Parish officials: Moving classes may boost scores

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2000

VIDALIA, La. — You can’t have too much communication among teachers — especially when the future of a school district and its students depends on it. That is the philosophy behind the idea of moving third-graders from Vidalia and Ferriday’s lower elementary schools to their upper elementaries, a recommendation the district’s Curriculum Committee made to the school board this week.

The idea is this: Having third-graders in upper elementaries, which now house fourth and fifth grades, would allow those schools to more closely monitor what third-graders learn and better prepare them for the Louisiana Education Assessment Program (LEAP) test, which they will take as fourth-graders.

&uot;This is not a criticism of our third-grade teachers,&uot; said Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot;&160;Peterman. &uot;But you can follow what the children are learning a whole lot better when you’re at the same school.&uot;

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Stakes are high

Next year, fourth- and eighth-graders must pass LEAP to go to the next grade. If schools do not meet state-set goals for improving scores, their enrollment could fall as parents are given the right to transfer their children to schools that meet testing goals.

After that, schools that still don’t meet such goals could lose their state funding. Concordia schools get about $13 million in state funds each year – an amount that is already falling because the number of students is declining due to a lackluster local economy.

At the same school, third- and fourth-grade teachers would have more chances to discuss students’ performance formally, in weekly meetings and regular staff development activities.

&uot;It would also happen informally, of course,&uot;&160;said Ross Dyer, principal of Vidalia Upper Elementary and Curriculum Committee member. &uot;If teachers are in the same school, they’re much more likely to stop one another and say, ‘Johnny’s having some problems in this area.’&uot;

According to LEAP test scores, both fourth- and eighth-graders are having the most problems with vocabulary, reading comprehension, problem solving and thinking skills.

If the classes are moved, about 140 third-grade students in Vidalia and 117 in Ferriday would be affected.

Working out the details

The district has figured out where the students would be placed. Modular, or temporary, classrooms moved from the lower elementary to the upper elementary would take care of space needs in Vidalia.

Three modular classrooms would be bought for Ferriday Upper Elementary. As of Friday, the district had not gotten an estimated cost for those modules.

So that third-graders will have less anxiety about being the youngest children at a new school, they will be separate from other students except at school assemblies, Dyer said.

&uot;They will have a separate playground and a separate lunch period,&uot;&160;Dyer said. &uot;At least for this year, until we can see how this works out.&uot;

As far as staffing is concerned, third-grade teachers would simply be transferred from the lower to the upper elementaries.

The number of teachers will not be cut as a result of the move, Peterman said.

In Ferriday, those who still want to teach grades at the lower elementary will probably be able to do so because of the number of teachers that will retire, Peterman said. In that case, the district would simply hire third-grade teachers for the upper elementary.

Making the plan reality

There are still many steps to be taken. &uot;This is at the planning stage of seeing what’s possible,&uot;&160;Peterman said. &uot;We’re finding out if the logistics are possible and productive to do it.&uot;

Hearings will be held Feb. 14 in Vidalia and Feb. 15 in Ferriday to get public input on the proposed changes.

The Concordia Parish School Board must approve the move, which it will probably consider in its March 7 meeting.

And, because the district is still under a 1970 desegregation order, a federal court must also give its approval. That usually takes 30 to 60 days.

This would not be the first time the district has had to get court approval for such a change. In the last 12 years, a school at Clayton was closed, ninth grade was moved to the high schools and sixth grade was moved to the middle schools.

This time, Peterman hopes that if the board approves the move, court approval can be given and specifics of the move can be worked out by the school year’s end so students will already know where they will be going to school next year.

Forty more 4-year-olds

In addition to moving third grades, the proposed changes would give Vidalia and Ferriday’s lower elementaries one more pre-kindergarten class each, and each of those classes could have up to 20 students. The new classes would be funded with federal Title I funds.

The district already has two pre-K classes at Vidalia Lower, three at Ferriday Kindergarten Center and one in Monterey. Pre-K classes at the Ferriday Kindergarten would be moved to Ferriday Lower under the proposed changes. The district does not yet know for what it would use the Kindergarten Center.

Having more pre-K classes could end up raising test scores as well, Peterman said. &uot;We feel like the earlier we start with these children, the more it will pay off,&uot;&160;he said.

But raising such scores isn’t the only goal. &uot;Improving scores is important,&uot; he added, &uot;but learning is the key.&uot;