Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Scott Smith is shooting for the moon with his goal for the 2018-19 school year. Simply put: He wants to be the best in the state. “We’re an A District.
We’ve had state teachers of the year, state students of the year, and state principals of the year, so why not? Somebody has to be the best. Why not us?” Smith asked. He acknowledged that reaching his goal would be hard, but he used President John F. Kennedy’s “Moonshot” speech as inspiration.
“Going to the moon is something everybody can remember. When you set high expectations, people tend to reach up to them. If you set low expectations, you get low results,” said Smith. “The idea is to have a very simple, short, profound mission statement that everyone can remember.”
The reasoning is that the stakes of providing a quality education are as high as the goal.
“These parents coming into our community are expecting a world class education. When they look to relocate, the first thing they’re looking at is school performance,” said Smith. “The business community are hand-in-hand with the Bossier Parish School System. These high tech companies, like GDIT, require a top-notch education for their employees’ children because that’s how they know they’ll get the top employees coming to work for them.”
To achieve this goal, the focus is on curriculum and teachers.
“The curriculum should be dynamic to make sure we’re aligning ourselves with expectations. We have the Louisiana Department of Education and they evaluate us. We can’t be playing checkers while they’re play chess. We have to make sure we’re going beyond what the state requires, and if we do that then we’re doing the very best possible,” Smith said.
But he noted the key is dynamic teachers. And the school system is investing in them by starting Bossier Cares, which commits to new teachers when their chances of falling out of the profession are most critical. “Bossier Cares is about coaching and retaining educators for success. It’s a three-year commitment to them,” Smith revealed. “We assign a mentor to help new teachers and provide paid stipends for them to attend after-school services and workshops. The idea is to give 20 years of knowledge in their first three years to make them extremely effective from the start.”
They are also using professional learning communities to evaluate where each student is as a de facto individual evaluation per student. It adds up to all the elements being in place to reach his vision. “It’s just a matter of implementing,” Smith said. “If everybody implements with fidelity then we can reach it.” “I’m sure the astronauts on Apollo 11 were worried as they were hurtling through space. There’s a little bit of fear and trepidation, but everyone here already knows what to do.”
With this high-reaching goal, it means Smith is even more keenly aware of the challenges faced by Bossier Schools. Chief among them is growth. With the Bossier school district being the second fastest growing in the state and the fastest growing in the north, it presents some unique obstacles.
For example, the district is expected to grow by 500 students for the 2018-19 school year.
“That’s like growing a brand new elementary school. And we had the same thing happen last year,” said Smith. “We’re dealing with our growth, but we’re close to the end of our 10-year bond construction program.” He singled out Benton, as the fastest growing, and Haughton, as the second fastest growing, districts in particular. He noted the new Benton High School under construction will still be under functional capacity, but they “know how fast that area is growing. We’re watching that very carefully.”
The administration is also focused on attracting and retaining quality teachers. This means competitive salaries. “We know pay is what attracts teachers and working conditions are what keeps them,” Smith said. He noted that perfect attendance will be rewarded with a $200 stipend for teachers and $100 for support employees for each month from Sept. 1 through May. Teachers and staff will also receive a $725 “welcome back” stipend, and a $600 bonus for professionals and $350 bonus for support employees in late fall/early December. The school’s budget also contains enough funds for one-time pay supplement of $1,200 for professionals and $700 for support staff.
But he knows that these incentives also paper over the fact that Bossier teachers are paid less than surrounding areas.
“Our teachers are paid $6,500 less per year than in Desoto Parish. We’re going to start losing our best to the areas around us if we don’t get competitive with our salaries,” Smith said.
The other challenge is keeping up with technology. The district has tripled the number of devices used by students over the past three years. But even though it’s less costly and more effective, those devices require maintenance, which is “taxing on the technology department to keep up with.” He said technology is a key for learning, and it’s a priority to ensure students have the very best available to them.
“Bossier is fast becoming a technology hub. We have to make sure we’re staying atop of this and giving our kids the very best materials for education, and sometimes it comes with a price tag,” Smith said.
He was quick to note that Bossier Schools is “doing great” and that the district would stay at that level and be competitive, but these challenges needed to be addressed.
“We have to have these other factors in place — salaries, proper tools, a world class curriculum — and parents expect that so their children can be competitive going into a job or into college.”
Sean Green firstname.lastname@example.org