Educators Doing More With Less

As a longtime St. John Parish School Board Member, Russ responds to the CityBusiness article regarding lack of teachers.

“The Egyptians forced the ancient Israelites to make bricks without straw. Local schools are doing the same thing: running their schools without money. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it, too!” ~ Russ Wise

See St. John’s School Performance Scores at RussWise.com.

River Parishes school administrators work to maintain quality with fewer teachers

By: Travis Andrews

School systems in St. Charles, St. James and St. John parishes, like their counterparts throughout the state, are feeling the effects of a lack of money to grow as they lose personnel. Despite the financial constraints, administrators are still striving to attain higher student achievement.

Destrehan High School sophomore Gabby Koester teaches techniques at the school’s summer cheerleading camp.

Coupled with steady enrollment growth, their challenge is using the available resources to advance existing programs.

“Our biggest challenge last year was our budget and that continues to be our biggest challenge this year,” said Heidi Trosclair, coordinator of media and communications for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools. “Last year, we faced losses of personnel through retirement and attrition. These personnel were not replaced.”

Rodney Lafon, superintendent for St. Charles Parish Public School System, agrees, saying the biggest challenge in helping students for the past few years is the state not providing growth money.

It’s a recurring problem seen in most parishes throughout the state. Lafon said rising costs make it nearly impossible to expand programs, but the St. Charles School Board has had to learn to use less.

“Our board has been extremely careful, and we’re in good financial shape right now,” Lafon said, “(even though) the state hasn’t given us our growth money for the past three years.”

St. John faces similar problems, the solutions to which are coming in the form of cutting costs wherever possible.

“Our employees were also furloughed four days in order to balance our budget,” Trosclair said. “This year, the finances are still grim. However, since the district made significant cuts last year, we are facing smaller cuts this year with minimal staffing changes.”

Even though this, St. John managed to increase the technology available in its classrooms because of smart spending.

“We have laptops in every sixth- through ninth-grade English language arts class, and we have almost 450 interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors in classrooms across the district,” Trosclair said.

In the end, Lafon said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“You never know what the state’s gonna do these days,” Lafon said.

Despite monetary issues, academic achievement is on the rise.

Trosclair said the number of St. John students who received college credits has skyrocketed. Two years ago, the district had only a handful of students earn credit hours in college courses while enrolled in high school. In this past school year, she said more than 350 earned at least three hours and many earned up to nine hours.

Looking ahead, Trosclair said the current focus on operating at maximum efficiency will ensure that students will see wholesale benefits once funding returns to normal.

“We are diving deep into data to ensure that we are addressing all of our students’ needs,” Trosclair said. “Our second hope is to see an improvement in the economy and our school funding.”

Lafon’s outlook is simple, though, in that he’ll just keep doing what he has to with what he has because that’s all he really can do.

“We’re staying at it,” Lafon said. “That’s the name of the game.”

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