Breaux not giving up on city schools

Published 11:45 pm Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Bogalusa City School Board quickly took care of business Wednesday, approving the audit and changing its November and December meeting dates due to workshops and holidays. But when it came time for Superintendent Toni Breaux to speak, both the tempo and tenor changed.

Breaux’s eyes filled with tears and her voice trembled as she addressed community reaction to the school performance scores, released last week.

Because of the district’s new merged reconfiguration, the state only sent scores for Bogalusa Middle School, Bogalusa High School and Byrd Avenue Elementary, which earned an F, D and D, respectively.

Scores for the district’s normally highest scoring schools, Superior Avenue and Pleasant Hill, were not sent because they were closed in advance of the reconfiguration. The state Department of Education reportedly told system officials the scores of the closed schools must not be made public.

Breaux said she spoke in response to an editorial in The Daily News that pointed to a longstanding culture of failure in the school system and the urgent need for innovative action to turn it around.

Breaux said she has gotten teachers

involved, along with supervisors, in brainstorming and coming up with ideas to make positive change.

“We’re trying to address the concerns,” she said. “I know we have some good teachers. We have weak teachers, too, like in any profession. But I’m going to demand we make progress.

“We have to be dedicated. We have to have a love for children. The children are not responsible for where they come from.”

Breaux mentioned drugs, homelessness and lack of proper nutrition as problems the children face. Then she pointed to New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, whose “mother put him on the street with a bag.”

“It’s not where you came from, it’s where you’re going,” she said.

“I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. But I’m not going to give up. I love the Bogalusa City School system so much. I want to see us get to where we need to be, and I’m going to do everything in my heart and my soul to get us where we need to be.”

Board member Brad Williams, a graduate of the Bogalusa school system, asked what had changed to turn the good system he knew into one that has earned low scores.

“It’s not Ms. Breaux,” Williams said. “It’s not our supervisors. It’s not our teachers. There is room for improvement. I’ll take some blame.

“But what we have in Bogalusa City Schools is by far a lack-of-parenting problem, and often times a negligent parent problem. I see it as a school mentor and as a part-time deputy. And until this parenting problem is fully, intensely addressed, our children will continue to have an uphill climb.”

Williams then offered a suggestion.

“I have suggested several times that we need to have ‘love coordinators’ starting in pre-K through second or third grades, social workers trained to inspire these kids, to give them some love and attention they are not getting at home,” he said.

On top of that, parents should be evaluated and held accountable to the point of legal intervention if necessary, Williams said.

“Judge (Bobby) Black told me there are legal avenues to do this. If we can’t nicely get parents to give a damn about their children…then we should be pursuing making these parents care or face legal action — jail.”

Board President Paul Kates agreed.

“We know it all starts at home,” he said. “When parents don’t do their duties at home there are more problems for the school system. I don’t blame all parents, but a majority.”

Kates added that the city school system has suffered for years.

“We’ve been trying to overcome for a while,” he said. “We need parent input, parents to be involved in training their children. We also need to work together in this system. And you can’t say we don’t have inward fighting in this system, because we do.”

Kates said the current school board has been working as a group better than any he’s experienced and has done “everything in our power to make it better” for employees and students.

But he stressed discipline and in-fighting are problems.

“We need to put our feelings aside and focus on these children,” Kates said. “I hope we realize we are here for the children. We need to ensure they get the best education.”

The school board will meet as a committee on Nov. 12, with the regular board meeting Nov. 14. The December committee meeting will be Dec. 16, and the regular meeting is Dec. 19.