School board addresses truancy

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor

The Natchitoches Parish School Board took steps at its Thursday meeting to address truancy. Director of Child Welfare and Attendance Anita Dubois told the board about the need to have a dedicated truancy officer to locate students who are chronically truant and hard to locate. At present, there are 44 students she has not been able to locate because of outdated information such as phone numbers and addresses. Many did not return to school following the COVID-19 interruption. She noted the direct correlation between truancy and incarceration of youth.

This article published in the Dec. 18, 2021, print edition

The board approved a memorandum of understanding with the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office in which NPSO will provide an officer on an as-needed basis to locate hard-to-find students. The salary will be $45 an hour to be paid from federal funds. Dubois said the goal was not to arrest truant students but to get them engaged in school again. Truancy is a nationwide problem. Supt. Dr. Grant Eloi said the Sheriff’s Office will provide crisis management and active shooter training in January as part of the agreement.

The board voted to extend Eloi’s contract until Dec. 31, 2024. He will receive a 2 percent step increase annually retroactive to Oct. 1. The vote was unanimous.

It took Natchitoches Central Principal Micah Coleman less than two minutes to convince the board to create a new position titled edgenuity/dual enrollment facilitator. Coleman said there has been an influx of students from out-of-district and state who are at risk academically for numerous reasons. He described it as an ever-growing population. School librarians have been working with those students but he believes a certified teacher is needed to monitor their progress, attendance and long-term growth with hands-on instruction. That person will start in January. The new position will be filled by a salary schedule regular teaching position.

While 71 percent of the state’s school district scores dropped from 2019 in the simulated battery testing, the Natchitoches Parish drop was 1.5 percent lower than the state average according to Eloi. Six schools showed top growth with those being East Natchitoches, Goldonna, Marthaville, NSU E-Lab, NSU Middle Lab, Provencal and Natchitoches Magnet. Two schools, Middle Lab and Magnet, were equity schools that showed sub-group growth. State data shows that the youngest students and traditionally disadvantaged suffered the most. Louisiana received waivers allowing schools to forego standardized testing and instead received “simulated” performance scores that will be used for information and planning purposes only.

Eloi addressed the school board’s salary schedule study that he described as a “massive undertaking.” He was emphatic that every group will be addressed with a goal of completing the study by July 1 of 2022.

The study began with the maintenance and school food service service schedules that were adopted at the meeting with changes to be effective July 1, 2022. The board has applied for two large broadband grants with work on them pushed back until after Christmas.

The board is working with NSU and ULL to offer reduced rates for those seeking master’s and doctoral degrees.

Pastors with a Purpose, a delegation of ministers with the Rev. Stanley Clemmons as spokesperson, was at the meeting. Clemmons said that while the group prays regularly for the school board, they want to find other ways to help. Clemmons spoke of a news report about a school that experienced fewer fights and an improved campus atmosphere when fathers were active in that school. He said that while violence and drugs are pervasive in schools and rehabilitation centers are full, the ministers “have done nothing except preach to the mostly saved…Show us what you need done,” Clemmons said. “We’re not just talking.” Board President Steve Harris said that another group, Dads on Duty, also wants to participate.

According to the maintenance report, work continues at every school with construction continuing at Natchitoches Central, East Natchitoches, Weaver, L.P. Vaughn, Magnet, Goldonna and Marthaville. Examples include at Marthaville where a toilet was repaired in the elementary building, a plumbing leak outside was repaired, work has begun on repairing the nursing building and installing a handicap accessible ramp, old playground equipment is being removed and an old building is being torn down and removed. Another example is the work at Natchitoches Jr. High where 30 windows have been replaced, front door metal detectors have been installed and are operational and a new ice machine was installed.

According to the Child Nutrition update, a claim of $352,806 was submitted to the state for October. An equipment grant application submitted to the state in November was awarded for three schools and is valued at $45,000. Ed Sieja, Louisiana division manager of Cimmaron, secured three generators donated by Chevron. Another grant from Weyerhaeuser will be used to provide the electrical work, gas lines and protective coves for the new units.

According to the personnel report, there was one retirement, five resignations, 15 new hires and five transfers.

The board awarded the bid of $258,390 to Payne’s Lawn Service LLC for district-wide lawn care for three years. That represents a net savings of $81,910 over in-house lawn care. Payne’s submitted the only bid.

The board awarded the base bid of $15.50 per ton for pine pulpwood and $9 per ton for hardwood pulpwood to Lang Timber Co. Inc., for timber on tract 0807. The board will advertise to lease property for hunting.

Employees will receive one-time distributions of MFP appropriations in January. They will be $583 for certified and $300 for other support personnel. Board members Regine Bell and Dorothy McGaskey will serve on a mental health committee to study such student and employee issues as anger and depression resulting from Covid-19 and other factors.