remedy the drop, students will be tested more frequently and scores will be tracked; seniors will be retested; there will be ACT prep classes; and there will be a more rigorous curriculum for grades nine-12. Also included will be an expansion of AP classes and emphasis on dual enrollment.

Eloi is hoping to hear in December whether the school board will receive two grants to help pay for broadband installation. One is for $8 million and one is for $4.7 million, for nearly $13 million that would pay for 95 percent of the installation parish-wide. Eloi had good news to report about COVID-19. For nine weeks, the positive rate of infection was 1 percent and for five weeks, quarantining was at 1 percent. Schools continue to follow CDC guidelines as well as the Governor?s plan on masks and quarantines.

At the request of board member Dorothy McGaskey, the board will have a budget workshop to study next year’s budget. The tentative date is Dec. 10.

During the transportation report, Ecco Ride Supervisor Felicia Washington said she told drivers to start their routes before 6 a.m. so they can be ready for pickups promptly at 6 a.m., but not before. The latest students should be getting home is 5 p.m., but those students live close to the Vernon Parish line. According to Washington, Ecco Ride is fully staffed with the addition of five new drivers. Three are to test this weekend and two more are in training. She conducted a job fair and posted the openings on the Northwestern State job bulletin board. “We’re doing all we can to get drivers,” she said.

Food Service Director Shawna Hicks said she received a FEMA payment of $92,644 for a loss that occurred at the first of last year. New equipment is steadily arriving and she is seeking bids for a new generator as well as additional funding. As for an adequate supply of food, she said, “We have our own stockpile. Now we have avenues to keep things going. So far we have been OK.” She is in contact with vendors and monitoring the food supply that comes from the hub in Baton Rouge. Bid laws for food have been suspended because of problems in the food supply chain.

Michael Cozad, district technology coordinator, asked the board to consider hiring contract employee Chynna Paris as a full-time school board employee to be communication coordinator. Since it is a new position, it must be advertised. That position will manage the website, digital content and content creation. He said a comparable salary for a senior technician is $35-$50,000. The job will be advertised and Paris will undergo the application process. Several board members commented on how effective Paris has been and how more information is available to students and parents.

Cozad also said he wants to buy a truck for the technology department that will be necessary with the advent of the broadband installation. He wants to buy a “bare bones” truck priced at about $25,000 on State contract. It will be used to move some $3 million in digital installation equipment.

There was talk of introducing creative and performing arts to the curriculum. Music is in some elementary schools and Alexa Bernard, principal of Natchitoches Jr. High, wants an orchestra at her school. Board president Steve Harris wants to expand the arts programs to underserved students.

Eloi informed the board about several policy changes, some resulting from legislative action. Those changes are:

•Relatives of elected officials can now be school bus drivers. •Individual Gradual Plans must be done in conjunction with parents.

•Kindergarten is now mandatory. Students who are 5 on or before Sept. 30 must attend.

•There is a change to the compulsory age policy because of the age of kindergarten students.

•A school admission policy was changed to assist military families with remote registration.

•Concerning public school choice policy, students attending a D or F school can transfer to any A, B or C school if the school has room and they have their own transportation. Students can now cross parish lines.

•A change in the Student Privacy and Education Records policy protects student data and changes who can receive it.