The group members of A Better Shreveport (ABS) have been taking great strides to make some changes in our community and within their organization.

Themed meetings have been assigned to each Monday night for the remainder of the year, which will allow the group to focus upon community issues of concern and set goals that will enable them to work side-by-side with city officials and representatives in order to carry them out.

This week’s meeting was no different bringing in faculty, administrators, superintendents, school board members, volunteer organizations and other concerned citizens to focus on education and reform.

Dr. Loren Demerath, Executive Director for ABS and Sociology Professor at Centenary College, officiated over the meeting.

“We wanted to have the focus of this meeting to be on education. We need to come up with projects for our community to focus on for the improvement and growth of our educational system,” Demerath said.

This launched into an engaging and passionate discussion of community-wide issues including a very moving proclamation by Priscilla Pullen, Principal of Midway Elementary Professional Development School in Shreveport.

Pullen focused on student proficiency and how it has improved over the past couple of years, but said the demoralization of the state educational standards to ignore any immediate progress discourages the students and faculty.

By averaging the test scores of students over a number of years instead of focusing on each child’s individual progress or each class as a whole, the improvement factor is obscured, she said.

“In celebration of the improvements made from approaching basic levels to mastery levels, we took 42 children that excelled to Party Central as a reward. No one knows that story,” Pullen said.

This is true of most of the schools in the area -- notably, about being criticized and losing support when they fall just a little below the standard means, but in an overall effort have improved in leaps and bounds.

What can we the community do about this? A Better Shreveport is trying to to take that next step, helping these community leaders and educators to bridge the deficits between the praise for the things that are being done correctly and aiding to reform those things that are still need improvement.

The first step is getting our parents more involved and utilizing organizations such as the Community Foundation to help find funding (grants) for after-school programs such as the Renzi Center and other programs within the community for incentive.

“Discussions can sometimes devalue the work that these educators and administrators are doing in our community. They are really working hard to make a difference. We need to be taking care of the needs of the children. This will have to be our focal point,” said Dr. Mary Nash-Robinson, Interim Superintendent for Caddo Parish Schools.

One special guest, J. Delano Ford, the Assistant Superintendent of the state's Recovery School District and recently appointed Executive Director of the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish, was brought in to help discuss what changes could be helped by citizens of the community.

“There is a need to see education head into a more career preparatory direction. By acknowledging that it is public education’s responsibility to provide the foundation for students to make that transition into adulthood by equipping them with the skills they will need to attend college, whether they choose to attend or not, [the end result will be a quality education],” Ford said. “Our Teachers and Principals need to be treated as professionals and allowed to do what they need to do. Accountability factors need to be upheld by all including pushing for educational reform and forming partnerships to create a solution that’s best for students in these schools.”

Meeting to discuss the issues is just the first step. The hardest part is to refine and implement those goals and solutions to bring about reform.

The group plans to meet again in a couple of weeks to begin the implementation process. Anyone is welcome to attend, and the more involvement from the community, the better the end result.

A Better Shreveport is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization of citizens working together to improve the quality of life in Shreveport. Membership is greatly encouraged, and meetings are held every Monday night on Centenary College of Louisiana’s campus in the Wright Math Building from 6-7 p.m. The follow-up education meeting will be posted in advance on ABS’s website. You can also find a thorough recap of Monday night's meeting.

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