The Future of Inclusive Education in Louisiana

In a promising development for education in the state of Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has been granted a $10 million award aimed at creating an inclusive education experience revolutionizing career prospects for students with disabilities, as per this news release. This generous grant is part of a broader initiative called “Pathways to Partnerships,” initiated by the U.S. Department of Education, which spans 20 states and seeks to foster collaborations between various agencies. The primary objective is to facilitate a seamless transition into life beyond high school for individuals with disabilities.

Dr. Cade Brumley, the State Superintendent of Education in Louisiana, expressed his enthusiasm for the inclusive education project, stating, “We are excited about this opportunity to further support students with disabilities as they transition to successful lives beyond high school.” It’s part of a comprehensive plan to improve special education across the stateby enhancing the quality of programming and expanding access to resources and services for both students and their families.

Louisiana’s approach to this inclusive education initiative involves piloting a collaborative framework between high schools and Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS). The central aim of this pilot program is to streamline the transition into careers for individuals with disabilities. Key components include providing thorough training to students in career exploration and job readiness. Moreover, the project will place a strong emphasis on innovative activities that create opportunities for students, such as internships and apprenticeships.

Dr. Brumley’s commitment to transforming the state’s educational landscape extends beyond this grant. In a letter issued to system leaders in August, he outlined several crucial steps that the LDOE is taking to modernize special education systems and processes. These measures include:

Special Education Playbook: This resource, which has already garnered recognition from education experts nationwide, condenses years of research into three best instructional practices to support students with disabilities. It serves as a guide and a call to action, aiming to close achievement gaps for these students. The LDOE is actively engaged in supporting school systems with its implementation through a statewide tour.

Enhanced Family Support: The LDOE is establishing a Special Education Ombudsman who can hold confidential conversations with parents. Additionally, an extra complaint investigator is being added to bolster support.

Enhanced Teacher and Leader Support: This involves providing technical support through statewide access to special education law and compliance training. The LDOE will also deploy staff to support school systems with special education compliance. In more severe cases, a special master with direct oversight authority may be placed within a system to ensure comprehensive program enhancements.

The Pathways to Partnerships program, administered by the ED’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, represents a substantial commitment to the improvement of education and career prospects for individuals with disabilities. As the largest discretionary grant of its kind, it underscores Louisiana’s ongoing commitment to extending access to high school credentials, post-secondary education, and employment opportunities through various graduation pathways.

The path to success is carefully mapped out, with full funding awarded to successful applicants for a five-year project period. This long-term commitment allows recipients to pilot, refine, and implement their proposed projects, all while collecting and analyzing crucial project data.

The $10 million grant awarded to the Louisiana Department of Education signifies a momentous step towards fostering better inclusive educational and career opportunities for students with disabilities. Dr. Cade Brumley’s leadership and the multi-faceted approach taken by the LDOE demonstrate their unwavering commitment to improving special education systems and ensuring a brighter future for these students. In our ever-evolving educational landscape, initiatives like Pathways to Partnerships provide hope for a more inclusive and equitable future. Louisiana’s journey towards improved opportunities for students with disabilities stands as an exemplary model for other states to follow.

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LDOE Partners with Crimestoppers School Safety Program

It was recently announced via a news release from the Louisiana Department of Education, that the LDOE will be partnering with Crimestoppers GNO in a school safety effort to make violent incidents easier to prevent and report. The goal is for the LDOE to encourage their school systems to adopt the free Crimestoppers GNO Safe Schools Louisiana Program and its accompanying Say It Here mobile app for middle and high schools. The Louisiana State Police, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and Crimestoppers GNO are offering the Safe Schools Louisiana Program to all middle and high schools around the state of Louisiana.

Crimestoppers Safe Schools Louisiana is what is known as a “turnkey program.” The usability of the program is described as being as easy to set up as it is powerful. The program’s mobile app, “Say It Here,” allows its users to report bullying, violence, criminal activity, and mental health issues with complete anonymity. Users can even upload videos and photos of incidents they feel are going unnoticed. Tips that are reported in the “Say it Here” app are processed by a 24-hour multidisciplinary team, 7 days a week. The tips, which are identified by schools, are monitored, vetted, and then sent to the appropriate representatives for proper engagement. If there’s an emergency at any of the safe schools, the safe schools team will be notified immediately for both response and intervention.

In explaining the state’s need for school safety and intercepting threats via the app, Louisiana Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley said, “too often when violence happens on a school campus, someone knew about the attack before it happened. Safe Schools Louisiana is a fast, easy, and anonymous way for people who see something to say something.”

Currently, the Louisiana Department of Education has 40 school systems, and over 500 schools and middle and high-school students that are active participants in the Safe Schools Louisiana program. The program can be implemented in 15 days or less through the following steps. First, the school system signs the initial Memorandum of Understanding, then the school system tip administrative team is identified and trained, and lastly, students are trained to use the app.

In order to help with onboarding, Crimestoppers GNO provides virtual and online training, as well as posters and other items to promote the resource. They also work with schools to embrace the concept of using the anonymous reporting app during special prevention-themed months such as October’s Anti-Bullying Day, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Red Ribbon Week.

In order to make effective use of the Crimestoppers Safe Schools Louisiana program, schools use multidisciplinary teams. Every school team is set to include someone from law enforcement and a lead from mental health or behavioral health in order to direct a student’s path to success. The multidisciplinary team can also request action if any issues are deemed criminal, mention threats of self-harm, or need another specialty’s orientation.

Crimestoppers GNO has operated anonymous criminal reporting resources for over 40 years, and they’ve provided resources and worked in area schools for over 18 years. Crimestoppers GNO serves to follow nationally-recognized best practices on the implementation, processing, and prevention programs. Partnering with the Safe School Louisiana Program provides Crimestoppers GNO with, according to the statement, “a unique opportunity to better understand and embrace the character and needs of our great state.”

As notified in the release, the following Louisiana schools are already implementing Safe Schools Louisiana or are beginning the school safety adoption process: Acadia Parish, Assumption Parish, Avoyelles Parish, Bogalusa City Schools, Bossier Parish, Caldwell Parish, Cameron Parish Central Community School, City of Baker School District, Claiborne Parish, Concordia Parish, East Feliciana Parish, Evangeline Parish, Franklin Parish, Iberia Parish, Jefferson Parish, Lafourche Parish, LaSalle Parish, Livingston Parish, Monroe City Schools, Natchitoches Parish, NOLA Public Schools, Pointe Coupee Parish, Rapides Parish, Sabine Parish, St. Bernard Parish, St. Charles Parish, St. Helena Parish, St. James Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, St. Martin Parish, St. Tammany Parish, Terrebonne Parish, Vermilion Parish, Washington Parish, Webster Parish, West Baton Rouge Parish, Winn Parish, and Zachary Community Schools.

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LEAP Achievement Increases in Louisiana School Districts

Just before the start of the 2022-2023 school year, the Louisiana Department of Education released the achievement data derived from 2021-22 LEAP scores, and according to this news release from the LADOE, the released scores showed immensely strong student growth across a wide array of both grade levels and school systems.

Quite a few highlights of success were obtained after interpreting the results of the LEAP assessments that were administered during the 2021-22 school year. Some of these highlights include the Mastery rates of achievement that were earned by students in grades 3-8 had improved by 3 solid points in both math and English Language Arts (ELA). Furthermore, 80% of Louisiana school systems improved their mastery rate when compared to their LEAP data from the previous school year, 2020-21.

This data was derived from the results of the LEAP 2025 annual assessment of ELA, math, science, and social studies that is administered to students in grades 3-12. The LEAP 2025 tests aim to measure the knowledge and skills as they are defined by the state’s content standard for each grade. Students have their scores of achievement reported across five levels: Unsatisfactory, Approaching Basic, Basic, Mastery, or Advanced. Those students who score Mastery or Advanced are considered to be proficient and ready for the next grade level.

Louisiana State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley commented on the successes shown in the data by saying, “after the impact of a global pandemic and two of the strongest hurricanes in our state’s history, Louisiana’s students are back on their feet. K-12 education is on the rise in Louisiana because we kept schools open, strategically allocated resources, and developed innovative solutions to recover and accelerate student learning. This progress is a true testament to the dedication of our educators to maintain high standards for students no matter the circumstance. We still have work to do before we’ve fully recovered from the impact of the last two years, but there’s excitement among our teachers and leaders to close that gap and continue moving our students forward.”

Outside of the two milestones of success highlighted above, the release testing date indicated that this past school year, fewer students scored Unsatisfactory, which included an impressive 3-point decrease in students who scored Unsatisfactory in math. Additionally, Mastery rates had improved across all individual subject areas for grades 3-12, and Mastery rates improved among numerous student subgroups. Some of these student subgroups that saw improvement were students with economic disadvantages, students with disabilities, and Asian, African American, and white students.

Just some of the Louisiana school districts that have ranked among the top 10 public school districts in Louisiana for the percentage of students in grades 3-12 who scored Mastery or Advanced on the state’s accountability exams are Calcasieu Parish, Jefferson Parish, Lafourche Parish, Plaquemines Parish, St. Charles Parish, and St. Tammany Parish. The immense amount of improvement was felt across the state; for instance, Livingston Parish Public Schools saw that 41% of their students had scored at the highest two achievement levels on the LEAP 2025 assessments.

Livingston Parish Superintendent Joe Murphy commented on the achievement by saying, “Our district has held strong through the continuing pandemic and recent hurricane disruptions. It is our goal as a district to grow from these strong positions and continue to improve performance at all levels.” Furthermore, Lafourche Parish Superintendent Jarod Martin commented on his district’s success by saying, “I couldn’t be prouder. I thought we would take a step back given the challenges we faced. I can honestly say that we expected that. But these numbers reflect a step forward and they far exceeded our expectations. We are just so tremendously proud of the accomplishments given the challenges we’ve faced.”

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Sponsorship Applications Open for Summer Food Service Program

The Louisiana Department of Education has recently announced that they have begun accepting applications from eligible agencies and organizations wanting to contribute to the 2022 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), as per their news release.

The announcement comes from the Louisiana Department of Education’s Division of Nutrition Support wherein they are seeking sponsors and program sites for their providing healthy meals to school children in the summer months. As a whole, the SFSP provides food for students from disadvantaged backgrounds at a time of year when school is not in session.

Applications are being accepted for those who wish to participate in the 2022 Summer Food Service Program until April 15, 2022. Once accepted and approved, sponsors would receive financial assistance to help with the cost of obtaining, preparing, and serving food under the program. While the financial assistance would include administrative costs, Sponsors would be responsible for providing a capable staff and be able to exhibit managerial skills and food service capabilities. Any approved sponsors would be allowed to purchase meals through an agreement with an area school or through a contract for meals with a food vendor.

The LDOE provided examples of local organizations that have often returned to serve as SFSP sponsors. The examples included public or private non-profit schools; local, municipal, parish, tribal, or state governments; private and non-profit organizations; public or private non-profit camps; and private or non-profit universities or colleges.

In addition to needing sponsors, the Louisiana Department of Education has also announced that they are in need of agencies or organizations willing to serve as physical locations for food to be served. These program site locations would need to work with an approved program sponsor that would be financially and administratively responsible for meeting all of the program’s requirements for the applicable meal service types located at the site.

All prospective new or returning sponsors for the 2022 SFSP would need to complete the ‘22 SFSP Training Sessionsthat are provided by the Louisiana Department of Education. Training sessions for the 2022 season will not be held in person as in the past, but they will instead be conducted and hosted through an online platform with the associated slide decks containing training information archived online. Registration for the sessions can be found at the LA Fit Kids Website, and the slide deck archive will also be stored on that site following the conclusion of the training sessions.

The SFSP is a federally-funded program that’s administered on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the services provided by the state’s education department. The Summer Food Service Program is traditionally held in economically disadvantaged areas, neighborhoods, or communities in which half of the school children are eligible to receive meals during the school year that are either free or reduced-price. Eligibility for participation in the SFSP can also be determined by census information via the use of site-level Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) information or by the use of individual eligibility of children.

Additionally, the SFSP will provide meals to any children aged 18 or younger as well as anyone over the age of 18 who is determined by a state or local agency to be mentally or physically disabled. These individuals would also have to participate in a public or private non-profit school program established for the mentally or physically disabled during the school year.

Prospective applicants or program sites seeking more information or answers to specific questions have been encouraged by the LDOE to contact the Department’s Division of Nutrition Support Staff.

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LDOE App Brings Parents and Community Together for Student Growth

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) recently announced a new initiative that’s focused on encouraging parents, community partners, and families to work together to improve student outcomes, according to this statement from the school board.  The initiative is called “BE ENGAGED ®,” and its focus of bringing students’ educational stakeholders together is not a new one, but it is an incredibly important element in ensuring student growth, success, and sustainability. The initiative is “powered” through an intuitive app called “PimPoints.” The app will essentially reward parents with a digital reward currency also called “PimPoints” for simply engaging in their child’s education in ways that they likely already participate in.

For instance, parents attending their child’s school’s open house or participating in a parent-teacher conference are two activities that a parent is likely already making time for, but they would also reward parents with “PimPoints” for their time. This way, parents already thoroughly engaged in their child’s educational life are receiving additional rewards, and this incentive will also attract other parents to keep a closer eye on the child’s school calendar of events.

In addition to reward tracking, the app will also track the school’s events for parents and alert them with notifications for additional opportunities to be engaged at their child’s school. Parents will also be notified on behalf of the school with general information about student learning. Parents participating in these student learning engagement events will be able to exchange their earned PimPoints for coupons and digital rewards that have been provided by local businesses. And it’s this specific exchange that brings together a student’s community, school, and parents/guardiansin a way that not only keeps everyone engaged in student growth but also at the forefront of educational synergy.

Additionally, this initiative could not have come at a better time, as November has recently been announced by Governor John Bel Edwards as “National Family Engagement Month,” making this initiative quite timely and beneficial.

The Parent and Family Engagement Coordinator for the LDOE, Dr. Antigua Hunter said of the initiative, “LEAP assessment results show that there is a great amount of intervention that has to take place at all levels and innovative methods and unconventional thinking is warranted. We cannot sit around and watch our children be impacted by the lack of engagement. Now is the time for parents, families, and communities to be engaged!”

As defined by the LDOE’s newly-developed Birth-12 BE ENGAGED® Framework, family engagement is “an empowering partnership among families, educators, practitioners and communities with shared responsibility for the personal success of children and youth.” The state also cited a 2018 Global Family Research Project study that called family engagement “one of the most powerful predictors of social-emotional development, educational attainment and success in both school and life for children and youth.”

The PimPoints app will officially launch on Apple and Android devices starting November 15, 2021. Additionally, local businesses can find out how to include their services within the app by contacting their nearest school district’s Parent and Family Engagement Coordinator, particularly the roster of the 2021-2022 Parent and Family Engagement Coordinators, organized by district.

The LDOE has shared its reasoning for establishing the Birth-12 BE ENGAGED® Framework,

in saying that “the Department of Education gathered various stakeholders (families, community partners, educational professionals) to collaborate to ensure the development of a comprehensive family engagement framework for Louisiana families and children. The Framework was developed to guide the school systems and early childhood community networks to support intentional planning of policies and practices and implementation of high-quality family engagement practices.”

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DOE Introduces Teacher Recruitment & Retention Fellowship

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Department of Education selected school system leaders from across the state to assist in an effort to create a program foe teacher recruitment and retention for the educators in Louisiana’s most vital certification areas, as reported by an LABelieves’ press release.

The State’s Department of Education selected “human capital leaders” from sixteen Louisiana school systems to participate in the fellowship, which will be operating through the national organization, Urban Schools Human Capital Academy. This organization is a non-profit aimed at supporting and bringing together leaders in schools and districts to drive a measurable improvement in teacher and principal quality. The USHCA operates in sixteen states, and has experience in providing new and existing school and district leaders to grow their management skills and become leaders, or human capital leaders.

This particular fellowship will consist of two national workshops and monthly state sessions for this particular Louisiana cohort, which will begin in late October, concluding in Spring 2021. The Louisiana Department of Educationhopes that this effort will bring highly-effective educators and leaders from across the state in order to ensure that every student learns from a high-quality teacher without interruption in personnel.

In the release, State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Cade Brumley stated, “An effective teacher has the power to transform the lives of countless children, which is why we must do everything we can to attract and keep the very best in Louisiana. This fellowship will expose system leadership to what’s working for districts around the nation, while also sparking collaboration that will lead to innovations in our state.”

The sixteen Louisiana school Systems participating in the fellowship program are:

Avoyelles Parish

Caddo Parish

Catahoula Parish

City of Baker School System

Grant Parish

Iberville Parish

Livingston Parish

Morehouse Parish

Ouachita Parish

Pointe Coupee Parish

Rapides Parish

St. Charles Parish

St. Landry Parish

St. Tammany Parish

Tangipahoa Parish

West Baton Rouge Parish

In addition to the monthly Louisiana cohort meetings, the two national workshop portions of the fellowship give state educators the opportunity to collaborate not only with other educators, wherein great strategies, ideas, and materials are shared, but they will also be networking with other human capital professionals from across the U.S, learning the best, tested practices for attracting and keeping effective teachers. While this year the national workshops will be delivered virtually, the national arm of the fellowship plans to focus on how exactly school systems can adjust their recruitment and retention strategic plans during the pandemic.

At their planned monthly meetings, the Louisiana cohort will map out what Louisiana-specific challenges in relation to teacher recruitment and retention are unique to the state, allowing leaders to explore innovative solutions and how best to implement them. Already, the Louisiana human capital leaders have requested the following strategies they would be eager to explore:

  • Building teacher communities across parish lines in order to support educator development and retention.
  • Implementing a structure to share teachers across parish lines, especially in the vital subject areas, such as Advanced Math and Science.
  • Introducing a common interview process for teachers across parish lines.

In Dr. Brumley’s 100 Day Report, the need for an enhanced teacher recruitment and retention program in Louisiana was outlined, and it’s much-needed due to the fact that over have of the Louisiana teachers leaving the profession do so within their first ten years in the classroom. Subjects outlined as having the largest-need areas for teachers are math and science, yet only 8 percent of all program completers earned their teaching certification in math and only 7 percent earned it in science. Needless to say, this fellowship is a refreshing take on a vital challenge facing Louisiana school systems.

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