Pictured here from left to right are Evangeline Parish School Board Technology Coordinator John Deranger, Natalie Harder from One Acadiana and South Louisiana Community College, Troy Wayman from One Acadiana, Evangeline Parish Industrial Development Board Chairman Dr. “Tojo” Ward, and Evangeline Parish Superintendent of School Darwan Lazard as they show off some of the new Chromebooks that will be available for students in Evangeline Parish. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
A higher standard of education
For the past several generations, the oil and gas industries have provided opportunities for well paying jobs in the state for those who had not attained postsecondary education. With the availability of these jobs going on the downward trend, these workers who only have a high school diploma are left on the lurch when it comes to find such a well paying job.
To resolve this issue in the Acadiana region, representatives of One Acadiana met Tuesday with officials from the Evangeline Parish School Board as well as with business leaders from the parish to discuss ways to encourage students to attain a high school diploma as well as some sort of higher education in order to find a meaningful career.
One Acadiana has proposed a plan to increase educational attainment in the Acadiana region. Andre Breaux said that the group “is committed to the creation of an equitable education system that meets the region’s need for talent and offers all Acadiana residents the chance for a better life through increased educational attainment. To that end, One Acadiana’s regional goal is to increase the proportion of adults in Acadiana with postsecondary degrees, certificates, or other high-quality credentials to 55 percent by 2025.”
This plan would raise the current trend 11.7 percentage points from the projected 43.3 percent for the same year of 2025. Troy Wayman with One Acadiana said that this trend would help in economic development by “making sure companies have the human capital that they need to be successful.”
One way to bridge this gap is by implementing an online Regional Education Dashboard where data will be collected to track the progress of the nine parishes. Natalie Harder with One Acadiana and South Louisiana Community College expressed “the purpose of the dashboard is to hold everybody accountable.”
Current data from the 2018 Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) Tests show 29 percent of eighth graders across Acadiana reached mastery in math. Evangeline Parish ranks second in the region at 34 percent which is down from 45 percent in 2016.
Similar data show that the average four-year graduation rate for the One Acadiana region is 81.9 percent which is higher than the statewide average of 78.1 percent. According to the numbers, Evangeline Parish increased its graduation rate by 18 percentage points over the last five years.
Superintendent Darwan Lazard, as well as members of his staff, shared information of how Evangeline Parish can help all of its students to succeed. “Our vision is to provide different ways for students to find success,” Lazard stated. “We are trying to do that by giving different offerings to all of our students.”
One of the new ways on the district level is through the virtual school program. “We needed a virtual school program because we were loosing a significant number of students to virtual school programs that are offered across the state,” said Assistant Superintendent Michael Lombas. “This was an attempt to retain our own students, and one unique thing about our virtual school program is that it runs year round.”
“We customized the courses to work with the kids individually, and there is a teacher at Evangeline Central who works with these students and administers the tests that they need,” he continued. “For some kids, this is absolutely the best route for them to complete their higher education.”
According to Career Technical Education director for the parish Ted Soileau, the district offers both university and jump start pathways for students to receive a high school diploma. “We’re trying to prepare every student for a career whether that’s going to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, welder, electrician, or HVAC technician,” he said. “We’re trying to prepare our students and give them the necessary tools so that they can be successful.”
Another effort to help students succeed in the district is the work base learning program. “We were so successful in our first year with getting our students with disabilities out into the workforce, and our community was so receptive,” said Special Education Director Roxane West. “We had 11 students the first year and 30 students the second year. This really excites our students because it gives them the experience and shows them they can do things.”
One new initiative that is planned for the district is already being done on a pilot program at Vidrine and Bayou Chicot Elementaries. Lazard said the plan is “to have a one-to-one ration of Chromebooks.” He added, “Our goal is to put that in the hands of every student because we are transitioning from textbooks.”
Technology Coordinator John Deranger stated, “We have to keep up with the way the kids learn, and that’s our way of doing it by putting the Chromebooks in the kids’ hands, and our teachers have just embraced it.”
The presentation from Lazard and his staff drew the admiration of those from One Acadiana as well as the business community.
Harder called the information impressive and said “you can see the effects of” everything you are doing as a district.
Mark Sullentrop, the facility general manager of Cabot Corporation, concluded, “I have always said that when I go into the schools here in Evangeline Parish I am always impressed with the enthusiasm of the students and the teacher. That has always been tremendous.”