Concerns voiced over new data driven strategic plan

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor
Dr. Grant Eloi and his staff have developed a strategic plan to improve learning and school scores relying heavily on data gathered early and often during this school year. He and Director of Academics Ben LaGrone will meet with the board to discuss data in either one group or smaller groups of three to four. Eloi termed the data “pretty heavy” and gave available dates of April 25-28 or May 2-5 for the presentations.
But board member Dorothy McGaskey expressed her concern is for teachers not having the classroom help they need and asked Eloi and Director of Finance Lee Waskom to look for money to hire tutors. “We know there is need,” McGaskey said. She doesn’t believe that instructional specialists are providing the direct help that teachers need and she is concerned about the number of failing schools. She is also concerned that the new hires are not addressing failing students. She said some kids can’t read and the system is failing them. She referred several times to the number of failing schools as named by the La. Dept. of Education resulting from State testing.
McGaskey said tutors under a previous administration had positive effects and some teachers needed hands-on assistance to improve learning. She said the teachers are the ones who feel their backs are against the wall and feel like they are failing. “They are the ones who know what’s going on.”

This article published in the April 16, 2022, print edition

Board member Tan’keia Palmer agreed somewhat saying she believed the greatest need was for help is in the lower grades, starting with Pre-K. She advocated developing a plan for putting more help in those lower grades.
Palmer said that instead of using best practices of other schools, Natchitoches Parish should be the one others look to. She too advocated having a strategic plan.
Palmer said at the Thursday meeting that she was not pointing fingers at any administration because the problem had been there for several years.
Eloi said that there is after-school tutoring in most schools and it will be at LP Vaughn and Natchitoches Jr. High in the fall. He said that some of the recent new hires were done through budget adjustments and he wanted to be careful about creating budget constraints. As for the effectiveness of instructional specialists, he believes that will soon be apparent. Some of their suggestions are already in place.
Eloi said he believes that the schools are already in a growth phase. To McGaskey he said, “Your point is well made. The time is quickly coming when we will lead.” He recognized her “immense passion” for the students and teachers.
At the Thursday meeting, Eloi asked that board members put the latest State data about failing schools into context. It is old and was compiled and 2019 and Eloi does not believe it is valid. The State has advised that it not be used. He reiterated that projections of the current plan will show growth.
He hopes that growth will be evident during the meetings scheduled with the board members. Eloi said perhaps he should have an academic update much like there are budget updates, on a quarterly basis.
Lagrone, who is spearheading Eloi’s initiative for school improvement, said there is already a strategic plan in place for Pre-K through high school. It measures growth, learning and teacher effectiveness. “We’re not waiting until the end of the year,” he said. “Educational research shows the most effective measure of a school system is high quality instruction from a teacher.”
He said the strategic plan addresses McGaskey’s and Palmer’s concerns. “We have a plan and I believe it’s already taking effect.”
LaGrone said the strategic plan and growth markers would become apparent in the meetings scheduled in late April and early May.