Luling teachers stick up for school

Lorainne Delk
Lorainne Delk, a third grade teacher at Luling Elementary, poses questions to students during a lesson on Tuesday.

Teachers and School Board members maintain that Luling Elementary offers a quality education, despite the challenges it faces.

With over 15 percent of the student population in the school’s attendance zone going to school elsewhere, some parishioners believe that parents move their children away from the school because of race or low test scores, rather than for childcare.

But School Board member Ellis Alexander, whose district includes Luling Elementary, said that the school offers just as good of an education as any other parish school.

“I think everyone at Luling works very hard to do all they can to see that the kids get a good education while they’re there,” Alexander said. “I know we have some wonderful teachers, staff and children there.”

Destrehan High School teacher Angie Butler, sends her children to Luling and said that the school is excellent.

“As a parent, I know that there are a lot of hard working teachers at Luling. The school as a whole offers resources to help children who are struggling or academically excelling,” Butler said. “I think the issue they are having is a stigma from a long time ago. As a parent and a teacher, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want your child to go there.

‘They have great administrators, teachers and their programs are excelling.”

Butler’s son, Cole, is currently in kindergarten at LES and another son, Cade, graduated from LES and moved on to R.K. Smith.

“Being at DHS, I gave Cade the option to transfer out, but he really liked the school,” she said.

Even without the 123 students who received waivers, Luling Elementary has the third largest student population in the parish with 635 kids, only behind the two parish high schools.

The school’s action plan lists numerous challenges that the staff faces each year, including low parent involvement. Most notably, the school’s performance scores have consistently been below the parish’s average.

But while the school’s scores are the lowest in the parish, they have consistently risen each year and the school has seen some of the highest growth in scores in the district over the past two years.

In fact, almost 65 percent of the students in fourth grade scored at basic or above across the different subjects tested, and nearly 15 percent scored at mastery or advanced levels.

“We’re all very proud of that, but it’s still not good enough for us,” said LES Principal AJ Pethe.

Certain areas of learning are even higher at Luling than at other district schools.

In fact, Luling students in 2nd and 3rd grades scored above district percentages in technology proficiency, despite the fact that many of the students do not use a computer at home.

According to the 2009 District Technology Questionnaire, 73 percent of LES students said they use a computer 0 to 1 times per week to complete school work.

In 2009, 89 percent of Luling Elementary 2nd graders were technology proficient, compared to 85 percent for the district, and 98 percent of 3rd graders were technology proficient compared to 86 percent for the district.

And despite reading and writing test scores that are lower than the district average, it would seem that Luling students have a thirst for knowledge. Circulation rates at Luling Elementary’s library have steadily increased over the past few years, with an average of 30 books checked out per student in 2009. This could be due in part to the many literacy programs the school has in place, including one that focuses on incorporating non-fiction books into the classroom.

“Our students are eager to learn and they’re open to anything we give them,” said April Mosley, a 3rd grade teacher at LES. “They like to be challenged.”

A major challenge for the school has been students coming in with a lack of early childhood development. Because of this, the school has a Reading Recovery program to help get kids back on track. Students in the program work one-on-one with faculty for 30 minutes each day to improve their reading skills. And the program seems to be working, with 85 percent of participating children graduating out of it.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the school in the past has been a lack of parent involvement. The 2009 school plan repeatedly states parental involvement as a challenge and the staff has taken many steps to try to increase involvement, including parent-teacher conferences and community outreach events. When surveyed, more than 80 percent of LES parents felt like the school gave them numerous opportunities to be involved in the education of their child.

However, last year only four parents were actively involved in the school’s parent-teacher organization. But even though there were not many active members, parents still showed up to support their children when they received academic awards, with 1,800 parents coming in the 2009-2010 school year for academic events.

After a push by school staff to boost parental involvement this year, Pethe said that the parent teacher organization and the new parent volunteer program now have more than 100 members. That is still only about 15 percent of parents, but with 80 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, it is likely that their parents are working long hours at low-paying jobs to provide for them and may not feel like they have time to be more involved.

“We’ve made a better effort this year, it’s a big improvement,” Pethe said. “Even when parents don’t have time to come in during school, we send activities home with the child for the parent volunteers to help out with.”

Continuous professional development is also a big focus at the school, with weekly sessions to help keep teachers on their toes and up-to-date on the latest educational skills.

“At most district training sessions, we have the most teachers there,” Pethe said.

First grade teacher Valerie Rogers agreed, saying, “Teachers here all really want to go…we are very excited about bringing what we learn back to the classroom.”

Despite the school’s achievements and continual improvement, students still have not met district targets for LEAP and iLEAP.

But last year, the vast majority of LES parents who were surveyed still said they were satisfied with the school and the education their child was receiving.

Pethe said that the school’s greatest strength and greatest challenge is the size of the student body.

He said that while it is a difficult job to keep up with the needs of pre-kindergartners, 5th graders and everyone in between, it is also rewarding to see them grow over those seven years. Mosley agreed.

“It’s such a rush of excitement to see how our kids come to us and then see how much they’ve grown and learned when they leave,” Mosley said. “The impact I’m able to have on them – I can see that daily.”

Rogers said that teaching at Luling was never her plan, but once she came to the school and witnessed the friendly, family-oriented environment, she never wanted to leave.

“I came here after (Hurricane Katrina). I was supposed to leave and return to my old school, but I refused,” she said. “I wanted to stay here.”

School Board member Alexander said that he thinks there is “no reason in the world,” except inconvenience, that parents should want to take their children out of Luling Elementary and that he would willingly send his own children to the school.


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