Avoyelles Parish graduation rate tops state average for first time

Superintendent Dauzat declares 2017-18 ‘very successful’

In what could be considered a year-end wrap-up of what he termed a “very successful school year,” Superintendent Blaine Dauzat praised all Avoyelles School District employees for “preparing our students for the real world.”

For the first time in recent memory, possibly ever, Avoyelles Parish’s graduation rate was above the state average, he said.

Not long ago, the district’s graduation rate was 15 percentage points below the state average, Dauzat said. Three years ago it had more than cut that deficit in half, but was still 6 percent below the state average.

In figures just released, the parish is 1.2 percent above the state average -- 79.3 percent to the state’s 78.1.

Dauzat said that considering Avoyelles is next to last in the amount of state Minimum Foundation Program funds per student and last in the amount of local tax dollars available per child, “I think this is a really big deal. For what we are given, this parish is preparing our kids for the real world as well -- or better -- than anyone else,” he asserted. “We have quality people who care about the kids.”

Dauzat said a school system’s ultimate goal and reason for existing is to prepare its students to continue their education, enter the workforce or join the military so they will become productive citizens.

He said the Avoyelles School System is doing that.

Dauzat noted that a New York-based company recently did a study and concluded Avoyelles taxpayers get “more bang for their buck” in property taxes paid to the school system. That report listed Avoyelles as sixth in the state.

RACE NOT A FACTOR

On another topic, Dauzat said he wanted to assure board members and the public that recent concerns expressed about changes at principalships at eight of the district’s 10 schools were misplaced.

“When I do these assignments, I don’t take the decision lightly,” Dauzat said. “My only concern is what’s best for kids.

“Race was never considered” in making those appointments, he assured. “School performance, faculty/principal relations and things of that nature are considered.”

Dauzat said he was surprised that Allen Holmes, the plaintiff in the school desegregation suit against the parish, voiced concern that race was a factor in the decisions.

“I want to be very clear that the people in these positions are there because they were considered to be the best person for the job,” Dauzat said.

In closing his remarks, Dauzat told board members the district “is on the cusp of seeing a decades-old case coming to a close within 60 days.”

He said a motion may be filed in U.S. District Court within a few days or weeks asking Judge Dee Drell to close the desegregation case and declare Avoyelles to be a unitary school system.

RRCA DENIED AGAIN

In another somewhat-related matter, the School Board denied Red River Charter Academy’s application to open a middle grades charter school. Dauzat said the main reason for the denial is to avoid interfering with the efforts to close the desegregation case.

He said that once the desegregation case is over, the School Board could bring RRCA’s application back up for reconsideration.

RRCA Board President Jessica Couvillion addressed the board, noting that the denial was expected but that RRCA officials “look forward to coming back and working with you, if that is your will.”

The vote to deny was 7-0 with one absentention -- Shelia Blackman-Dupas. Board member Lizzie Ned was absent.

RRCA will take its case to the state Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, as it has after past denials by the local board.

The proposed charter school withdrew its application to BESE last year as a show of good faith of its desire to be approved by the local School Board.

However, Couvillion made it clear RRCA will not be sitting by the phone in hopes that APSD will call and ask it to the prom. If the School Board does not bring the charter application up for reconsideration before the BESE is expected to act on it in October, RRCA will make a full-fledged effort to gain approval as a Type II, state-approved independent public charter school.

Dauzat and board members have said in the past that opening RRCA would cost $1 million the first year, as a grade 6-8 middle school, and increase each year as the school added a high school grade.

If opened, RRCA would eventually join the parish’s five public high schools -- three traditional high schools (Avoyelles, Bunkie, Marksville), one charter under district supervision (LaSAS) and one Type II independent public school (APCS).

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