A Consistent Culture of Excellence

By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion

The Natchitoches Parish School system operates two high schools – Lakeview and NCHS. The system also operates several middle and elementary schools. Each year, the school accountability scores for the parish’s schools run the gamut from A to F. The release of the scores is always a bit anticlimactic, the only true suspense being whether or not there would be an incremental increase or decrease in an individual school’s score. Which schools would have the low scores and which the better ones seldom, if ever, came as a surprise.

That means, to a large extent, the quality of a child’s educational experience depends in no small part in which one of the parish’s schools they are zoned to attend, or that their parents can wheedle them into. This is patently unfair to the children trapped in the failing schools and is an abdication of the system’s – and our – responsibility to them. That such a gap in school quality continues to exist promotes cynicism and distrust.

Over the years, there have been several school board members who have advocated closing the Magnet School and returning the children to their home schools on the theory that it was not fair to take the better students away from their home schools and that doing so was causing the failing school’s scores. I must respectfully disagree here. The problem is not the Magnet School’s taking a relatively small number of students whose return to their home schools would scarcely have an effect on their home school’s overall score. Nor are the Magnet and Lab schools the district’s sole repository of sound teaching. The Academy of Fine Arts in L.P. Vaughn and then East, is truly innovative and has produced solid results. The only schools in the Natchitoches Parish system sending students to the Regional Science Fair for the past two years have been the Junior High and East. Both of those are the result of hard working and dedicated teachers and administrators who believe in their students and go far above the call of duty in serving them. There are smart and talented children in each and every school in the parish. We are failing too many of them.

What then should the system and the citizens of the parish do to increase the equity and overall quality of education in each of the schools? Simply raise expectations and be intentional in distributing resources. See what is working and how we can replicate it throughout the parish.

Music: Both Magnet, Lab and NCHS have superb orchestras. While an orchestra might not be practical for Lakeview, the Junior High and other schools, there is room for improvement in all. NSU has a wonderful music education program, why not offer their students internships in our needier schools? I have seen some of the superb talent at L.P. Vaughn and later, East. I think this is a problem that would be easy to solve with some out of the box thinking. It would also be wonderful if a young NSU Music Education student fell in love with our parish and decided to teach here after graduation.

Theater: Once again, our neighbor NSU has a wonderful theater department as does the LSMSA. Why is there no theater program at any of our schools? Is a high school play beyond our children’s abilities? I think not.

Duke University Talent Identification Search: I have covered the TIP awards ceremony for the past few years. Most, if not all, of the children participating in the program hail from Lab and Magnet. That needs to change! This is a potentially life changing program, especially for a child of modest background who could see the possibilities that lay beyond his or her circumstances. There is absolutely no reason every school in the parish cannot have children in this program. That we do not is a travesty.

This stuff is simple, but it is not easy. Let us take a look around us for opportunities for our children to excel and grow. Let us make sure that every school in the parish does right by their children. This may involve difficult conversations. So be it. We cannot afford complacency.

The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal.  If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.


2 thoughts on “A Consistent Culture of Excellence

  1. All true. But the standardized tests don’t include questions on music, theatre, and art. If there’s no way to show a need for these programs, then there won’t be any funds coming from Baton Rouge for them. Grants are just about the only way to get these things started and keep them going.

    But you know what earns money for a school? Athletics. Ticket sales, concessions, merchandise… Besides, sports are so much easier to understand than art, music, or plays. More exciting, too.

    No matter that studies show children who study music, learn how to play an instrument, heck, even listen to music while doing homework do better in all subjects, especially math. Or that studying the arts gives students an advantage in high school and college. When so many of our kids read below grade level and can’t understand what they read, teachers have to play catch-up; there’s no time to encourage higher-order thinking.

    Don’t get me started on what’s lacking in our schools.

  2. Very well said. I would love to see a Theatre program for the students. The Natchitoches fine arts school at East led by Mr. Vonkannel is a wonderful program. My child really enjoyed it.

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