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On Jan. 29 the public will have the chance to discuss educational changes and what improvements can be made in the school system. A panel of teachers, state representatives and school board members, among others, will discuss various education-related topics and answer questions from the community. (mgnonline.com)<br>

On Jan. 29 the public will have the chance to discuss educational changes and what improvements can be made in the school system. A panel of teachers, state representatives and school board members, among others, will discuss various education-related topics and answer questions from the community. (mgnonline.com)

Panel to discuss educational improvement

Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:06 PM

By Nichole Osinski / American Press

On Jan. 29 the public will have the chance to discuss educational changes and what improvements can be made in the school system. A panel of teachers, state representatives and school board members, among others, will discuss various education-related topics and answer questions from the community.

Hosted by Louisiana Progress, the education policy forum is a chance for parents, officials and area leaders to learn about recent education changes and how they affect educators and students. Panelists will cover education reforms passed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“We hope to address some of the challenges to implementation of the education reform legislation, implications for the ongoing desegregation case and opportunities for improving public education,” said Louisiana Progress board chairman Melissa Flournoy in a news release. “We are interested in framing a discussion that can be thoughtful, thorough and constructive based on data and best practices.”

A set of questions will be asked to each panelist, and for one minute afterward attendees can offer their answers. Questions will cover issues such as challenges public education faces and concerns about the new teacher accountability program.

Louisiana Progress Communications and Policy Director Ryan West said the group wants to focus on the last legislative session and how the changes are affecting schools. He said it also wants to look at ways legislators could tweak education reforms to make them more palatable to local districts.

One subject up for debate will be teaching creationism in schools. Panelist Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor, plans to talk about the Louisiana Science Education Act. The law, passed in 2008, allows public schools to teach additional scientific theories, such as global warming, along with state-approved materials. Forrest said this opens a door to teach creationism and that it isn’t helping the progress of public education. She said she is looking forward to having the public ask questions and look at the areas needed for improvement.

“I’m looking forward to getting up and defending the importance of public schools,” Forrest said. “Public education is the backbone of the state’s economy and of the nation’s economy because it makes education available to everyone.”

Lottie Beebe, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said this kind of venue is necessary to have a truthful conversation especially in regard to education reform. Beebe said in the past year she has had concerns over what she sees as a rising number of teachers leaving schools. She said what needs to be discussed is bringing in, and keeping, good educators to transform public education in the best interest of students.

Another panelist, Ashley Walker, principal at Westside Middle School, said she expects Bulletin 741, put out by the Division of Curriculum Standards, to be brought up during the forum. However, she said one of the general concerns is in relation to the teacher evaluations under the Compass system. Walker said it is important for communities to engage in these question-and-answer forums so that decision makers can hear different points of view and receive opinions from all of the stakeholders involved.

“I’m looking forward to providing a principal’s point of view and that I will be able to speak as an administrator in the public school system,” said Walker. “In general I think the public’s point of view often comes from the media, and this provides us with an opportunity to ... share what is going on in public education today.”

Other topics set for discussion are the charter schools, vouchers and panelists’ opinions on funding in the public schools.

The forum will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. in First United Methodist Church, 2200 Rue Denise in Hammond.

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