I would like to first thank all the teachers in Webster Parish for the great job they do every day working with students. A day in the life of a teacher is quite a busy one. Teachers start by preparing lesson plans that guide the instruction for the week. In the case of math, science, social studies, and language arts, teachers (and schools) are utilizing test data to drive instruction. What this means is that students are being taught the State Curriculum with a heavy emphasis on areas in which they were unsuccessful a year ago. This prescribed approach helps the district in its effort towards School Improvement and is part of the School Improvement Process.
The Letter to the Editor article printed Tuesday Jan. 31 titled in part "Our Failing Public Schools" does not reflect the outstanding work and student preparation that is actually taking place in Webster Parish Schools. For instance, this past school year the senior class was awarded over 1.5 million in scholarships from various Universities and organizations. Many of the graduates from Webster Parish have gone on to become very successful in life. We have graduated many students over the years (including this past year) that have gone on or will go on to become doctors, veterinarian, attorneys, teachers, pilots, and other successful careers.
The Schools and all involved in Webster Parish continue to work so that all of our students are successful. We continue to strive to improve. The School Improvement Process (currently being implemented) will assist us in that goal by providing the structure to allow schools to Focus on Results. This promises to make schools and staff better equipped to meet their academic goals.
The article in the paper mentions the "D" letter grade. While this grade is definitely not acceptable to any of the educators, we must remember had the previous grading scale remained intact, the letter grade would have been a "C+." We were also within a few points of the B range. The new grading scale (based upon a scale of 200 points) that was imposed upon all public schools in Louisiana resulted in most schools going down a complete letter grade. If a similar situation occurred in Texas or any other State, the schools would of course be "failing" just like the ones in Louisiana.
The Webster Parish School System is not happy with the "D" rating and are making efforts to move this score to the next level and more. Our goal is to have excellent lessons every day that meet the needs of our students and improve our test scores in order to be the highest performing Parish in the State. This obviously will not be done overnight but the process is in motion.
When looking at finances, yes we are in a bit of a dilemma with a budget that went three million into reserves this past August (and into reserves previous years)to balance the budget. This is not acceptable. We must remember, no schools in the State of Louisiana have received the annual 2.5% increase in the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) money from the State in the past three years and our retirement cost have risen dramatically adding over one million dollars to our deficit.
In order to counter the effect of not receiving the State funding that we have received in the past, drastic measures must take place. As you have read, we are looking at every option to reduce expenditures including a reduction in force where excess staff members are removed from their positions. Texas schools are facing many of the same issues we are facing. The adjustments are not good reductions but necessary ones as we cannot continue to spend money we do not have. Every staff member lost affects education in some manner.
Public Education has been the backbone of education for many years and will continue to be so. We must strengthen our system by Focusing on Results and supporting the system that teaches and works with all students. The School Improvement System we are implementing will focus our efforts even more.
We accept the challenge to get our scores up and know we must do so. Our staffs are committed to providing the best possible education for all students in our schools.
Steve Dozier is the superintendent of Webster Parish schools.