Bossier Schools has sometimes bumpy, but successful year in 2018-19

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Superintendent Mitch Downey addresses the crowd at a Bossier Parish School Board meeting. (Courtesy of Bossier Schools)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

The 2018-19 school year had some big bumps but it also saw some major wins for Bossier Parish. 

The last day of school was May 23 and Superintendent Mitch Downey, who took over in April, is already looking forward. 

“We are already looking ahead to the next school year and moving forward,” said Downey.

Downey is committed to give stakeholders more of a voice by listening to what they have to say.

“The last couple of weeks we have been focusing on building our leadership team and connecting at a deeper level with our educators, business leaders and community members,” Downey explained. 

“It is my commitment to give our stakeholders more of a voice by listening to their thoughts, valuing their ideas and tapping into their expertise. I think we have already shown evidence of that by forming teacher advisory committees, interview panels and working with a group of Bossier businesses, and we are only going to expand on that,” he added.

Below is a brief recap of some of the major events in Bossier Schools during the 2018-19 school year:

• Bossier School Board receives consent decree in religion lawsuit — A federal judge approved a settlement and placed the Bossier Parish School Board under a consent decree in March regarding the lawsuit over alleged Christianity advocacy and activities in the school system.

• Controversy over Benton teacher for multiple accounts of sexual crimes — Aubrey Norcross, a Benton Elementary School teacher, was arrested in mid-October and later indicted on 12 sexual crimes charges, some believed to have involved his own students.

• 2019 i3 Art Expo highlights talent of Bossier students — Presented in partnership with the City of Bossier City, the i3 Art Expo is an all-encompassing culmination of Bossier Parish students’ amazing talents highlighting visual and literary art, vocal and musical performances, filmmaking, animation, and hands-on STEAM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics).

• Bossier Superintendent announces retirement — Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Scott Smith retired after news broke he was under federal investigation. Smith served as superintendent from May 2016 to February 2019 and previously served as assistant superintendent for D.C. Machen.

• Downey named new superintendent for Bossier Schools— Mitch Downey was named the new superintendent for Bossier Parish Schools in April after beating out five other candidates. He was interim superintendent in the wake of Smith’s retirement. 

• Teacher pay, technology millages defeated by Bossier Parish voters — Two proposed tax millages that would have gone toward a pay raise for teachers and created a technology funding source for schools were soundly defeated by voters May 4. Election results showed that a 22.94 mills property tax for boosting teacher and support staff salaries was defeated 74 percent to 26 percent. A 3.22 mills ballot measure that would have created a funding source for technology was defeated 75 percent to 25 percent. The property tax proposals saw campaigns launched by local business leaders against the vote and created animosity among some in the community.

• Elm Grove STEM teacher is Louisiana’s 2019 Teacher of the Year — Spencer Kiper, of Elm Grove Middle School, was named the 2019 State Teacher of the Year. Kiper, who serves as a science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) teacher and advocate, teaches STEM enrichment to more than 100 middle school  students at Elm Grove, and is an adjunct professor at LSUS in Educational Technology and STEM Education.

• Bossier announces an all-time high school graduation rate — State graduation rate data for 2017-18 was released by the Louisiana Department of Education in May and Bossier Schools received news that 85.7 percent of its previous class graduated, reflecting a gain of 2.4 percentage points from the previous year and setting a record number of students receiving their high school diploma.

“Achieving the highest graduation rate to date is certainly cause for celebration, but it goes beyond simply data. It represents more students in Bossier Parish being better prepared than ever before for their future, whether that be college or the workforce. Graduates in Bossier are armed with a record number of college credits and certifications, which is a direct indictor for the successes they will achieve as adults,” said Downey.

• Lisa Burns named State Finalist for Principal of the Year — W.T. Lewis Elementary Principal Lisa Burns was named a state Finalist for Principal of the Year. She and eight others were singled out at a ceremony May 23 at the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.