New Orleans: The Louisiana Department of Education took the first step in improving the state's persistently struggling schools in accordance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on Thursday by hosting a first-of-its-kind School Redesign Summit in New Orleans. More than 350 educators and 150 representatives from nearly 50 partner organizations attended to exchange ideas and plan for action.
Louisiana has dramatically reduced the number of D and F-rated schools in recent years, benefitting thousands of students who otherwise would have been assigned to a struggling school. But there remain schools in the state whose challenges are significant.
Under ESSA, school systems are required to develop plans to improve student achievement in low performing schools, and the state is charged with reviewing the plans and selecting the school systems with the strongest, evidence-based strategies to receive competitive grants.
While research indicates that every effective model of school transformation includes some type of external support, the Department observed that a comprehensive inventory of education experts and partners does not exist, nor do meaningful opportunities for school systems and school leaders to collaborate with them.
The School Redesign Summit was designed to address those gaps by creating an opportunity for school systems and school redesign partners to brainstorm strategies for improving the struggling schools. Every school system in the state was invited, and partner organizations were selected to attend after an application process.
"ESSA creates an opportunity for us to begin to ask new questions about what we want for our kids," said State Superintendent of Education John White in his welcome to attendees. "One of the questions we are compelled to ask is, 'What do we do in a school that graduates 60 percent of its children year after year? What do we do in a school where none of those children, or few, are ready for college and career upon getting a diploma? What do we do?' We know, in our state, we need help. The problem is: it's not always clear ... where to go for that help. That's why we're here today."
The day-long event opened with a panel discussion to illuminate the progress and challenges in school improvement in Louisiana and across the country. Panelists included Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education for the state of Massachusetts; Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District; and Patrice Pujol, the president of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The remainder of the summit offered school system leaders and redesign partners networking opportunities and sessions for learning, brainstorming and planning.
Education leaders, such as Nichole Bourgeois, assistant superintendent of curriculum and academic affairs for the Bossier Parish School System, said the summit was a positive experience.
"We had a preparation call to get our mind set as to what we were going to see today, but that's nothing like going through the actual experience," she said, noting the quick pace of the meetings with the various partners kept her engaged and energized. "It's been exciting to go through the process and meet so many different vendors."
By participating in the summit, Bourgeois said, she is hopeful her school system will find a partner that will be "the right fit."
"We've narrowed it down to three partners that we're interested in and that could serve the needs of the schools we have identified," she said, "and we hope they can come in, partner with us, and improve teaching and learning for students to see greater success."
Pujol, who joined NIET after serving as the superintendent for Ascension Public Schools, said the summit was just as beneficial for the partner organizations.
"As a former Louisiana superintendent, I know first-hand the importance of a comprehensive system to support teachers who work with our most at-risk students," Pujol said. "Teachers and school leaders are at the core of our work. We know that the most important school-based factor in a child's education is the quality of the classroom teacher. Consequently, our whole school reform model centers on providing the highest level of support, feedback, and professional growth to teachers and school leaders as they work collaboratively to improve their practices in order to positively impact student achievement."
She continued: "NIET has a proven record of success already partnering with a number of Louisiana districts and schools. We look forward to beginning many new partnerships throughout the state to support leaders in their efforts to improve student outcomes."
The summit marked the beginning of the broader school redesign process. From here, providers will work with the school systems to formulate an improvement plan as part of their grant application. Once the plans are complete, the Department will review the applications and select the strongest ones, before sending them to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval. Though the timeline is flexible, the Department tentatively plans to announce the awards by the next calendar year.
For more information about the School Redesign Summit, click here.