Calcasieu teachers, principals meet with lawmakers, ed chief on reform

WEB EXTRA: Teacher Vicky Johnston

The controversy over education reform lead to a hastily called meeting for Calcasieu School principals and one teacher from each school. The meeting was with the state education superintendent, and state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, a Lake Charles Republican.

The meeting was closed to the media, but KPLC was there as it started and waited around until it ended.

The specially called meeting at the central office on Broad street started at 9 a.m. and after an hour and fortyfive minutes they emerged. The local legislators say teachers brought up legitimate concerns and that they are listening.

Johns explained, "We invited Superintendent John White to come to Calcasieu Parish this morning and meet with principals and teachers and some of the administration here in Calcasieu to answer any questions concerning the governor's education package. It was a very good meeting. There were a lot of legitimate questions out there. I think superintendent White did a good job answering those questions and explaining his views and governor's views on these education bills."

Kleckley felt it was a productive dialogue.  "They're (teachers) very hard working and committed to what they do. But I think there are concerns about how it's going to be evaluated and it's going to be fairly evaluated and it's going to consider some of the factors they deal with every day in school whether it's with the children and some of the challenges they have in the classroom. "

Johns said, "I think a lot of their worries have to do with, especially in the accountability system with, where is there parental involvement involved. How does a teacher become accountable for a students' test scores when it's sometimes difficult to get the parents involved. Issues like that. Issues about charter schools taking public money.

Kleckley says education reform is a work in progress. "I think legislation, in my two terms I don't know if there's ever been a perfect piece of legislation, but as it goes through the process we can make changes to make it better. And if we need to make changes to these bills next year we can do that. We have that ability. We do come back in as a legislature next year so we can make changes."

Calcasieu superintendent Wayne Savoy agrees it was a good meeting. He says teachers are not afraid of education reform. "All they want and all anybody wants, I don't care where you are, is an opportunity to be heard and a fair process to be heard."

The state superintendent spoke at the meeting but did not make himself available for an interview. Most teachers and principals declined comment but teacher Vicky Johnston says their main concern is rushing change they predict may cripple some children. "What our concerns in Calcasieu Schools are, it's not about money, it's not about our job security. It's what's going to happen to education in the State of Louisiana."

And she doesn't agree with the idea that it can be made right in coming years and objects to the rush.  "Representative Kleckley told us that if it doesn't work out that we could always come back to it next year and fix it, make it better. We think the process should have been slowed down, fix it now, pilot it in some schools like we pilot programs in Calcasieu Parish to see if they work, fix it before it's enacted as law."

The Calcasieu Public School teachers are off next Wednesday because of the Easter break and are expected to go to Baton Rouge for the big vote.

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