School Board looking to make up lost days

Aaron Looney

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Patrice Pujol told the Ascension Parish School Board Tuesday that she is currently working on a plan to make up missed days of classes from hurricanes Gustav and Ike without adding days to the school year.

Pujol gave a rough outline of the plan to board members during their regular meeting in the Parish Council chambers in Gonzales.

Eastbank schools missed a total of six days of classes because of the storms, while westbank schools missed a total of nine days, Pujol said. State law requires that school children receive at least 63,000 minutes of instructional time per school year.

The decisions will depend on the recommendations of the respective school principals, Pujol told the board.

While the plan was not complete, Pujol said that some aspects that have been finalized include holding classes Sept. 19, which was originally a teacher in-service day and a student holiday.

In addition, five faculty meeting days could be canceled and early dismissal for the Christmas holidays would “not be as early as usual,” Pujol said of the proposed plan. She also said that the system would cancel the parent-teacher conferences for primary schools in the first nine-week semester and that additional time may be added to school days at Donaldsonville Primary School.

Pujol said that if time were added to the school day, it would only be “around 10 minutes or so.”

At parish middle schools, Pujol said, some campuses may have to adjust early dismissal time to make up hours of instruction.

“High schools will be the toughest because they don’t have as much in-class time as primary and middle schools,” Pujol said.

The system has several options for high schools to make up lost time, Pujol said. They include holding less staff development days in lieu of instructional time, using some of the regular holiday time between semesters or adding time to school days.

Pujol said that principals at the parish schools will suggest what they feel is needed at their respective campuses before a final decision is made.

Pujol said that the full plan would be presented to the board at its Finance and Curriculum meeting, scheduled for Tuesday at the School Board office in Donaldsonville.

Songy said he will learn if the state’s Department of Education will forgive some of the missed school days statewide during a meeting of superintendents next week.

The board also declared a state of emergency within the system, in an effort to expedite the process of obtaining materials and labor to repair structural damages to some of its schools and system offices.

The board approved the suggestion from Superintendent Donald Songy in order to avoid lengthy periods of time in the regular bidding process for such materials and labor.

While most campuses were spared significant damage from Hurricane Gustav, offices in the B.C. Alwes Auditorium building in Donaldsonville - which houses the system’s technology department - suffered heavy damages to its roofing, technology director Jake Ragusa said.

“There is a time factor involved with this,” Songy said. “We can’t wait for the normal bid process to run its course because doing so may result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in technological equipment.”

Later in the meeting, Songy told the board that all parish schools were operational as of Monday, following cancellation of classes Friday in advance of Hurricane Ike’s strong winds in the parish.

He did add that while attendance at eastbank schools has been at or near average levels, attendance at westbank schools has been below average. Songy attributed the lower numbers to some families still being without power in the Donaldsonville area and some who may have evacuated and had yet to return.

The system had planned to reopen its westbank schools – Donaldsonville Primary and High schools and Lowery Elementary and Intermediate schools – Friday after regaining power at the campuses Tuesday. However, the threat of tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Ike was too great to hold classes that day, Songy said.

“Looking back, I believe it was a wise thing to do,” the superintendent said of the move. “It was a safety concern.”

Songy did thank members of the Donaldsonville community for spreading the word about the plan to reopen the schools Friday, even though the decision came late Thursday not to do so.

The westbank schools served select items from meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, to students Monday, but began serving regular cooked meals Tuesday, Songy said.

Prior to the full board meeting, the board’s Maintenance Committee discussed making temporary fixes to structures damaged by the storms.