WPSB: Pathways to school excellence

At the monthly meeting Monday, the Webster Parish School Board addressed several topics surrounding the upcoming move from J.E. Harper Elementary School to J.A. Phillips School and from Phillips to Webster Junior High.

The board voted on a name for the Pk-1 elementary school that will be located at the current Phillips facility. Frankie Mitchell moved to name it J.A. Phillips Elementary School, and after some discussion, Ronnie Broughton moved to instead choose the name J.A. Phillips Lower Elementary School.

Broughton said his concern was that without the word “Lower” added, state authorities would not know what ages the new school serves. However, Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland assured the board that the state would be informed, regardless of the name.

Broughton, Charles Strong, and Ronnie Rhymes voted for J.A. Phillips Lower Elementary School, but the motion failed to gain a majority. Afterward, the rest of the board, along with Strong, voted for J.A. Phillips Elementary School, which passed. Board member Penny Long was absent.

Also on the agenda was the approval for a plan to use the J.E. Harper facility for several purposes and assign it the name J.E. Harper Pathways to Excellence Center.

Rowland explained to attendees the various new purposes for the facility. First, it will house dual enrollment courses with Northwest Louisiana Technical College.

“It will serve as a Jump Start support center, but let me clarify that it would not just be for Jump Start kids,” Rowland said. “We would offer three pathways there: Certified Nursing Assistant, industrial instrumentation, and microenterprise with a focus on culinary arts.”

Northwest LTC will provide instructors for the courses housed at Harper. Rowland said the school district would be responsible for tuition fees, which will run at a reduced price of $300 per student, and approximately $10,000 for supplies and equipment.

“Supplemental Course Allotment funds and Career Development funds will pay for the bulk of these expenses,” he said. “With the technical college providing instructors for these classes, that is saving our school system a large amount of money.”

One school bus and driver will be delegated to pick up students from school and bring them to one morning and one afternoon dual enrollment session at the Harper center.

The proposed J.E. Harper Pathways to Excellence Center would also contain an OdysseyWare lab.

“It would serve those students in need of obtaining coursework through the OdysseyWare program, which is the online program that we now use here in Webster Parish for receiving credit and sometimes credit recovery,” Rowland said. “The technology department would take care of this. I’m very confident our technology department can do that.”

As part of this plan, the Webster Parish Education Resource Center, located at the old Lowe Elementary School, would be cleared out and demolished. This facility currently holds the technology department, professional development, school food services, and Minden High School JROTC.

Technology and professional development would both move to the Harper center. Food services would move back to the school board central office, while Rowland said Minden High School is working on a plan to house the JROTC program.

“Let me say this publicly: JROTC is a great program,” he said. “We support it, and we want to keep it. I think we have legitimate talks going on right now to continue to support that program.”

Rowland said the district would take the upcoming school year to move those programs out of the old facility and into Harper, with a goal of demolition taking place in spring of 2019.

Rowland estimated costs for moving and demolition would be around $270,000. Other costs include $56,000 for HVAC and electrical improvements. He advocated for the parish-wide maintenance funds to cover these costs since the Harper center would serve the entire parish, not just Minden.

A few concerns were raised by members of the board, especially regarding bussing. Several members were unsure if one bus and driver could transport students from across the parish to the Harper center twice a day.

In the end, the board approved the plan for the J.E. Harper Pathways to Excellence Center unanimously, with Penny Long absent.
While expressing a few hesitations, board member John Madden said he thought the plan would be a boon to students of Webster Parish, and the district could work through any problems that arise.

“I do commend y’all for doing what you did,” he said. “This isn’t going to be perfect in my estimation, bussing might be a bit of an issue, but we’ll work that out. The classes offered will evolve over time. There will be something in five or six years that we haven’t even thought about today. As long as we’re proactive and thinking about this, we have done something pretty good for Webster Parish. It’s not going to be perfect, but we’ll work through it.”

The board also approved the lowest bid for the new purchase of furniture and moving of existing furniture for Harper, Phillips, and WJHS from BMS, LLC in the amount of $116,579.

In other news, the board was asked to approve two new job descriptions for changing positions in the special education department. Personnel Director Robin Tucker addressed the board on the details.

There have been some vacancies created recently by the departure of the IEP coordinator and two of the instructional strategists,” Tucker said. “The IEP coordinator will be advertised and filled with no changes. However, the ten-month instructional strategist positions need to be changed to ten-month instructional facilitators. The main difference between a facilitator and a strategist is the type of degree. A facilitator does not have to have a master’s degree.”

Tucker said the need for these positions to be filled comes to match new goals for the district.

“As the district has adopted targeted curriculum-focused goals, the special education department needs to provide support specifically to teachers of students with disabilities in implementing these changes in a manner which will result in improved outcomes for these students,” she said.

The board approved the job descriptions, and Tucker said the plan was to begin advertising Tuesday.

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