School board continues focus on school safety

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Carolyn Roy
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Grant Eloi touted student growth that was number one in the State, along with four others, at the Natchitoches Parish School Board committee meeting Tuesday, but said there is more work to be done.
Eloi recognized that being number one in the state for student growth was a testament to “teachers, staff, students, principals and administration.”
“It’s been a hard year but it’s hard to deny the validity of these programs when we beat every district in the state,” he said. He wants to break down data even more because he said there are still areas of need. His next goal is ranking in the top 10 in overall proficiency.
Eloi said the first week of school has been smooth considering there are 5,200 students and 800 faculty and staff in the largest parish by size in the state. Although there were minor issues, he said there was a really good vibe.

This article published in the Aug. 13, 2022, print edition. To subscribe to our print or e-editions, call 318-352-3618.

Online registration has been successful for the most part with some 77 percent of student population having completed at least part of the process with about 60 percent completely done. He expects 90-100 percent to be completed in one month. He personally helped 10 families complete the online process in his office. He described the process as a worthy endeavor that will pay off.
COVID-19 is surging again statewide but Natchitoches has a minor number of cases. Many students are choosing testing so they can stay in school. The number of cases is posted to the school board website each Friday.
As for school safety, he and board member Steve Harris had a Zoom meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy about potential funding for school safety. One school had a lockdown drill on the third day of school. Eloi and three central office personnel attended a school safety summit and learned there may be grants available from the US Dept. of Justice. “I think we’ve prepared ourselves to be as safe as we can be.”
Another superintendent recommended Eloi be chosen to participate in the Thompson Executive Leadership Superintendent Academy. It will require 12 professional development days. To attend, he must have support of the board.
Board member Dorothy McGaskey spurred a lengthy discussion about purchase of uniform shirts that ended with Eloi saying he will look into the matter and report back to the board. McGaskey objected to what she said were some principals requiring parents to buy shirts from only one vendor. She said parents should have a choice and was joined by Emile Metoyer who agreed. The problem seems to be with logos on spirit shirts that can be worn in lieu of uniform shirts.
Schools often offer only one vendor so the shirts will be alike. Board president Reba Phelps said policy doesn’t address vendors.
Director of Finance Lee Waskom said a government entity cannot distinguish between vendors and cannot exclude one vendor.
Board member Billy Benefield Jr. asked if the board could implement a wellness program for employees and board members. Program Coordinator Jennifer Ingram listed services in practice including the components in the Rapides Foundation wellness grant, wellness newsletter and Ochsner’s tele-health program. “If we can help get employees healthy, let’s do it,” Benefield said.
Director of Personnel Linda Page told the board, “I have not felt this enthusiastic in a long time. Thank you for supporting our team.” Some 80.5 percent of staff is certified.
Sandy Irchirl and Danna LaCaze reported on the School Building Level Committee (SBLC) that is part of the Pupil Appraisal Handbook. They answered such questions as who makes up the SBLC team, what the team does and who can be referred to the team. Irchirl is district test coordinator and LaCaze is director of special education.
At the regular meeting Thursday, the board declared as surplus an accumulation of metal items such as old HVAC equipment that is cluttering the warehouse. Maintenance Supervisor Ryan Shirley asked the items be declared surplus so it can be sold for scrap.
Shirley said the sign at Natchitoches Central has been erected and the next one to go up will be at Lakeview.
Director of Child Nutrition and Food Service Shauna Hicks reported the USDA has increased the reimbursement 68 cents for lunch and 32 cents for breakfast.
Her department will also receive additional supply chain assistance this year that will probably be the same amount she received last year, $123,000.
Other news that is not so good is NSU Elementary and Middle Lab school students must pay for their lunches unless they qualify for free or reduced priced meals. Last year their meals were free because of the Community Eligibility Provision waiver associated with COVID-19.
Waskom had good financial news. Year-to-date, the general fund balance is at $50,587,641, which is not quite $800,000 below the projected $51,332,559. That amount could be as much as $2 million at the end of the fiscal year. If the budget continues as it has, the goal of a $10 million surplus will be realized.