BATON ROUGE -- Local officials have been touting the fact for years and it's well-known on the state level as well, and now the school system in St. Charles Parish has been recognized on a national stage.
American Executive magazine, a widely circulated trade publication that reports on leadership and management trends, recently profiled the school district's progress.
Of all the 68 school districts in Louisiana last year, St. Charles Parish had the eighth highest performance score, a feat the administration attributes to continuous learning on the part of the faculty and a balanced curriculum for students and just plain old hard-working kids.
While the standing is exceptional, it is not perfect, school officials cautioned during a round of interviews last week.
Striving for improvements - from adding more and more qualified teachers to spending school monies for the greatest educational benefit - is an important goal.
Dr. Rodney Lafon, district superintendent, said the schools' most pressing challenge came in the form of Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in $5 million in direct property damage and a loss of 13 school days.
It was originally estimated that as many as 1,300 students were displaced from other districts to St. Charles, but Lafon said that number has leveled off , easing the strain.
Meanwhile, the district's insurance coverage has picked up about $1 million worth of the damages, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is kicking in the other $4 million.
But even though the money will make the parish flush again, Lafon said the state is holding the FEMA cash back despite the fact that it has already been earmarked for local use.
"The state is asking for a lot of trivial information about the dollars and it is irritating us," he said. "When you're recouping and trying to get things done, it's hard to get three or four bids for everything. The state is really giving us a hard time."
The inside story: How parish students and teachers beat the averages
Inside the schools, test scores continue to trump state averages.
On the American College Test, commonly referred to as the ACT, St. Charles Parish has averaged a score of about 20.3 over the past five years, placing the district in the uppermost percentile and consistently higher than many metro areas like Baton Rouge.
For the lower grades, LEAP testing has also increased, although only by 1 percent - technically, it's a modest jump, but due to new school districts being added recently and other factors, St. Charles Parish has taken a dip in the actual district rankings.
While teachers can certainly be credited with the consistently higher scores, the district's five-year composite report on file with the state reveals that 25 faculty members holding a master's degree or higher are no longer with the system.
The percentage of core classes being taught by highly-qualified teachers has also dropped by about four percentage points to 93.9 percent, but even that is still a couple of points above the state average.
Lafon described the changes as "normal," but added there are more new teachers in the system than usual and that could play out many different ways in coming months.
"We usually see 50 to 75 teachers leave the system every year, but this year we had to replace 120 teachers," he said, blaming Katrina for displacing people and jobs.
We're in the money - sales taxes for schools on the rise, says schools chief
While teachers might be leaving, sales taxes have remarkably gone up, according to John W. "Jay" Robichaux, president of the St. Charles Parish School Board.
"That could have been from the storms, but we don't know," Robichaux said.
"Only time will tell. It might dry up on us, but you never know."
He said local developers are watching the west bank with interest as chatter about new subdivisions keep sprouting up, which in turn could mean moremoney for the district via property taxes.
Facilities all around the parish need to be upgraded and repaired, Robichaux said, and those plans could be made now based on a generous sales tax forecast, but it's too soon.
"You don't want to go to the bank on an assumption," he said. "For now, we wait."
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