New diploma eyed for Louisiana students

The state Education Department wants to improve the routes to a high school diploma and set up students for success — in furthering their educations and in finding good jobs close to home, said state Superintendent of Education John White.

Students now have the option of three diplomas, he said: the “core four diploma,” which prepares them for a four-year university; the “basic diploma,” which doesn’t qualify them for TOPS; and the “career diploma,” which only prepares them for customer service jobs.

White on Thursday hosted an open forum at Sowela Technical Community College on plans to streamline and change the state’s high school diploma setup.

He said the plans include making the career diploma criteria more rigorous in an effort to give more students the opportunity for high-paying careers. And, White said, he wants to create more flexibility by allowing students to change their paths halfway through high school.

“We need to do more to prepare kids for real jobs that exist in the Lake Charles-Southwest Louisiana area, so that if they’re not getting a four-year college degree they’re getting something that makes them successful and is the path to the middle class,” White said after the meeting.

He said industry in the region is “ready to roll.”

“People here know that they’re kids are going to need jobs in the technical workforce,” White said. “This economy is not kind to students who only have a high school diploma.”

School systems will be using the new framework by fall 2016, he said, and those that can get it done faster are encouraged to do so.

Wayne Savoy, Calcasieu Parish school superintendent, said he is on board with the plan.

“I come from a blue-collar family,” he said after the meeting. “I know how important having a trade is, and I know how important an education is. If we can provide opportunities for children in Calcasieu Parish, that’s what I want to do.”

Neil Aspinwall, Sowela chancellor, said the diploma changes are good because they will be in response to the needs of business and industry. He said the program would need to be “credible, viable and legitimate.”

“The majority of the jobs — not just in Southwest Louisiana but in the country in general — require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, so this is a great way to get our students involved quickly in the workforce,” Aspinwall said after the meeting.

Teri Johnson, president of the Calcasieu Federation of Teachers, said the concept is “very valid,” especially for Southwest Louisiana with its projected economic boom.

“For some reason the marketing of the career diploma hasn’t been up to par,” Johnson said after the meeting.

“There’s been an injustice done to that particular pathway. There are kids who know they want to work with their hands. Giving this region the flexibility is a great concept, but the devil is in the details.”