Panel to discuss educational improvement

By 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.