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St. John School District brings community & faith leaders together

RESERVE — Community leaders were given a clear way to get involved and monitor the progress of the St. John the Baptist Parish School District during a meeting for faith-based and other community leaders hosted by Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin and School Board members.

“Even if you’re busy all day long, check in on the schools, learn about the systems that we’re putting in place, so that you’ll know what you need to be checking on,” Hookfin told them. “There’s something about when people are checking and looking, you tend to do better.”

The meeting was the first of several regularly scheduled meetings planned with the leaders. By the next meeting, the school district will have a checklist of things that community leaders can look for as they stop in at school sites and spend around 15 minutes visiting and observing each one.

“You should be able to tell me in two months, ‘I see a difference. I hear a difference.’ or ‘I don’t,’” she said. “It doesn’t take six months. In two months you should be able to determine from listening and talking to people and also by walking the halls that you see a difference and that is the type of support that I need from you.

“Quality education is not a secret. Whenever you’re doing high-quality work, you want people to see what you’re doing. If you can just do that, you’re already partnering with the district.”

The superintendent also provided updates on the start of school, including how the district is focusing on increasing the quality of virtual learning and the implementation of safety protocols such as the district’s participation in the Ochsner Safe to Return Plan program, which gives the district access to signage, education, testing and the support and advice of health experts in the event an employee or student tests positive for COVID-19.

School Board member Debbie Schum said as many challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic has posed, it also presents opportunities for change. She asked community leaders to help the school district launch clubs and activities to keep students engaged.

The Rev. David Ducote and the Rev. Neil Bernard share ideas during a meeting for faith-based organization leaders hosted by the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District.

“That’s how schools can improve,” Schum said. “We can put those things in place now so we’ve set the expectations when the rest of our students return. We have to continue to build the community and we can’t just continue to do it by ourselves.”

Hookfin asked those in attendance to channel their leadership into helping the district build not just a strong school system, but a strong community as a whole.

“You’re going to hear a lot of great things about what’s going on in the district, but you’re also going to hear about some shakeups, because it’s necessary,” she said. “How are we going to expect our great district to be at a ‘B’ or ‘A’ if we keep doing the same thing? All I need from you is to communicate effectively with us and support what we do.”

Neil Bernard, pastor at New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace, said the challenge of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will require the entire community to work together with the school system to help children get a good education.

Bernard found the meeting to be very productive, and he was pleased to hear about Hookfin’s commitment to excellence and desire to raise the standard of education in St. John Parish.

“Education in St. John is a primary concern of residents. Improving education becomes a win-win for business, the community and all the residents. We must all be stakeholders and see how the school system can be improved,” Bernard said.

He added that New Wine will continue providing before and after care as well as a virtual learning center to help ease the burden of working parents.