Louisiana Farm to School Program Provides Knowledge and Resources

A Louisiana Farm To School program from the LSU AgCenter has been promoting school gardening practices, gardening education, and local food procurement to Louisiana students and educators, and it’s set to expand its operations. According to this article from The Advocate. Since 2017, the program, Seeds to Success, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Louisiana Department of Education, is set to provide expert training of agricultural literacy and knowledge to both students and teachers.

Today, 981 schools throughout Louisiana are participating in the Seeds to Success program, meaning that over a half a million students are being reached by the program and its benefits. In addition to this participation rate, nearly 70% of the participating schools are serving food that is locally or regionally sourced. Additionally, 52.9% of the schools are providing food, nutrition, or agricultural education to their students, and 36.5% of the schools have their own edible gardens on campus.

Crystal Besse is the Program Director of the farm to school program, Seeds to Success, and she describes one of the design aims of the program by saying, “Seeds to Success is designed to increase access to fresh, local foods while strengthening local communities and their economy.” Carl Motsenbocker is the program’s executive director, and when describing how the program is operating at this time of year, he said, “it’s like I’m busier than I’ve ever been. It’s like … isn’t it time to slow down a little bit? But there’s just so much work to do, and that’s been a great thing for us.”

Motsenbocker began the Seeds to Success program after years of recognizing that there was a growing need in the state for more widespread, healthy eating practices. Motsenbocker had also worked on a similar program at Slow Food Baton Rouge; the program involved school gardens growing seasonal produce. Slow Food Baton Rouge eventually led to the founding of Seeds to Success. In describing the origins of the idea, Motsenbocker said, “I started back in the 1990s doing service projects and putting in gardens at schools, working with kids growing food. I realized we needed to start younger, that we’ve got to get the kids when they’re little to eat better fruits and vegetables. They’re supposed to be eating five servings a day, but the average American eats barely one.”

At Seeds to Success, they boast of a plethora of programs, although it is worth mentioning the two main ones that have captured their current attention. It is impossible to overlook the Louisiana Harvest of the Month program, which meticulously showcases a myriad of Louisiana crops that can be locally and seasonally grown. The program is renowned for its superb high-quality videos that have been produced by the local PBS affiliate LPB. The videos cover a wide range of topics, from crawfish to rice, and ingeniously demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the two crops. The program also offers a rich assortment of resources on how to grow and cook these crops to perfection. Another notable program that has taken center stage is Seeding LA, which was launched in 2021. During its inception, Seeding LA generously distributed more than 1,600 seed packets to various Louisiana schools, and in addition, over 1,000 seed starter kits were also distributed to deserving teachers.

At Seeds to Success, their farm to school endeavors are not solely concentrated on students. A significant portion of the program is geared towards farmers, with the aim of assisting them in expanding their reach and selling their products to a broader range of institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Through this program, not only does it promote healthy eating habits, but it also creates a substantial economic stimulus, making it a win-win for everyone involved. By providing the necessary resources and support, Seeds to Success helps farmers maximize their potential and develop sustainable business models, which in turn helps boost the local economy while providing nutritious food options to communities.

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Louisiana’s Statewide School Performance Scores Released

Recently, the 2021-22 School Performance Scores for the state’s public K-12 schools were released by the Louisiana Department of Education, according to this brief by LDOE. The results indicated that students are continuing to recover academically from the unprecedented school disruptions that were caused by the pandemic and multiple hurricanes.

The released 2021-2022 School Performance Scores showed that Louisiana’s statewide School Performance Score is the same as it was before the pandemic. Both in 2019 and 2022, Louisiana’s SPScore was 77.1. This is a 1.8 marginal increase from a simulated score of 75.3 that was generated for 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The released performance data can be viewed on the LDOE website, and SPScores will be available on the Louisiana School and Center Finder by the end of 2022.

This year, 48 of the 63 traditional public school systems included in the released 2021-2022 School Performance Scores showed improvement from the 2021 data to 2022. The issued scores also indicated that 30 Louisiana school systems had either equaled or improved their school performance score in 2022 when compared to 2019.

Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley commented on the state’s scores by saying: “Returning our statewide performance score to its pre-pandemic level is reason to be thankful, but we have a long way to go for Louisiana’s children. We must continue to act with urgency to provide even better outcomes moving forward – that’s the challenge we must meet.”

Since 1999, Louisiana has issued School Performance Scores (SPScores) to its public schools; these scores are based on student achievement data. Additionally, in order to better communicate the quality of a school’s performance with families and the larger public, Louisiana adopted a letter grade system (A-F).

State Superintendent Cade Brumley commented that the increase in mastery rates for English, math, and science in grades three through eight on the 21-22 LEAP Assessments was a contributor to the improved statewide performance. He said, “we saw a 3% increase in mastery rates in English, a 3% increase in math and we saw a 2% increase in our mastery rates for science. So, that increase in proficiency certainly led to improved school performance across the state.”

Generally speaking, Louisiana has avoided some portion of the devastating learning loss that schools and districts nationwide have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The maintaining of pre-pandemic SPScores is made even more notable due to the fact that over the past two years, Louisiana has been catastrophically impacted by six hurricanes, with two being among the strongest in the state’s history.

Since last year, the 2021-2022 SPScore showed several measures of performance increases that included measures from ACT results, dropout data, state assessments, and expanded school interests and opportunities measures. In fact, this is the first time that the interests and opportunities indicator has been used to measure schools in official SPScores.

The new interests and opportunities indicator, which accounts for 5% of the SPScore formula, was originally approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in 2018 and implemented in the 2019-20 school year. The interests and opportunities indicator measures whether schools are providing their students with access to a well-rounded education. In this case, a well-rounded education would expose students to a wide array of learning activities.

Looking forward to the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year, the state superintendent said, “we have to focus on staying on course with literacy efforts, refreshing math, transforming our high schools, and continue to give parents the options of education for their kids. I believe that if we do those things, we will continue to see improvements across the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Has Seven 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools

It was recently announced by the United States Department of Education that seven schools in Louisiana have been named 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools, as per this news release from the Louisiana Department of Education. Out of the 297 schools recognized by United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona as being a National Blue Ribbon School for 2022, the seven Louisiana schools were located in Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, St. Landry, and St. Tammany parishes.

Louisiana Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley commented on the achievement of these Louisiana schools by saying, “Louisiana’s National Blue Ribbon Schools represent the level of quality and choice available to families in our state. Congratulations to these schools and thank you to these educators for cultivating an environment where the top priority is student success.”

Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is one of the highest recognitions in the field of education, as it is based on the school’s overall academic performance or its progress in closing achievement gaps. Of the Louisiana schools recognized, three Louisiana schools, in particular, were designated as being “Exemplary High Performing.”This exemplary award recognizes those schools that rank in the top 15% of schools in the state on both academic indicators and graduation rates. Additionally, these schools must also be in the top 40% for subgroup performance, and the ranking system includes graduation rates, school performance scores, and subgroup scores.

The three Louisiana schools recognized as being “Exemplary High Performing” were Caddo Parish Schools’ South Highlands Elementary Magnet School, Baton Rogue’s LSU Laboratory School, and Baton Rouge and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s St. James Episcopal Day School.

Additionally, four schools in Louisiana were recognized as showing “Exemplary Growth,” meaning that these particular schools showed significant subgroup growth. Subgroup growth is measured by a school’s ranking in the top 15% for one or more of their subgroups while also ranking in the top 40% of the state for each subgroup. The ranking system takes into account graduation rates, percentage of growth toward mastery for reading and mathematics, and school performance scores.

The four Louisiana schools recognized as showing “exemplary growth” were Lafayette Parish Schools’ Myrtle Place Elementary, St. Landry Parish Schools’ Grand Prairie Elementary School, Calcasieu Parish Schools’ Frasch Elementary School, and St. Tammany Parish Schools’ Folsom Elementary School. 

With its 39th cohort, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has awarded approximately 10,000 awards to 9,000 hardworking schools. Schools with National Blue Ribbon status are recognized by the exemplary practices they showcase, and the award itself “affirms and validates the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in striving for – and attaining – exemplary achievement.”

The U.S. The Department of Education annually invites nominations for the National Blue Ribbon Schools award from each state’s top education officials as well as the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education, and private schools’ nominations coming from the Council for American Private Education.

Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona commented on the achievement by saying, “I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential, and achieve their dreams. As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children. Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students’ lives.”

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LEAP, Attendance Requirements Waived For 2019-2020

In an article in Louisiana Weekly, it was revealed Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards had proclaimed a waiver for standardized testing (LEAP) state-wide, as well as A-F letter grades and attendance requirements for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.

Expected by local school leaders to promote student mental health and well-being by unburdening them of concerns of grades, attendance and schoolwork, this decision also allows schools to work to explore online learning in these rapidly changing times. The U.S. Department of Education will have to approve some of the waivers, with Edwards noting, “While I’m going to suspend state law, those suspensions are really only effective when we get the waiver.” He indicated that he did not think this would be a problem and that he expected that other states would be seeking the same suspension of requirements on assessment.

Edwards stressed the need for swift, sweeping changes, stating, “The bottom line is this, based on all the information we have, we have two weeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and we can only influence that if we are doing what we are being asked to do. Please understand, this fight against coronavirus is going to last longer than two weeks. We don’t want to look like Italy two weeks from now.”  This decision to waive LEAP testing comes after the Governor announced a month-long closure of schools earlier in the month of March to attempt to slow the spread of the virus in The Pelican State.

Several schools nationwide are quickly adapting to closures and the need for online/remote educational options. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom relayed that “few, if any” schools would be reopening in spring 2020.

Knowing families are still invested in their children’s education, schools in the state continue to offer online and take-home learning for students, even with the waived mandates on LEAP testing, attendance and grading.

In New Orleans, fifth-grade teacher at Morris Jeff Community School, Matthew Tuttle, starts morning classes daily with his students in a live video conference.  He relayed, “There’s something to be said with continuing instruction in the face of complete changes of routine, lifestyle and everything. There is something to knowing that your teacher is still going to be there, if by phone, or computer screen. That is something kids can hold on to in an unpredictable time.” Tuttle feels that the waivers will allow for teachers to focus on what really matters, educating students without the added pressure of attendance, testing and grading. The waivers are a relief on both students and teachers in these unprecedented circumstances.

Crescent City Schools CEO Kate Mehok said their schools’ distance-learning plan was changing by the day.  Currently, they are focused on ensuring students needing computer, phone and internet access have it.  “Even though we’ve not officially closed schools for more than just four weeks I think we anticipate this could last longer.  Any decision we would make to end school, my guess is we would make that decision together. I am open to hearing from others and working with the district and Orleans to make sure we’re doing the right thing for kids. So whatever that is, I imagine we’ll do it together,” she said.

In a statement from NOLA Public Schools, the district “is working with our partners to assess how this decision will impact the 2019-2020 school year as the situation develops over the coming months.”

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