Superintendent: Education in St. Mary continues its success
Donald Aguillard, St. Mary Parish superintendent of schools
Schools in St. Mary Parish have reasserted a focus on students and the pursuit to achieve, driving the system forward through a series of state educational reforms.
Actions by the Louisiana State Department of Education have significantly altered the way schools do business in 2013. In light of considerable shifts, St. Mary has resolved to focus steadily on student results and efforts that lead to academic accomplishment. Thus, the progress attained by students and schools in St. Mary is exceptional, particularly when one considers the magnitude of change dictated to districts including alterations of testing requirements, teacher evaluation procedures, curricular revisions and financial supports.
District accountability score calculations in 2013 resulted in performance labels of three “A” schools whose school performance score fell within a range of 100 to 150: Berwick Elementary, Berwick Junior High and Berwick High schools. Additionally, the district posted eight “B” schools with scores between 85 to 99.9: Aucoin, Bayou Vista, Hattie Watts, Shannon and Wyandotte elementary schools; Morgan City and Patterson junior high schools; and Morgan City High School. Additionally, there were six “C” schools: Foster, Maitland and Norman elementary schools; B.E. Boudreaux Middle; and Centerville and Patterson high schools with an SPS ranging from 70 to 84.9. The following six “D” schools had a score of 50 to 69.9: Raintree, J. A. Hernandez and LaGrange Elementary School; Franklin Junior High; and Franklin and West St. Mary high schools. Annual test results confirmed that no St. Mary school falls below a 50 SPS, which is the threshold signifying a failing school.
Combined, all 23 school scores gave St. Mary a district letter grade “B” with a score of 90.5 points. Of 74 school districts that received performance score ratings in the 2013, St. Mary tied for the rank of 19th best in the state.
Graduation rates in St. Mary Parish continued an upward trend, rising to 73.8 percent and exceeding the state average by 1.5 percent.
High school students required to participate in state end-of-course tests have demonstrated an overall passage rate of 87 percent on the six core courses that comprise Louisiana’s high stakes examination program. Students are currently required to pass three tests in the following areas: English 2 or English 3, algebra 1 or geometry, and biology or U.S. history.
A record-setting 515 St. Mary students participated in the ACT used to measure core skills essential for success during a student’s first year of college. Although the district’s composite score declined from 19.2 in 2012 to 18.8 in 2013, the data revealed an increase of 62 St. Mary students who scored an 18 or above, which serves as a benchmark for attending college without the need to schedule remedial coursework.
Principal appointments in 2013 included Shannon Hoffpauir at Norman Elementary, Paul Godfrey at LaGrange Elementary and Dawn Chaisson at Foster Elementary. Assistant principal positions were afforded to Brandy Breaux at Hattie Watts, Tara Fabre at Patterson Junior High, Markita Grant at Raintree, Kiante Gunner at Franklin Junior High, Carmen LaGarde at Morgan City High, Carol St. Germain at Bayou Vista Elementary, Shantell Toups at Berwick Elementary and Steve Russo also at Patterson Junior High.
Additionally, a requested medical leave by Berwick Junior High School’s principal Tommy Bourgeois led to the transfer of instructional program manager Teresa Bagwell to serve as acting principal there. The accomplishments and dedicated service of Bourgeois were celebrated in 2013 when the circular drive in front of Berwick Junior High School was dedicated as Bourgeois Drive.
National and state accolades were presented to several St. Mary educators in 2013. Hattie Watts’ Niki Fryou was selected as a 2013 National Distinguished Principal by National Association of Elementary School Principals. Buffy Fegenbush, principal of Berwick High School, was a state finalist for Louisiana’s Principal of the Year. Additional parish principals of the year were Claire Guarisco of Bayou Vista Elementary and Magdalene Drexler of B.E. Boudreaux Middle.
Sheryl Gibbons, English teacher at Patterson High School, was a Louisiana Teacher of the Year state finalist for the second time in her teaching career. Rounding out St. Mary Parish Teacher of the Year awards were Bayou Vista Elementary’s Heather Gros and Rachel Auenson of Berwick Junior High School. Further, Amy Vaccarella of Berwick Junior High was recognized as Region 3 Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Louisiana Association for Computer-Using Educators, and The Louisiana Bandmasters Association named retiring Berwick High School band director Walter Shepherd as 2013 Band Master of the Year.
St. Mary Parish Students of the Year were Benjamin Lemoine, 5th grader at Bayou Vista Elementary; Breeze Simoneaux, 8th grader at B.E. Boudreaux Middle; and Kayla South, a senior at Morgan City High School.
The St. Mary Parish School Board elected officers in January selecting Murphy J. Pontiff as its president for the two-year term. Edward Payton Jr. was re-elected as the board’s vice-president.
The necessity for substantial and costly repairs to Patterson Junior High led to a vote for new school construction. Local school board members, district personnel and city officials worked in tandem to offer voters a tax proposal to benefit the junior high and Hattie Watts. Residents of Ward 5 also demonstrated their commitment to public education in Patterson by authorizing the $21 million bond proposition.
Voter approval of the 20-year property tax measure by a 73 percent favorable vote means that Patterson children will be able to utilize a badly needed multipurpose building on the Hattie Watts campus and Patterson Junior High students can look forward to a new facility without leaking roofs, environmental system failures, crowded hallways, deteriorating electrical systems, peeling plaster and crumbling buildings that had reached the end of their useful life.
Education in St. Mary Parish strives to put students first, working together to provide a strong foundation for our youth.
The dedication and collaboration of all stakeholders during my tenure as superintendent has enabled our community to create an exceptional educational system. As we continue to raise student achievement and build educational capacity, St. Mary Parish will persevere through the many state department revisions due to its steadfast commitment to our students.