Nicholls State University Named a Top Regional University

In September 2019, Nicholls State University was named as one of the top regional universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report. This is the third year in a row the college has been named in the Best Colleges rankings.

According to the report, Nicholls ranks thirty-eighth among public regional universities in the South and the best in the state of Louisiana, and ranks eighty-fourth among southern regional universities including private schools – the third best in Louisiana State, the two preceding being Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of Holy Cross. In 2019, Nicholls ranked as No. 41 and No. 100.

“This is a direct reflection of the commitment our faculty and staff make every day to recruit, educate and graduate a better student for the Bayou Region,” said Dr. Jay Clune, Nicholls president.

U.S. News and World Report state they define a regional university as a school that offers several undergraduate degrees, a handful of master’s degrees, but a select few doctoral programs. A public university is defined as a school that functions under state government supervision and is partially funded by tax dollars.

In order to calculate each school’s ranking, U.S. News and World Report took into consideration graduation rates, retention rates, social mobility, academic reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, and alumni contribution rate.

Once the data for each school is analyzed and studied, the schools were then broken into the categories of national university and regional university, then the top seventy-five percent of each category is published.

Nicholls ranked 103rd in social mobility among regional universities in the South and fourth among public universities in Louisiana. Social mobility is determined by comparing the school’s Pell Grant recipient graduation rate to the graduation rates of those who did not receive the grant.

Nicholls State University is a student-centered regional institution located in Thibodaux, Louisiana. They offer accredited degree programs and unique learning experiences with a goal to prepare their students for life beyond the classroom and to have a successful career. They are dedicated to the education of their diverse student body while also providing a rich cultural and educational environment.

“Nicholls supports the educational, cultural, and economic needs of its service region and cultivated productive, responsible, and engaged citizens.”

U.S. News and World Report is an online news and information organization that aims to empower their readers to make better, well informed choices that affect their day-to-day lives. They focus on education, health, personal finance, travel, cars, and news & opinion and aim to bring honest, fact-based information to their audience. U.S. News provides hospital and school rankings, consumer advice, and analysis in an effort to provide valuable information to people seeking to make complex decisions, regardless of their phase of life. U.S News is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and was founded in 1933, with an average of over 30 millions site visitors.

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Louisiana State’s Honor Roll Recognizes Early Learning Centers

On November 5, 2019, Louisiana Believes announced that the Louisiana Department of Education declared that nearly 400 early learning centers have earned a spot on the state’s “Honor Roll” as a result of their performance in 2018-2019. This announcement came the day before the state released its annual early childhood performance profiles and K-12 school report cards in the Louisiana School and Center Finder.

“Louisiana took a great step forward when it began publicly reporting the performance of early childhood centers alongside their counterparts in K-12 systems. The Honor Roll released today complements that effort by recognizing and rewarding the sites that achieved remarkable success this past year. We applaud these sites for providing families, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, with access to high-quality care and for acting as models for excellence and growth.” said State Superintendent John White.

“These standout sites really highlight the great work being done throughout Louisiana in early education. We are caring for our earliest learners in safe, emotionally supportive, and educational environments, preparing them for success in school and life,” said Tony Davis, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Our state is being well served by its investment in early childhood education, and I proudly continue to advocate for additional funding to expand these kinds of gains.”

The early childhood programs, which include early childhood centers, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten, that were recognized were placed within three categories:

  • Excellent: the highest possible rating, the centers with this rating are among the best in the world.
  • Birth to Three: sites in this category provided high-quality instruction and care to the state’s youngest learners, children from ages birth to three.
  • Top Gains: centers within this category significantly improved their scores from the previous year.

In total, 363 sites made the Honor Roll, which is up fro 277 sites from 2017-2018. 113 of these were recognized in the “Excellence” category, 216 were in the “Birth to Three” category, and 57 were in the “Top Gains” category.

The sites and centers that were recognized on the Honor Roll span over 51 early childhood education community networks, many who oversee multiple sites on the list. For example, Rapids Parish oversees 63 sites that made it onto one or more of the lists. The network was one of the first early childhood education networks to establish a “Ready Start Community Network” and is one of the most improved in the state.

“The Ready Start Community Network” has steadily improved the quality of early care and education to our youngest children. In 2015-2016, Rapides has only 48 percent of our sites achieving Proficient. In 2018-2019, 95 percent of our early education sites are Proficient, and over 53 percent of those are High Proficient or Excellent. Our community network has much to celebrate because of the tireless work, energies, and single-purpose to provide excellent early childhood educational programs for Rapides children birth to age 5. We want every child in Rapides Parish to receive a high-quality learning experience that promotes student achievement and school readiness. These youngest citizens are our future and deserve our best efforts in creating quality classroom environments in which to reach their maximum potential.” said Cindy Rushing, early childhood coordinator for the Rapides Parish School District.

Each site and center on the Honor Roll will receive a special badge on their performance profiles on the Louisiana School and Center Finder and a state certificate.

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Louisiana Special School District Hosts Professional Development

The Louisiana Special School District (SSD) hosted a day of professional development focused on curriculum accessibility and support for students with low-incidence disabilities, like blindness, deafness, autism, and those with limited communication access due to multiple disabilities, brought together about 140 educators from across Louisiana state.

The event, called “Click or Treat: Content Needs Accessibility”, included Halloween-themed activities and was the first event like this to be hosted by the SSD, an organization that hopes to establish itself as a statewide resource for students with low-incidence disabilities. The Louisiana School for the deaf and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired in Baton Rouge hosted the event.

“By launching this trendsetting professional development opportunity, the SSD wishes to signal that we take very seriously our strategic commitment to creating and sustaining unifying systems of support for all SSD schools and programs. This event is therefore aligned with the SSD’s long term goal of expanding support to students with disabilities across the state through outreach and educational offerings. We are pleased at the level of interest and engagement surrounding this effort and expect to have more such opportunities in the months and years ahead,” said SSD Superintendent Ernest E. Garrett III.

The event lasted a day, and participants were able to attend a range of sessions to help learn new, instructional strategies and experience new technologies to aid in student learning. The session topics covered how educators can engineer their environments for learners who benefit from visual support to how educators can use tactile graphics to support STEM instruction to how schools can create comprehensive plans to help support diverse learners.

Participants of the event were also given information about cost-effective resources available to them year-round through the Louisiana Accessible Education Materials Center. Overseen by the SSD, this statewide resource center provides expertise and tools designed to aid in the advancement of the education of students with low incidence disabilities. It hosts professional development opportunities for educators and members of the community, has a resource library with nearly 3,000 educational materials and assistive devices, and one-on-one training and consultation.

The LA-AEM serves school-aged children with visual impairments and provides specialized paper for Braille and large print users, educational kits and learning tools for the visually impaired, and professional publications and guides for teachers of the visually impaired.

Louisiana Accessible Education Materials Center Director, Robin King, says “LA-AEM is a little-known but invaluable resource for stakeholders across Louisiana. If educators or families need access to devices to enhance listening or to have everyday classroom materials translated to braille, for example, it’s just a phone call away.”

During the regular school-year, LA-AEM is open from seven am until four pm, Monday through Friday. During the summer, LA-AEM is closed on Fridays and open from six am until four thirty pm, Monday through Thursday.

You can request a service from the Louisiana Accessible Education Materials Center here.

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Students Interested In Education Career Have New Pathway

On October 16, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a new pathway that will equip college and career-bound high school students with the intent to pursue a career in education with knowledge and skills necessary for success when they graduate, Louisiana Believes shares.

Called the Pre-Educator Pathway, a part of the nationally recognized Jump Start career and education program, high school students will be able to take a unique progression of courses to encourage the development of strong, foundational academic knowledge and skills. In addition, students main acquire around 30-40 hours of practicum experience the help them become familiar with the K-12 teaching environment.

According to the Pre-Educator Pathway Overview, the mission of this pathway is to cultivate highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers, beginning in high school and extending through college and into the profession.

This pathway is geared for those who are seeking to become an early childhood education teacher, elementary school teacher, middle school education teacher, secondary education teacher, special education teacher, art teacher, foreign language teacher, or computer science teacher.

The statewide credentials that are included in this pathway are CIW Web Security Professional (Advanced), CIW Web Security Associate (Basic), CIW Web Security Specialist (Basic), CompTIA A+ Basic, and CompTIA Security+.

“We are hopeful the newly-approved pathway will elevate the education profession as a career option for our young people. We also hope it builds a pipeline to fulfill the state’s need for diverse, capable, 21st Century educators.” said State Superintendent John White.

The practicum the high school students will experience will be a combination of classroom observation and classroom assistance, and they will develop an understanding of diverse learners and different learning environments.

The Pre-Educator Pathway will help high school students seeking a TOPS University Diploma and those planning on becoming a certified teacher by guiding them towards being accomplished educators throughout all stages of their life. By beginning this pathway in High School, the students who choose this pathway will be catered to passing the Louisiana teacher certification exams and the General Teacher Competencies required by Louisiana for teacher certification.

For students who don’t plan on becoming a certified teacher but intend to enter the education profession, the Pre-Educator Pathway will prepare them to take on alternative roles – like child care worker, substitute teacher, paraprofessional, professional tutor, or school system cyber security analyst.

Amy Weems, an assistant professor in ULM’s School of Education, said, “We are proud to offer this pathway for high school students who have an interest in serving their communities through the teaching profession. This pathway was built through strong partnerships with our local school districts, and we look forward to helping those districts to train their best and brightest high school students who will return to serve future generations. It is the very best example of how ‘grow your own’ initiatives can exponentially improve the quality of education we can offer to our students to better our communities.”

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Louisiana Granted Millions for Student and Teacher Support

On October 14, 2019, the Louisiana Department of Education announced being awarded five competitive federal grants, totaling $115 million. These grants will be utilized for student and teacher support.

Louisiana Believes states the grants will be utilized towards enhancing the literacy programming and instruction; increasing mental health services for students, including those with past trauma and those who are historically at a disadvantage; help teacher earn credentials in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (also known as S.T.E.M.); and initiate a leadership program for both current and future special education administrators.

“The U.S. Department of Education continues to recognize Louisiana as a state that generates creative ideas to solve critical problems. These five new awards will support the implementation of plans to address many of our schools’ and students’ greatest challenges. We look forward to collaborating with state agencies, school systems and community partners to implement effective solutions to these pressing concerns.” says State Superintendent John White.

The grants, varying in dollar amount and length, include:

  • Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant for Student and Teacher Support

The largest grant, it totals $100 million over the span of five years. It will contribute to literacy support for schools that identify as having low academic performance across the state by helping purchase top-rated reading curricula and instructional materials, provide educators with access to professional development, provide support to students who struggle with reading, and provide evidence-based literary resources for families. Louisiana Department of Education’s goal is “to serve 600 high-needs schools and early childhood education providers, 2,000 local leaders, 9,600 teachers, and 240,000 disadvantaged children by the end of the five-year grant period.”

  • Trauma Recovery Grant for Student and Teacher Support

This $7.5 million award spans 5 years and will help provide and increase mental health services in an effort to increase academic performance and decrease absence and decrease discipline rates. “The state education department will partner with the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and community agencies to pay for direct mental health services for students who have experienced trauma, with a particular focus on low-income, foster, homeless, and migrant students.”

  • Improving Pre-Engineering and Computer Science Education through Micro-credentialing Grant

Totaling $4 million over 4 years, the award will develop a pathway for teachers to earn certificates of expertise in STEM fields and encourage the expansion of STEM pathways in the school systems.

  • Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant for Student and Teacher Support

Funding a partnership between Louisiana Believes and LSU School of Social Work, the $2.5 million award will encourage an effort to expand and strengthen the school-based mental health force over a 5 year time frame. The “Louisiana School Social Work Expansion Project” aims to provide mental health services to high-needs schools and improve the culture and climate to foster a healthy attitude and prepare students for employment and to lead fulfilling lives as responsible citizens,

  • Special Education Leadership Grant for Student and Teacher Support

This award, which totals $1 million and spans 5 years, is intended to establish a “Special Education Leader Fellowship”. The fellowship will span a year and be a comprehensive development program for current and future special education leaders across Louisiana.

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Louisiana National Blue Ribbon Schools

According to Louisiana Believes, on September 26, 2019, the U.S Department of Education announced seven Louisiana schools that won National Blue Ribbon Schools awards.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program was established in 1982 and seeks to acknowledge and reward public and nonpublic schools nationally that work hard to close achievement gaps or are high-performing. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has a mission to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” as stated on their website. Over 9,000 schools have been presented with this sought after award, gracing the schools with a symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

State Superintendent, John White, expresses his pride over his school system: “We applaud these schools for their ability to either steadily improve student achievement over subsequent years or consistently remain one of the top-performing schools in the state. What an honor it is to have them represent Louisiana.”

The following two schools were recognized as “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools ”, which means they are among the state’s highest-performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students over a five-year span:

Bayou Black Elementary School, Terrebonne Parish

St. Charles Elementary School,Lafourche Parish

The following four schools were recognized as “Exemplary High Performing Schools”, which means they are among the state’s highest-performing schools overall. Student subgroup performance and high school graduation rates are at their highest points as well:

Haynes Academy School for Advanced Studies, Jefferson Parish

Early College Academy, Lafayette Parish

Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, Jefferson Parish

Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced Studies, Jefferson Parish

One nonpublic school, Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge, received the national honor.

An awards ceremony for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program will be held in Washington, D.C., on November 14 & 15 to honor the winning schools.

Schools can only be nominated once in a five year-span and are nominated by their Chief State School Officer. The U.S. Department of Education determines the number of nominations per state based on the number of students and schools in each state.  One-third of the public schools nominated by each state must include student populations with at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The school’s nominations occurred back in January of 2019, leaving school administrators honored and over the moon.

Karla H. Russo, Principal of Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies in Jefferson Parish: “We are honored to be nominated as a potential National Blue Ribbon School. Our faculty, staff, students, parents, and community work together to create an environment that fosters student achievement and success, and I am proud to see their dedication and commitment to learning recognized.”

Andrew Vincent, Principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced Studies in Jefferson Parish stated “The Thomas Jefferson High School community is thrilled to be nominated for this prestigious distinction. We are proud of our students, staff, teachers, families, and community members that have continually ensured our success as a school. Thomas Jefferson High School would be honored to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School.”

To read more about the nominations, click here.

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