Board launches ambitious plan for student learning

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor
School board members who have been clamoring for a way to increase student learning heard details of an ambitious plan during a special called workshop May 3.
That plan’s target is taking the district performance score from 73.7, a C, to 95, an A, during the 2023-24 school year. The current score of 73.7 is from tests during the 2019-20 school year, the most recent real time data.
While it appears ambitious, it also appears within reach if you listen to Superintendent Grant Eloi, Director of Academics Ben LaGrone and School Improvement Specialist Consultant Kathy Noel who laid out the plan to board members Beverly Broadway, Rhonda Guidroz, president Reba Phelps, Dorothy McGaskey, Russ Danzy and Eugean Garner. There will be another special called meeting for those members who could not attend.
LaGrone said the district will follow best practices of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) as required by the La. Dept. of Education for problem schools to be eligible for Federal funding. The district will follow NIET best practices for all Parish schools.

This article published in the May 7, 2022, print edition

“Hope is not a strategy,” LaGrone said about the NIET best practices that outlines a strategic plan that affects the largest number of teachers and students. The plan’s approach is recognizing that teacher quality is the single biggest in-school factor for student success. The work will focus on educator effectiveness and proven principles that lead to school improvement.
“If a teacher is effective, students learn,” LaGrone said. The plan includes setting goals, analyzing instruction and developing coaching strategies that will lead to improved student outcome. He said it’s about helping teachers learn what to do.
In the NIET rubric, teachers will meet in clusters at least once a week; determine what students need to know and how to challenge them; learn each grade standards; and examine student work. At the end of every grading period, teachers will examine the student data, determine what’s good and bad and develop a plan to help individual students. At the end of the next nine weeks, they will determine if the plan worked.

LaGrone talked about a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset” with examples of each. He said if you believe low learning is because of the students, you have a fixed mindset. Some teachers, not all, but some, come from a fixed mindset. “The good news is that we can convert them. We have a plan and some very high goals.”
Eloi acknowledged that the past year has been a difficult one in introducing the plan. When you do something different, nine out of 10 times you meet with adversity. “We are doing something very different in Natchitoches Parish this year that has never been done before and are making people understand change is both good and urgent and necessary.”
He said that in the past, many meetings have been about logistics or managing systems. “We weren’t really discussing student improvement and student data in a systematic, consistent, orderly way. It was mostly post mortem after a LEAP test came out.”
LaGrone also talked about “Whatever I Need,” (WIN), a program that provides all students with learning support. He said 45 minutes of every day are for accelerated tutoring.
LaGrone introduced Noel who comes from a background of achieving student growth. She was successful in moving failing schools to successful ones in DeSoto Parish and moved to the La. Dept. of Education as an assistant to Dr. Cade Brumley. Noel said she had a personal interest in success since she is a product of Natchitoches Parish schools. She expects the system to be one of distinction in three years.
She believes there should be a focus on improving ACT scores and seniors should receive diplomas that carry an extra credential and certification.
She spoke at length about her plans for true teacher induction, shift in the depth of knowledge, increasing the rigor of student learning with daily preparation and at-risk students having outside experiences.
Both LaGrone and Eloi were adamant that the culture of student learning is changing. “Natchitoches should be like the shining star of Louisiana,” Noel said.