It’s been quite a year for the Bossier Parish school system.
Superintendent Scott Smith is not only relishing in the district’s achievements, but is already planning ahead to make the next year better than the last. With his first year as superintendent under his belt, Smith admits the job hasn’t been without challenge.
“The biggest challenge has been the sheer magnitude of the job,” Smith said. “You’re dealing with 23,000 students, 3,600 employees, parents/guardians, and other outside entities…that’s what really hit me from the beginning. It has been a big learning process to say the least, but you learn as you go and hope you get better at it.”
Another challenge has been the immense growth in parts of the parish.
“Dealing with construction projects and discussing where the money will go to ease those growing pains, that’s been a challenge,” Smith said. “North Bossier, south Bossier and Haughton are the three main growth areas. At the same time, we’re not losing students in our inner city schools. We’re actually seeing growth there. The only area we’re not seeing that growth is in Plain Dealing and we’re addressing that.”
So how do you run a public school system that just so happens to be the fastest growing district in north Louisiana? This is where Smith steps aside.
“It’s not about me. It takes a lot of people to run a successful organization,” Smith said humbly.
First on that list is the Bossier Parish school board.
“They have the best interest of our students in mind and they pass policy many times to allow us to do many of the wonderful things that we’re doing,” Smith said. “It takes a strong, progressive board to get a lot accomplished and I believe that we have that.”
It also takes the thousands of teachers, staff and administrators, Smith said, that handle the day-to-day operations in the schools.
“I’ve been to every school and I’ve met with every one of our employees. I’ve met with our teaching staff, our administration staff, our paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria staff, clerical staff…I’ve met with every one of them at every school,” Smith said. “This really helped me get a pulse beat of what’s happening in our parish, what are the needs and trends. It helps me understand what our employees are concerned about, what they are happy about and things of that nature. That was a big initiative of mine from the very beginning.”
Looking ahead, Smith plans to implement new initiatives in the 2017-2018 school year. One of those will be making Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) a district wide priority.
“It’s a way for teachers and administrators to collaborate in order to meet the needs of every student,” he explained. “It allows them to better understand where the students are and where they need to take them academically. It’s something that progresses with the student. It’s not just a one year thing.”
Smith noted that he’s already seen great success with PLCs this past year.
“What I’ve seen others doing at some of the schools already is differentiated learning,” Smith said. “It’s knowing what the student’s learning styles are and being able to appeal to that aspect of it. A student may not be strictly a visual learner, but may benefit from auditory or other sensory methods. So they are teaching the same objective, but there are different activities depending on learning styles.”
Differentiated learning is not just for students on a specific end of the spectrum either.
“It can help those high achieving students, middle achieving and lower achieving,” Smith explained. “Differentiated learning meets the needs of all students. That’s been a huge initiative for us.”
PLCs have also been implemented with school administrators. Smith said all of this is done to ensure that Bossier Parish students are getting the best education possible.
“We bring in guest speakers and different principals, not just in our parish, but outside of our parish, that have done wonderful things at their schools, some who have improved their school performance scores,” Smith said. “Obviously, we believe that we’re doing great and wonderful things, but we can also learn what others are doing in other districts and bring the best of what they’re doing to Bossier Parish.”
Smith praised the individual and district-wide achievements of the 2016-2017 school year. Among them include a ‘B‘ district letter grade; a $1.5 million DoDEA grant awarded for Project SOAR to further integrate the arts into the elementary curriculum (also enabled Bossier Schools to add a STEAM facilitator); Dept. of Education singled out Bossier Schools for its student performance on 2016 AP exams, identifying it as a top-growth district; Benton High was singled out by The College Board and designated a 2016 AP Program of Distinction; five schools were awarded the Path to Excellence designation by the Alliance for Education; the Virtual Learning Academy was launched for middle and high school students; the Child Nutrition Program partnered with the Community Eligibility Provision to provide free breakfast and lunch for more than 7,500 students at 15 schools; BPSTIL students won 31 medals at State SkillsUSA, including 15 gold, 11 silver and five bronze; 13 Bossier Parish teams won first place at the State Destination Imagination tournament and advanced to the DI Global Finals in Knoxville, TN; Benton Elementary’s archery team is the 2017 national champions and Kingston Elementary placed second at nationals and won the 2017 Centerpoint Ministries Tournament.
Bossier Schools also served as the pilot district to implement Louisiana Act 303 and hosted a graduation ceremony for 15 former students with disabilities, dating back to 1998; was named the 2016 Outstanding Philanthropic Organization by the North LA chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals;
Individual achievements include National Merit Scholar recipient Erin Bullock and National Merit Scholar finalist Noah Booker from Airline High School; Kingston Elementary fifth grader Zachary Cryer was named the 2017 Louisiana State Elementary Student of the Year; Princeton Elementary’s Rosemary Grimm was named a 2018 State Elementary Teacher of the Year semi-finalist; Parkway senior Stoney Butler was chosen as a candidate for the 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.