Measure to Adopt Year-Round Academic Calendar Clears House Education Committee

A measure that recently cleared the Louisiana House Education Committee without objection aims to alter the academic calendars of select public school districts according to an article from The Advocate.

House Bill 538, which is supported by the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley, would have six or fewer public school districts change their annual academic calendar to a 12-month model that includes periodic breaks. This model, which has already been adopted by international school districts, would replace the current, traditional 9-month academic calendar that is followed by a summer break.

While the measure passed the House Education Committee without objection, House Bill 538 wasn’t met with a warm reception by all, which is to be expected of any chance to an academic calendar. The proposed change already received vocal opposition from the state’s two teacher unions: the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). Additionally, a member of the House Education Committee, Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge expressed his concern that the calendar change would disrupt the lives of his constituents and set traditions, thus requiring serious adjustments.

With this level of large systematic change, it’s expected to have some level of “push back,” but as detailed by Superintendent Brumley before the committee, the proposed calendar change is ultimately in service of students and teachers. In addition to this, the proposal is also in response to what has been known as the “summer learning loss” that occurs between once school year’s last day of classes and the next year’s start date.

This time in between school years is approximately two months long for students, and while some may participate in summer school, tutoring, or other academically enriching programs, many simply place academics “on the shelf” until the next school year begins. Dr. Brumley shared this concern with House Committee members by saying, “what we know is that there is summer learning loss, we know that it is real.” Superintendent Brumley reportedly said that students can lose and forget up to 30% of what they had learned in their previous grade during the summer months.

As it’s currently written, the legislation would allow up to six districts to participate in the piloting of the new academic calendar on a volunteer basis, and those public school districts would receive a portion of federal stimulus dollars to assist in the overhaul. The proposal would have students attending classes for 42-43 day segments that are followed by two-week breaks (intersessions). During the intersessions, students would be able to receive enriched learning, tutoring, or other assistance.

The school year would end on June 30 with classes resuming on August 11, allowing students and teachers to have a summer break of approximately five weeks. The shortening of summer breaks is what has caused the most opposition thus far as many teachers and students with many students working throughout the summer to save money for college and many teachers working second jobs.

House Bill 528 will next face discussion in the Louisiana House of Representatives, and if approved it will move on to the state Senate. Though the measure has sparked a lot of discussion, it should be remembered that Louisiana lawdictates that students receive 360 minutes of daily instructional time over 172 instructional days. Those days may be organized and allocated in a variety of ways.

With this said, the centralized aim of this measure is currently presented as an effort to assist schools, leaders, and students- not to merely disrupt their sense of normalcy. Superintendent Brumley reiterated this sentiment by stating, “I am not here to tell you that a balanced calendar is a cure-all, but given where we are in outcomes we should be exploring all options that make a difference in the lives of our students and teachers.”

For more education-related information, click here.

LDOE to offer Free Virtual Therapy through Ochsner Health

After teaching during a pandemic and one of the most active hurricane seasons ever recorded, Louisiana teachers will soon receive free mental health virtual therapy visits thanks to a partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and Ochsner Heath, according to this press release from the Louisiana Department of Education.

This partnership will offer four free virtual therapy visits to over 160,000 public school educators and support staff across the state, where they can connect with licensed mental and behavioral health providers through a secure virtual platform. The visits will be accessible through participants’ smartphones, tablets, and computers, and they can be booked after individuals browse profiles of healthcare providers and choose a clinician who best supports and serves their particular needs.

The four virtual visits will be available to Louisiana public school teachers and support staff at all K-12th grade school systems and early child care centers that serve children from birth to age four, including all traditional Louisiana public and public charter schools. After the four initial visits are booked and completed, participants can choose to continue their sessions by booking new ones at a discounted rate.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said of the state’s educators, “Louisiana educators have done hero’s work through a pandemic and one of the most active hurricane seasons on record for our state. They have been there for our children and families during this stressful year, and this partnership with Ochsner is one way we can be there for them.”

According to a survey published in August 2020 by  The Hechinger Report, approximately 40 percent of surveyed Louisiana early childhood educators reported clinically relevant signs of depression, likely caused by not only personal problems but also the uncertainties of the upcoming school year as a result of the Covid-19 landscape.

The initiative to offer virtual mental health services from Ochsner Health to the state’s educators is a part of a three year, a million-dollar initiative that’s funded by the LDOE’s allocated funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) to adequately respond to the health needs (both mental and behavioral) experienced as a result of the pandemic.

Governor John Bel Edwards said of the initiative, “It is critically important that the state provide mental and emotional support for our teachers and support staffs who unselfishly give so much of themselves to ensure that education continues for our students during this unprecedented pandemic. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) is being used to fund the partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education and Ochsner, and I’m grateful that we are able to support our education workforce.”

Qualifying educators and support staff unfamiliar with virtual therapy visits will be surprised by how much they resemble in-person office visits and also be thankful for their convenience. When joining a secure video conference call with their selected, licensed provider, patients will be first asked about the medical history, current symptoms, and goals for therapy. Taking in this information, the provider will assess the situation and then develop and recommend a treatment plan. The visit is a part of Ochsner Health’s Anywhere Care, a private, secure, HIPAA-compliant tool that enables patients to consult online with a provider safely and confidently.

After a whirlwind year of uncertainty, confusion, and unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to know that the state Department of Education is supporting the mental health of its teachers. Ochsner Heath’s Vice President of Telemedicine, April Radford said, “We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges to educators – both frontline teachers and administrative staff.”

For more education-related information, click here.

Louisiana Tutoring Initiative Given Spotlight by US Department of Education

A specific Louisiana tutoring initiative program that was created by Louisiana’s Department of Education in Fall 2020 has not only captured national attention but it’s being used as the country’s standard in the U.S. Department of Education’s latest school reopening guidelines, as told by a press release from Louisiana’s own Department of Education.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Louisiana Department of Education to close school on March 13, 2020, a lot was left hanging in the balance. As a result, state educational leaders collaborated for months on an initial, comprehensive set of guidelines for reopening schools, which has only become more thorough upon its revisions.

Similarly, the United States Department of Education (ED) releases two volumes of its own “COVID-19 Handbook.” The first volume, which was released to the public this past February, aimed to give faculty and staff members some realistic, practical examples for restarting in-person learning. In addition to this, Volume 1 referenced a large number of strategies for educators to navigate the instructional gap of 4-6 months that was caused by the closing of schools.

In April 2021, ED released the second volume of its handbook; it bore the title: “COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs.” As its main focus can be ascertained by its naming convention, this volume focused on an in-depth analysis of the recovery of lost instructional time caused by the school closures and/or transition to and from virtual learning.

This latest volume will be the framework for the 2021-2022 school year, as it stands right now because it provides a variety of additional strategies for the safe reopening of in-person learning at all American schools as well as the promotion of educational equity or the supplying of individual resources to various students in an effort to have them all succeed and meet a goal. ED plans to address and achieve national educational equity by appropriately addressing the opportunity gaps that lie in the pandemic’s wake, and one of the best ways to address these is through the tactical use of high-quality tutoring to make up for the lost instructional time.

It is in this effort, the provision of high-quality tutoring, that Louisiana’s Department of Education is being used as a national example of a program that’s designed to support teachers and students concurrently. The initiative, called Accelerate, supplies entire school districts with structures, curriculum, presentations, webinars, and educational resources to not only accelerate students’ learning but also keep all instruction aligned to what’s taught in the current school day.

In response to this national attention, State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Cade Brumley said, “it’s reaffirming to see the work we’re doing in Louisiana called out as a strategy schools around the country can use to help children get back on track. Not only is Louisiana a national leader for safely providing in-person instruction, but our students are benefitting from academic strategies proven to move students forward.”

The specific wording of Louisiana’s Accelerate initiative reads as follows in the US Department of Education’s Second Volume: “One example of statewide use of tutoring is being provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, which is encouraging tutoring for all students, recommending that it occur in high-dosages (at least 30 minutes 3 times per week), and providing comprehensive materials aligned to state academic standards through the Accelerate program. In 2007, four studies reviewed by the Department’s What Works Clearinghouse found that peer tutoring had positive effects on English language development for English learners. By contrast, less formal, inconsistent tutoring, that is held in larger groups unconnected with classroom content is unlikely to help students.”

For more education-related information, click here.

LSU and Nexus LA to Offer Support for Louisiana Entrepreneurs

This summer, aspiring Louisiana entrepreneurs will be able to consult industry experts and business mentors thanks to a partnership between Nexus Louisiana and LSU’s Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization according to a press release from the school.

The program is called Ignition, and it’s been designed as an accelerated entrepreneurial program in which aspiring businessmen and women can assess the practicality, viability, and overall effectiveness of their ideas. The Ignition initiative, which is set to last eight weeks throughout the end of spring, will also offer to its participants a panel of local business leaders and innovators who will guide aspiring entrepreneurs through the building, maintaining, and satisfying of a reliable client base.

In addition to the wealth of knowledge that can only be gained from experiences, Louisiana entrepreneurs and participants will also have reimbursable capital available to them through a grant from Louisiana State University. Candidates will have access to up to $3,000 in reimbursable funds, which they can apply toward what Ignition is calling “customer discovery efforts.” Such efforts may include, but won’t be limited to social media marketing campaigns, registration and attendance costs for a conference or expo, or even admission into product competitions.

The experts offering their two-cents to Ignition participants want to help connect customers with a great idea because often those aspiring inventors and innovators are expertly crafty in the creation of their product or service, but they might lack the business acumen or networking savvy to get their idea in the hands of customers. Thankfully, that’s literally the types of aspiring Louisiana entrepreneurs that Nexus Louisiana had in mind in creating the Ignition program.

Stephen Loy, the Executive Director of Nexus Louisiana Technology Park said of the initiative, “Ignition is ideal for entrepreneurs, dreamers, risk-takers, and anyone who has a business idea seeking to prove or disprove their product or service viability. Our goal is to help entrepreneurs keep from investing significant resources into an idea that might not be viable. We would rather someone decide whether their business idea will work early in the process than find out after they have mortgaged their home.”

The program commences on Wednesday, April 28th with an official program orientation and is set to last until Wednesday, June 30th with participants taking part in weekly innovation sessions. Towards the end of the program, Ignition will host a virtual “Demo Day,” sponsored by the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana. On the “Demo Day,” participants will be able to properly showcase and present their business ideas to a larger community.

The total Ignition initiative expects its participants to commit to actively shaping their overall business idea, strategy, and viability outside of class, with approximately five hours a week devoted to this effort. The program is limited to fifteen total Ignition participants with preferences being given to those candidates who submit an application and subsequent business proposal that shows the entrepreneurial promise, aptitude, and mindset required to not only complete the program but successfully launch a scalable, technology-enabled business of their own. While the program doesn’t guarantee success, the moment of the culminating launching of the business at the end of June requires a little bit of risk, just like any promising business venture.

All in-person sessions for the program will be held at the Louisiana Technology Park located in the Mid City area of Baton Rouge. Andrew Maas, the director for the LSU Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization, said of the venture, “We are excited to be part of Ignition. We know from our experience that you really need to ask some tough questions before you even start a business. You need customers to be successful and customer discovery is the most logical place to start. We hope to give participants the tools and resources to be successful.”

For more education related information, click here.

Jump Start Convention Brings Together Economic and Education Leaders

Over one thousand Louisiana educators and industry leaders gathered virtually at the seventh annual Jump Start Convention, as reported by a Louisiana Believes press release. The convention is held annually by the Louisiana Department of Education in an effort to reflect on the progress of Louisiana’s premier CTE program, (career and technical education). This year’s theme was “Inspire. Innovate. Impact,” and though held virtually the spirit of cooperation was alive and well.

Jump Start is a career and technical training program that prepares Louisiana students to lead productive lives as adults where they are capable of continuing their education after high school while earning certificates in high-wage career sectors. Students participating in the Jump Start diploma pathway while in high school are required to earn credentials that are well-known and well-valued in the industry.

If done successfully, the graduate earns a Career Diploma, and the school in which they attended receives the same accountability grade for preparing them for careers in job sectors with high demand. This “reward” of sorts earned by the school is similar to the type they receive for students achieving top academic honors.

Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education, Dr. Cade Brumley said of the program, ““Louisiana’s graduates must be ready for a career or college when their time in high school is done. The success of our Jump Start program and of events like this convention demonstrate our commitment to ensuring every student is on track to a professional career, college degree or service.”

The convention featured a wide array of events conducted by top Louisiana Education Leaders, including a welcome from the Louisiana Department of Education Director of Quality Diplomas Jessica Vallelungo and an address titled, “State of CTE in Louisiana” by Dr. Brumley.

Additionally, the convention featured an anticipated announcement of the continuation of the impactful Jump Start Construction Connect Scholarship by Louisiana Community and Technical College System Chief Public Affairs Officer Quintin Taylor and TJC Group’s Nicholas Johnson.

Attendees of the convention participated in over 25 events that all uniquely complemented the event’s theme. One such event was the heavily-attended “Strong Start 2020 Career and Technical Education Instruction Panel,” moderated by Vallelungo. The panel included Ascension Public Schools Supervisor of Career and Technical education Rhonda Matthews, St. Landry Parish School Board Supervisor of STEAM Dr. Therese Ellender and Desoto Parish Schools Director of Student Services Dr. Darrell Hampton.

Events and panels like the “Strong Start 2020 CTE Instruction Panel” allow for regional economic leaders to gather, discuss, and share occupational forecasting for high wage, high demand careers in their economic region. In addition to this, a panel of STEM industry leaders also gather to discuss the future of the state’s workforce.

For a diploma pathway like Jumpstart, which is so highly-attained in Louisiana, it is incredibly beneficial for education leaders to hear such economic forecasts in order to ensure not only the validity of the credits and experience earned by their students. It also allows for the educational directors to ensure that graduates will leave the Jumpstart Program ready for a career in a field that is in high demand.

The annual convention also signified the inaugural class of The Louisiana DOE honored and celebrated the inaugural STEM Pathway graduating class. The Class of 2020 was the first cohort of students to successfully complete rigorous coursework designed to train them to succeed in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),  and to mark the achievement, the 23 students received a special endorsement for their diploma. Also, BESE approved additions to the JumpStart 2.0 initiative, thus expanding career courses, pathways, and industry-based certifications available to students.

For more education related information, click here.

New Program Launched to Improve College and Career Readiness in Graduates

Soon, Louisiana high school students will be able to earn an associate’s degree or gain meaningful work experience for career readiness through a new high-demand apprenticeship program from the Louisiana Department of Education, as announced in a recent Louisiana Believes press release.

The program, Fast Forward, was developed to actively blur the lines dividing high school, higher education, and the workforce, thus completely redefining the high school experience in an accommodating and versatile way. Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said of the program, “this bold initiative has the potential to impact the educational landscape in our state for years to come. We must be more deliberate about personalizing high school for our students and preparing them for their next step beyond high school graduation.”

Students entering the program would begin high school in a typical manner by completing grades 9 and 10 on their high school campus while earning their required diploma coursework in the core academic areas like English Language Arts, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Social Studies, etc. Then, once students pass their sophomore year and are at high school’s halfway point, they will be given the option to spend grades 11 and 12 on a postsecondary campus, a high school post secondary satellite campus, or while fully immersed in a state-recognized pre-apprentice or apprentice program.

Aside from the traditional options offered to students in high school, the Fast Forward initiative would offer up to three pathways to students. The Jump Start 2.0 Associate’s Degree Pathway allows students planning to enter the workforce directly after high school to graduate with an associate’s degree. The TOPS University Associate’s Degree Pathway would allow for college-bound students to earn two years of collegiate credit while in high school. The High-Demand Apprenticeship Pathway would allow students to enter the workforce directly following high school graduation with certification in a high-demand field.

This program will be impactful as recent graduation cohort data showed that only 159 out of 42,650 2019 graduates warned both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, marking this pathway an area in need of improvement.

All three options are clearly advantageous for any high schooler wishing to get the most out of their high school experience, and the pathways already build upon programs and similar diploma tracks that are currently offered in Louisiana schools. Each of the state’s eight regions will have planning grants with funds up to $50,000 awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in that district. Additionally, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Regents will split the cost of the grants.

Details of the promising Fast Forward initiative for college and career readiness were first shared during the December 2020 joint meeting of theLouisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Regents, with the initiative receiving support from both boards, and that support comes as little surprise. This is due to the fact that much national attention has been garnered for the effort put forward by the Board of Regents, BESE, the Dual Enrollment Task Force, andLouisiana legislature to enhance pathway opportunities to improve career and college readiness in the state.

The State Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed said of the program, “this pilot puts into action the joint goal adopted by BESE and Regents in 2019—for all freshmen, beginning with the entering class of 2025, to graduate with some college credit or a market-relevant credential. We must attract more students to our campuses if we want our state’s attainment level to improve and one of the easiest ways to do that is to embed college experiences into high school.”

For more education related information, click here.