Nicholls Hosts Awards For Excellence

Recently, the many achievements of Nicholls State University alumni and other members of the Nicholls community were honored by the Nicholls Alumni Federation at the annual Awards for Excellence ceremony, as per the school.

Held on March 23, 2022, in the Bollinger Memorial Student Union’s Cotillion Ballroom, this year’s ceremony served as an opportunity for the Nicholls State University Alumni Federation to bestow its four Awards for Excellence to high-achieving supporters of Nicholls State University, be they graduates or not. In addition to the four winners of this year’s Awards for Excellence, the Federation honored the 2022 Hall of Fame recipients, which were made up of outstanding graduates from each of Nicholls’ colleges.

Preceded by a cocktail reception, the evening’s awards program saw the bestowing of the James Lynn Powell Award, the Harvey Peltier Award, the Corporate Mark of Honor, the Honorary Alumni Award, and several Outstanding Alumni awards to a member of each of Nicholls’ colleges.

Katherine Mabile, the director of Alumni Affairs for the Nicholls Alumni Federation, said of the evening, “we are so blessed as a university to have men and women such as these who have contributed so much to this institution and our community over the years. his university would not be here today without the passion and commitment of our remarkable alumni. It is an honor to recognize them through our awards ceremony.”

The James Lynn Powell Alumni Award is the single highest recognition given to a graduate of Nicholls State University. This year Michael J. Hebert, Jr, a native of Houma, was the recipient of this honor. Hebert is the chief of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as well as the National Jones Act Division of Enforcement (JADE). Hebert has spent over three decades in federal service, including nine years in the military, and in 2016, CBP charged the 2-time Nicholls Graduate with defining, establishing, and leading the newly-formed JADE division.

Today Hebert is responsible for the CBP’s coastwide trade enforcement strategy,, but he’s never forgotten his collegiate roots. Hebert returned to Nicholls from 2015 to 2018 to serve as an adjunct instructor of Petroleum Engineering and Safety Technology Management and criminal justice. Hebert had also contributed to the development of the criminal justice program’s curriculum.

The Harvey Peltier Award is the highest award given to a non-graduate of Nicholls. Similar to the criteria for receiving the James Lynn Powell Award, the recipient of this honor must be considered to be outstanding in their chosen field, contribute to the university and the community, and cannot be a Nicholls Graduate. This year’s Harvey Peltier Award was given to Mr. and Mrs. Salvador M. Brocato, III, two Nicholls supporters whose support began in 2017 when their son, Dominic Brocato, joined the Nicholls Football team.

Members of both the Nicholls Foundation and the Huddle Up Club, the Brocatos’ support for the university is felt across the campus. Not only were they the first to donate to 2020’s Boucvalt Family Athletic Complex Naming Campaign but they have also made remarkable contributions to the Nicholls Police, the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, and the maritime management program, among many others.

The Corporate Mark of Honor is an award that’s typically awarded to an organization that has proven to be a strong supporter of Nicholls and its mission. This year, Nicholls State University President Dr. Jay Clune awarded the Corporate Mark of Honor to the Giardina Family Foundation, which has given to the Dyslexia Center, Nicholls Foundation, and other organizations across their years of service.

The Honorary Alumni Award is an honor bestowed to a non-graduate of the university who has shown a special interest in the school and who has given their time to Nicholls over the years. This year, Maria B. Cruse, MD., received the Honorary Alumni Award, as she has been highly involved with the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute. Dr. Cruse was named an honorary culinary faculty member in 2011 and had a key role in the creation of the Culinary Guild.

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LDOE Distributes $17 Million in Teacher Support Grant Funds

In recognition of the tremendous amounts of effort towards uninterrupted learning that they’ve put forward during the coronavirus pandemic, child care providers have been approved to receive a second round of teacher support stipends and wage supplements by the Louisiana Department of Education, according to a March 17th news release.

It would be a massive understatement and misaligned judgment to not consider Louisiana’s child care providers as essential frontline service workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As reported by the LDOE, the pandemic has significantly impacted both the field of child care and in this case, especially child care teachers. These significant impacts continue to contribute to the ongoing issue of teacher turnover, as they join other stressors that child care teachers face.

A research study that was conducted by the University of Virginia found that over 30% of early child care educators reported difficulty in paying rent, 40% consider themselves food insecure, and over 50% report being unable to pay for medical expenses. In light of these distressing statistics, the LDOE has funded two rounds of the 2021-2022 Teacher Support Grant for open Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) child care providers.

The initial round of $10,681,600 in grant funds was distributed to over 600 open child care providers in the form of stipends and wage supplements in August of 2021, and recently, the second round of the Teacher Support Grant, amounting to $17,492,800, was distributed to over 700 open child care providers in February 2022.

Both rounds of the Teacher Support Grant have been funded and issued in direct response to an early childhood workforce report that was submitted to the Louisiana Legislature by the Louisiana Department of Education. The LDOE’s report detailed key information about the impacts, funding, and costs of early childhood care and education in the state of Louisiana.

Further detailed in the report, it was stated that approximately 35% of teachers in early childhood education leave their sites of employment or placement at some point each year, and that percentage is increased to approximately 44% in child care centers. The report also found that only one-third of the teachers observed in Louisiana’s publicly-funded early childhood classrooms are still teaching in that same location three years later, signaling distressing turnover.

The Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, Dr. Libby Sonnier, commented on the issue of child care provider retention and turnover by saying, “when qualified, experienced educators are constantly leaving the field, it’s inevitable that we will see direct impacts on quality. Either a program will have a ceiling of success that it will not be able to exceed, or worse, we will start seeing a reduction in quality as programs struggle to recruit and retain strong early care and education staff.”

This high percentage of child care provider turnover was just one of the contributing factors presented to the Louisiana State Legislature, contributing to them approving the second round of funding. Another contribution comes from the report’s analysis of how a child care provider’s annual pay compares to their school-based counterparts.

Recent data from the Department of Education showed that child care teachers make approximately $20,000 annually, which is less than half of a school-based childcare provider. This salary is less than the federal poverty level for a family of three, according to 2020 statistics, and an approximate 27% of child care teachers reported that they actively work a second job in addition to providing child care.

Dr. Cynthia DiCarlo is both a professor of Early Childhood Education at Louisiana State University and the executive director of the LSU Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool. Dr. DiCarlo commented on the wage disparity that the LDOE’s presented report in saying, “teachers working in early care and education are still paid less than their service-industry counterparts. Until we decide as a state to pay teachers at par with other job opportunities, we will not move forward with quality early childhood care and education in Louisiana.”

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LDOE Releases Guidance for Improving Special Education Outcomes

In an effort to support school systems in improving outcomes for Special Education Programs, the Louisiana Department of Education has released its second guidance document in an ongoing series, as per a Louisiana Believes news release.  The LDOE has already released its first issue of what its calling “Guidance for Leading Inclusive Special Education Programs” in January, and they’ve recently released a second set of supportive documents with five more slated to come later in 2022.

Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Jenna Chiasson, commented on the important need for such guidance from the Louisiana Department of Education, saying “now, more than ever, school systems are facing unprecedented challenges in meeting the emerging needs of students with disabilities. These guidance documents provide school systems with practical and timely resources to work cross-departmentally to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.”

Earlier this year in January 2022, the LDOE had released its first issue in the series: “Leveraging Data to Align Budgets and Spending to Priorities.”  The purpose of the issued guidance was to answer the question, “how do school systems create a spending plan to support the programming needs of students with disabilities?” As educators were encouraged to refer to the document, they were asked to take a self-assessment that aimed to support school system leaders wanting to identify areas to strengthen planning structures and processes when aligning budgets and spending to priorities.

Then, in February 2022, the LDOE released its second issue in the support series: “Creating Compliant Systems for Student Success.” This document and accompanying webinar set out to answer the guiding question of “How can school systems develop and maintain compliant systems that improve student outcomes?”

The guidance issued wanted to address the structures created by school systems that achieve compliance but at the cost of student outcomes, causing the individualized needs of the student with disabilities to be ignored in the name of system-wide efficiency. What was suggested what that school systems leaders rethink special education by examining these existing systems “that limit opportunities for children with disabilities; practices that put the needs of ‘the system’ over the individual needs of a child; and policies that, no matter how well-intentioned, do not have the impact of improving outcomes for students.”

These guiding documents are being issued by the Louisiana Department of Education in an ongoing effort to navigate the unique and complex challenges associated with improving the outcomes for students with disabilities. The series, which is slated to continue through at least June 2022, will support school systems in improving special education programming by leveraging best-practices cross-departmentally. By tackling systemic areas of improvement at the root of the cause, school systems and individual schools can collaborate on these improved practices across disciplines and departments for the betterment of the student with disabilities. This has already been seen with January’s Guidance for aligning both spending priorities and budgets in the effort of improving student outcomes.

LDOE adapted content for “Guidance for Leading Inclusive Special Education Programs” from a comprehensive developmental program aimed at novice special education leaders called SPED Fellow Academy as well as a partnership with a diverse group of special education leaders from across Louisiana, who serve as advisors.

Dr. Shayla Guidry Hilaire, Chief Student and School Support Officer for New Orleans Public Schools commented on being a part of the advising leaders in saying “it is an honor to be a part of a project that starts with equity as the foundation for the work that we do as special education leaders. The LDOE listened to the needs of special education leaders and created ongoing support that addresses those needs in an authentic way. Our special education community has experienced many challenges during the pandemic and these guidance materials and webinars provide hope during a time when educators are in need of ongoing support to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable learners.”

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Nicholls Sees Decade-High Enrollment Retention

Despite beginning the school year amid a flurry of natural and pandemic-related challenges, the Fall-to-Spring enrollment retention of first-time freshmen at Nicholls State University is holding steady at the highest percentage rate in over a decade, as per this news release from the school.

As it’s true for many post-secondary learning institutions nationwide, the prolonged continuance of the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effects has cast a particular shadow on collegiate affairs, enrollments, and retention of students during the transition from the Fall to Spring semesters. In 2021, Nicholls students were facing an even more immediate and devastating disaster in the form of Hurricane Ida, which predictably led to an expected drop in Spring enrollment.

The University’s enrollment data for the Spring 2022 semester showed a 10 percent drop since Spring 2021, dropping from 6,165 to 5,531 students. Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune reported that this result was expected. This expectation is due to the fact that the Nicholls’ community is still attending classes “amid an elongated pandemic” and still actively “recovering from a devastating hurricane.”

Attending school and earning an undergraduate or graduate degree amid a pandemic is quite the feat in and of itself, but Dr. Clune put the experience in perspective saying, “we have juniors here at Nicholls who have only known college through the lens of this pandemic. We understand how difficult that can be. I commend the students who have remained on campus and look forward to better days ahead.”

This past August, the Nicholls President announced that the University would begin restructuring its initial recruitment and ongoing retention strategies. On a whole, the restructuring efforts will be spearheaded by the Nicholls Office of Academic Affairs with Dr. Sue Westbrook, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Renee Hicks, the assistant vice president of Institutional Research Effectiveness and Planning, access, and success leading the charge.

Though only announced at the beginning of the 2022 school year, the positive impact has been immediately evident, as seen with this recent enrollment data. This year’s Fall-to-Spring retention of first-time freshmen at Nicholls was reported as being 90.5 percent, which is a total 7.9 percentage point increase from last year and the first time that the Freshman retention rate has remained above 90 percent in over ten years.

Renee Hicks commented on the positivity emitted from the milestone achievement by saying, “when we post retention rates like this, it means our entire campus community has come together to provide extraordinary support for our students during the recovery from a major hurricane on top of a pandemic.”

Dr. Clune was also one to attribute the strong retention rates to the efforts put forth by the Office of Academic Affairs. He said, “in addition to our strong retention rates, we also see applications are up year-to-year. I attribute that to our data-led approach to recruitment and retention by Ms. Hicks and her team. With a new marketing campaign and increased recruitment and retention efforts, we anticipate a return to an upward trend in enrollment.”

Colleges and universities calculate their annual retention rates by comparing the number of enrolled students (as of the 14th day of classes) and subtracting the number of students who have withdrawn or canceled their enrollment. Then this figure will be divided by the total number of enrolled students. This retention rate is then regularly compared to other universities in the area as well as the individual school’s rate across the years. This data is reported annuallyby the university and any fluctuations in data are typically attributed to a wide array of factors, but for Nicholls State University to have seen a milestone increase in freshmen enrollment retention  amid a pandemic and natural disaster is certainly quite the feat of the academic institution.

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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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New Conservatory School for Visual and Performing Arts Coming to Baton Rouge

A new arts-focused conservatory school that many are calling “the Juilliard of Baton Rouge” may be going to a vacant campus on Goodwood Boulevard, according to The Advocate. The proposed new school will focus on preparing local area teenagers for career paths in the performance and visual arts, including music, dance, theatre, and more.

The proposal of this new conservatory school is part of East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s plan to add more attractive academic opportunities to the parish in an effort to counteract the declining enrollment numbers from the past few years.

If implemented correctly, this arts-focused public charter school could very well attract new families to the district. In addition to these new families, many students begin their public educational career in various elementary arts programs but are left with fewer and fewer options as they get older; this is seen in the Baton Rouge area, as there is no currently no high school dedicated to the visual and performing arts.

Recently, Superintendent Narcisse had organized a large delegation, which included six EBR School Board members, to visit several education art schools in Miami. Coming away from the trip, many board members were able to see the benefits of students attending high schools like the New World School of the Arts, a downtown Miami arts high school of about 500 students.

School Board member Mike Gaudet, who was impressed by the survey, said, “after what I saw at Miami-Dade, it makes me jealous that we haven’t had this before. It’s just the kind of thing that we just need to get on the boat and get it going and make it happen. Our students deserve this.”

Superintendent Narcisse has previously worked in school districts with conservatory schools, and he has been pushing the idea that Baton Rouge needs its own school dedicated to a particular focus ever since he took over as superintendent in January. He officially proposed the idea in July, but after it was met with initial resistance from the board, he set is aside to better prepare its introduction.

At the November 18th East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting, the board voted to reopen Broadmoor Middle School, a facility that has been closed and vacant since 2019, to be recreated as a conservatory school for sixth through twelfth graders. The newly approved magnet school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 with the school also serving as the home to summer camps and after-school art classes that will be accessible to students across the district.

Executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Renee Chatelain had said that this new school will serve as a catalyst for improving arts education in the larger surrounding community. Chatelain has already begun talking to Baton Rouge artists who have left the city to return and teach at the new school at least for short stints. She commented saying, “I’m asking them, ‘Please come back and be adjuncts.”

It stands to reason that charter schools championed by the school district can be a draw for families at their educational options. In fact, preliminary enrollment numbers for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools have increased by approximately 800 students since last school year with nearly all of that growth being attributed to students attending district-sponsored charter schools. On the other end of the spectrum, enrollment is down at non-charter schools. When compared with last year’s data, non-charter school enrollment has decreased by approximately 800 students and a total of 2,200 students from two years ago.

Chair-elect of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Ralph Bender said of the opportunity, “investment in an arts conservatory will lead to a sizable return on investment due to retention of talent, recruitment of master teachers and professional artists. If you look at great artists who left Baton Rouge to go elsewhere and make their mark, perhaps they would be here if there were more opportunities like this. It will elevate the artists and master artists who live in Baton Rouge but whose work could be expanded.”

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