Panel discusses future for Natchitoches Parish School District

By Corey Poole

Three top tier education policy experts in the state held a panel discussion with members of the Natchitoches Young Professionals (NYP). The experts were Brigitte Neiland, with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), Stephanie Deselle, with the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and Carrie Monica (Stand for Children Louisiana).

After ranking at the bottom nationally on every statistic in educational attainment Louisiana shifted in some major areas to help move all kids up in education. In the last 5 years the state adopted a whole new set of academic standards, especially in math, reading and writing. The goal is to raise the expectations in the classrooms. The state as a whole has made some progress. More kids aren’t at the absolute bottom like they were.

“More kids are scoring higher on the ACT than ever before,” said Deselle. “More kids are going to a four year school like Northwestern. Drop out rates are down. We’re beginning to turn this ship that was in a negative position around. But we have a long way to go and there are pockets that aren’t changing as quickly as some school districts are.”

The report card from the Department of Education for the Natchitoches Parish School District is a C. The advanced placement and ACT scores are below the state average.

“Something is missing here,” said Deselle. “A C in Louisiana is really nothing to crow about. No district should have an F rated elementary school. Leadership is critical at every step of the way and if you do nothing you’re making a choice.”

Neiland commended the work of Natchitoches Chamber of Commerce President Tony Davis and Natchitoches Community Alliance Vice President of Economic Development Mike Wolff, leading the community in the direction where it needs to be in the next decade.

“It’s the young people who have the energy, like the NYP. It’s also the young people who have that commitment to social justice,” she said. “What’s happening to 80 percent of the children in this district isn’t social justice and some would even say it’s not moral. You cannot continue to have kids getting out of elementary school who can’t read.”

According to Deselle, education reform is like a virus; once it gets in your blood it’s very hard to get out because you see your actions directly impacting people’s lives.

“When it comes down to implementing education reform is really where the rubber meets the road,” said Neiland.