Counselor makes impassioned plea for Harper school

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A school counselor made an impassioned plea to the Webster Parish School Board to find a solution and work together on J.E. Harper Elementary.

Board members and the buildings and maintenance committee have been discussing options, even hosting public meetings, to come up with a feasible solution to fix the infrastructure issues at Harper. While they have heard and discussed several options, another was added to the list for the school board to consider.

Olivia Sebald, school counselor, spoke to the board near the end of the meeting, amidst discussion over whether she could even speak without the board amending the agenda. The board did not amend the agenda, choosing instead, to allow her to speak under the superintendent’s report on the agenda. There was some dispute over open meetings laws that dictate whether the agenda must be amended to add an item before it can be discussed in open session.

“I feel like you have opposition against an idea, and I feel like you – and maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s somebody you represent – but somebody is intimidated or put off by an idea that may just possibly help our kids,” she said to board members. “And that’s heartbreaking to me that you would bicker over five minutes for me to tell you that I have a thought that might help your test scores. It might help my child reach her potential.”

Board member John Madden says he was under the impression with a handout on Harper from Perry Watson in their packet, that it was to be briefly discussed during the meeting under the superintendent’s report. He repeated what he’s said for the last two months that the board told the public they are going to do something about the situation at Harper. It was during that discussion he thought she should be able to speak. However, that packet was never discussed.

Sebald’s idea for Harper is to convert it to a K-8 open classroom leadership magnet school for gifted students. With the proposal she put forward, she says it would solve the issue in that it would pull at least 25 to 30 students from each school, allowing first and second grade to be pushed to J.L. Jones Elementary and the third, fourth and fifth grades to E.S. Richardson Elementary.

“We can all agree that Harper is not working for our kindergartners and first graders,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of money. This is just where we are. So why not find a group of students who could work there? This is where my attention went to our gifted and high achieving students.”

Her argument is that the state’s curriculum is geared towards the mainstream student, and while the needs of special education students are met, the gifted and high achieving students may be left behind.

“These kids would thrive and that’s a use for a building that we could use within the parish,
where they could have something innovative, something forward thinking,” she said. “Webster Parish used to be the leader in Louisiana in education. That was a long time ago, but it’s the truth. Why can’t we do that again?”

Several options over the past few months have been discussed, like building a new school, renovating the existing facility, swapping schools with Richardson, and moving sixth grade to Webster Junior High School and putting the kindergarteners and first graders at J.A. Phillips Middle School.

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