The Webster Parish School Board curriculum committee identified several factors they believe may contribute to children reading behind grade level.

Webster Parish School Board President Charles Strong and Vice President Johnnye Kennon listen as the curriculum committee presented its findings Monday night. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Webster Parish School Board President Charles Strong and Vice President Johnnye Kennon listen as the curriculum committee presented its findings Monday night. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

In committee prior to the school board meeting, data was presented showing kindergarten versus third grade students, suggesting Webster Parish is below the state average when kindergarten students start school. In the fall, 38 percent of kindergarten students were at grade level in reading versus the state benchmark at 56 percent. By third grade, Webster Parish is at 59 percent, compared to the state’s benchmark at 63 percent.

District 9 Board Member Frankie Mitchell, curriculum committee chair, talks about the committee's findings regarding reading as District 7 Board Member Linda Kinsey listens. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
District 9 Board Member Frankie Mitchell, curriculum committee chair, talks about the committee’s findings regarding reading as District 7 Board Member Linda Kinsey listens. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

In February, Marty Kilgore, Title II staff development facilitator with the WPSB, said Supervisor of Elementary Education Connie Busby found a correlation with the number of preschool classes cut and the number of children lagging behind in kindergarten.

Another issue they found was the lack of parent participation. Sam Mims, who approached the board with the issue in February, says something needs to be done to alleviate low parental involvement.

“Since we know that part of the problem is parents not being involved, we have to figure out a strategy on how to change that,” Mims said.

District 8 Board Member Ronnie Broughton agreed with Mims, but added that poverty may also play a role.

“I spent a lot of time looking at numbers about this problem, and the economic factor is the killer,” he said. “Louisiana is the third from the bottom in poverty and we can’t do anything about that as a school board. But maybe we can keep in mind that is the foundation of the problem.”

Broughton says many poor children come from single parent homes, which makes it difficult for the parents to participate in events such as parent universities.

Parent universities were hosted in the north and the south ends of the parish in an effort to offer parents resources and techniques to better help their children at home.

Kilgore, in the committee meeting, said all elementary students are screened three times per school year to see which students aren’t hitting target. Those students are identified and interventions take place to work with below level students to strengthen their weaknesses in reading.

Project READ phonology is used as a supplemental phonics program for instruction and remediation in grades K-3. Accelerated Reader is another avenue used to encourage reading and provide incentives for reaching reading goals.

A new program, called Daily 5, is a book study which focuses on reading stamina.

Other ways to help students reach their targets is through literacy nights, Kilgore said. Area churches are also volunteering time to work with at-risk students.

“I think this is worldwide, but we’re not going to give up,” District 9 Board Member Frankie Mitchell said. “Sometimes we can make things happen locally, but they’ve never heard about it in the big city. We can’t say that it can’t be done.”

Mitchell, chair of the curriculum committee, asked the committee to continue to work on different ideas and strategies that might generate more parental involvement.

In other business, the school board:

n adopted a resolution giving preliminary approval to the issuance of general obligation school refunding bonds of Consolidated School District No. 1. David Henderson, a bonding attorney at Foley and Judell in New Orleans, says these bonds will pay off the existing $4 million 2008 general obligation bonds for the district. The board also adopted a resolution similar for Sarepta School District No. 35. Henderson says the purpose of approaching the state bond commission with these requests is to save the board money.

n approved the purchase of furniture for the new sixth grade building at North Webster Junior High School in the amount of $22,651.14 using Sarepta Bond money.

n approved work on a fire alarm sprinkler system at Doyline High School in the amount of $1,390 using the Doyline Bond Fund.

n approved the proposal from Johnson Controls to replace the fan motor for AHU 16 at Minden High School, using District 6 half-cent sales tax in the amount of $3,380.

n approved Moro Electric LLC to install a 400 AMP on an existing pole and installation of underground services to three portable buildings at J.L. Jones Elementary School for $4,800, using District 6 half-cent sales tax.

n approved travel expenses for school employees. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls explained the majority of these were expenses paid to those who traveled with athletic teams that won championships and moved to higher rankings.

A special meeting is set for 6 p.m., Monday, March 21, at Minden High School. This meeting will be for all the awards presentations, which will include outstanding students, staff, teachers and administrators.

Board member training will be from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., Saturday, April 30, at Wilson’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant. These will count as board members’ continuing education hours.

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