Oct 16, 2013 12:00 AM by Steven Albritton & Alex Labat

Common Core & Lafayette Charter Schools Hot Topics at BESE Meetings

Tuesday afternoon and into the night, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) finally heard public comment about educational reforms known as Common Core. Common core is a set of educational standards which 46 states have agreed to follow. Louisiana has ranked near the bottom in both math and literacy. BESE adopted these standards back in 2010 as a way to challenge students and make them more competitive with students from other states.

A packed house filled the BESE headquarters with supporters and critics of the standards.The new educational system has slowly been put in over the past three years, but the voices opposing this change are getting louder. 

Superintendent of Education John White spoke first at the meeting hoping to clear up any misconceptions about what the program is bringing.

"States beyond Louisiana recognized the need to do this. They came together and under the umbrella of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, states got together recognizing they had a competitive challenge that it no longer made any sense to call something proficient in New Hampshire, something different from proficient in Oklahoma, from proficient in California and Louisiana. That a kid in Louisiana is just as smart as a kid anywhere in America, and should be able to read as well and do math just as well as anyone else," Superintendent White said.

St. Mary Parish resident Brooke Falgout has children who've gone through early implementation of the program. She says the material presented isn't giving her child an outside view. She's already taken one of her youngest children out of school, opting now for home school instead. She spoke up at the meeting voicing her displeasure and holding up more than 100 signatures of other parents upset with what is happening.

"I want it out. I'm good with our 1950's books. I'm OK with what they had and we can add things in because they can be challenged, but there's ways to do that and it's not this," Falgout said.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan says there are problems with implementing Common Core and that teachers need more training before moving forward.

"BESE has to step up and realize that they've got real problems out there, particularly as it effects educators and children, just getting folks the resources they need to understand just what it is they are being asked to do, Monagahan said.

Westgate High School teacher Lauren Trahan sees it differently. She says she's had support from Iberia Parish Schools while transitioning to Common Core and her kids have shown amazing improvement.

"It's kids of every level, inclusion, poverty level or high achieving are all being able to read complex texts at a level that, blows my mind. Areas that are not so familiar with them it is scary to try anything new, but I tell them, try it and you're going to like it. The kids are blowing me away and it brings back that wow factor into the classroom that has been dead for so long," Trahan said.

No matter what, Common Core is set to be fully implemented statewide in the Fall of 2014.


Also at the BESE board Tuesday, strong words were exchanged on both sides of the charter school debate. A BESE committee voted 9-2 in favor of bringing charter schools to Lafayette Parish.The debate has been raging for two months, since the Lafayette Parish School Board voted against charter schools.

Familiar faces packed into the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committee meeting on Tuesday with two very different objectives.

"The support, as I know, you'll hear from additional speakers is unprecedented and I ask for your support", one supporter said during the meeting.

"Thank you very much but charter schools do not fit in Lafayette Parish and we'd appreciate a vote against this",  Lafayette Parish School Board member Rae Trahan said.

Those in support of charter schools say it brings much needed infrastructure to areas in Lafayette that need it most.

"What concerns me is our immediate future," Broussard Mayor and charter school supporter Charlie Langlinais said.

Opponents say there are too many questions and concerns about the two proposed schools which are unanswered.

"We work very hard to ensure that all children in Lafayette Parish will get a wonderful education as we already feel our public schools are serving our students",  Swamp BESE member Kathleen Espinoza said.

Tuesdays 9-2 committee vote in favor of the schools means Lafayette Parish may see two charter schools built in 2014, two in 2015 and one in 2017. Superintendent and BESE member Dr. Lottie Beebe sees the urgency for charter schools as poor leadership in the Lafayette School System.

"I question Superintendent Coopers decision and recommendation to align with a charter entity. When in reality it is his responsibility and his charge as Superintendent of the district to make the changes that are necessary to impact student achievement", Beebe said.

Lafayette Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper sees things differently.

"I see it as just the opposite. If I'm going to sit at my desk with blinders on and not consider any options, then I'm not much of a leader," Cooper said. 

A final vote will be held by BESE Wednesday morning to determine if charter schools will be coming to Lafayette Parish. 

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.


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