MANY, La. – School superintendents and School Board members from eight Central Louisiana parishes were brought together November 17-18 for a first-of-its-kind education reform conference.
The Rapides Foundation, in partnership with The Orchard Foundation, presented the two-day conference – “Why Boards Matter – Building the Bridge to Effective Change." It focused on high school reform and was designed to help School Board members and superintendents understand their important and unique roles when it comes to effective change in their school districts.
“We are committed to working to enhance the educational opportunities of each child in Central Louisiana and to support the continued educational improvements and growth of each school district within our coverage area," said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of The Rapides Foundation.
Experts from around the country were brought in to lead discussions on topics including “You Cannot Do it Alone," “Communicating for Student Achievement" and “The Role of the Board in Leading the Community Through the Change Process."
About 80 people attended the conference, held at the Cypress Bend Resort in Many, Louisiana. All Central Louisiana school superintendents, current School Board members and those who won School Board seats in the fall elections were invited.
“We hope that this leadership conference gave everyone the sound educational information they need to make those hard, effective change decisions concerning high school reform in their school districts," said Cary McGuffee, The Orchard Foundation's executive director.
The conference is an element of The Rapides Foundation's Systemic Initiative in Education, an ambitious undertaking dedicated to improving education and increasing student achievement in Central Louisiana. Started in 1998, this funding program evolved from individual, school-level grants totaling close to $10 million to Systemic Initiative grants involving all public school districts in a nine-parish service area.
The Rapides Foundation dedicates 25 percent of its funding to education under the belief that strong public education systems play a vital role in creating healthy communities. In 2005 it opened the high school reform debate in a two-day summit in Alexandria attended by educators, community leaders, business leaders and the general public.
“Why Boards Matter – Building the Bridge to Effective Change" was unique because it brought superintendents and School Board members together to help them achieve the common goal of improving student achievement. The slate of speakers included some of the nation's leading experts in the field of education reform: Phil Schlechty, president of the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform; Jamie Vollmer, president of Vollmer & Associates; and David Voss, president of Voss & Associates.
Attending from Allen Parish were Superintendent Michael Doucet, board members Alma Johnson and Kathy Farris, and new board member Faye Hollins. Doucet also led a session about The Rapides Foundation's education initiatives.
Attending from Avoyelles Parish were Superintendent Ronald Mayeux and new board member Lizzie Ned.
“This conference was well planned, organized and executed," Mayeux said. “The guest presenters were both entertaining and informative. I thank The Rapides Foundation and The Orchard Foundation for affording board members and superintendents the opportunity to work together."
Attending from Grant Parish were Superintendent Sheila Jackson, board members Karen Layton and A.D. Futrell, and new board members Randy Browning, A.J. “Tony" Lavespere, Terry Oliver and Marvin DeLong.
“Number One, I was impressed with the expertise of the presenters. Number Two, I was impressed with the way they communicated what the role of the board members should be," Jackson said
Attending from LaSalle Parish were Superintendent Roy Breithaupt, board members Jonny Fryar and W.O. Poole, and new board members Dr. Walter P. Creel and Eli Cooper.
Attending from Natchitoches Parish were Superintendent Elwanda Murphy, board members Julia Hildebrand, Gladys Revels and Billy Benefield, and new board members Harry Graham and Craig Rachal.
“Without a doubt, it helped me as a new board member," Rachal said. “I thought it was one of the best conferences I've ever been to."
Attending the conference from Rapides Parish were Superintendent Gary Jones, board members Dr. Steve Chapman, Steve Berry, E.L. Paulk, Rodessa Metoyer and Al Davis, and newly elected board member Pam Webb.
“The introduction of new ideas from people like Phil Schlechty was a great eye-opener," said Jones, who also led a discussion about the state's high school reform efforts.
Board member Paulk said, “As far as a School Board member's perspective, the conference was awesome. It inspired us to get together again for a parish retreat."
Attending from Vernon Parish were Superintendent Dr. Cindy Gillespie, board members Mel Harris and Beryl Ford, and new board member Vernon Travis. Gillespie also led a presentation on Central Louisiana's high school reform efforts.
“Why Boards Matter was an exceptional conference. The opportunity for us to hear national speakers in Central Louisiana was wonderful," Gillespie said. “Our board members who attended have shared what they learned at a board meeting. Hopefully we will have other opportunities to learn together. We appreciate The Rapides Foundation and The Orchard Foundation for helping us do a better job meeting the needs of our students."
Winn Parish attendees were Superintendent Steve Bartlett and board members Diane Peters, Rosa Williams, Rodger Smith and Donald Richardson.
“This conference gave us an opportunity – superintendents and board members – to be reminded of what our jobs are and the importance of working together," said Bartlett, who also led a panel on Central Louisiana education data. “It reaffirmed our mission."
The Rapides Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that provides grants to organizations in a nine-parish service area in Central Louisiana including; Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon and Winn Parishes. The Foundation's mission is to improve the health and well-being of the people and communities in Cenla.