LaFargue touts opportunities offered to Calcasieu students

Published 9:25 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

If ribbon-cuttings and growing membership are an indication, folks west of the Calcasieu River are putting the pandemic and weather disasters in the rearview mirror and getting down to business.

At the West Calcasieu Chamber of Commerce Monthly Business Luncheon on Thursday, Chamber Chair-Elect Colleen Desselle said seven new members have joined. Chamber Board Member Jody Barrilleaux announced grand openings, re-openings and a networking opportunity: Sulphur Floral Designs, Saturday, April 15, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Intertek, a fuel, chemical and petroleum testing lab, Friday, April 21, 10:30 a.m.; and Merchants and Farmers Bank, Vinton, Friday, April 21, 12 p.m. On April 20, WCCC will partner with the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance for a Business Expo in Sulphur at the West Cal Events Center.

Guest speaker was Calcasieu Parish School Board Superintendent Shannon LaFargue. He noted similarities between the Chamber’s goal of supporting businesses by providing opportunity and the CPSB’s goal of providing opportunity for students.

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“If you’re an organization that can’t see the promises of innovation or the growth mindset, then you’re going to be stagnant and you don’t want to be stagnant, “ LaFargue said. “We don’t want to be stagnant. We don’t want to be mediocre.”

LaFargue gave examples of how the CPSB is educating students to the “greatest extent possible with a highly effective workforce,” and giving them the opportunities necessary to move into the workforce regionally and locally. That includes soft skills.

“There is a teacher shortage; we recognize that,” he said. “But we’ve made an intentional effort to provide our kids throughout the parish with highly effective instruction.”

Previously, in schools without “highly qualified teachers,” in certain subjects – he named chemistry, physics and algebra II – there was no opportunity for Advanced Placement (AP) classes. This past year, CPSB staff, space, certification and teacher passion were leveraged, he said. All eleven high schools adopted the same bell schedule. Now, a virtual instruction program/synchronistic teaching by a highly effective and qualified teacher allows more students to take AP courses and benefit from dual enrollment classes.

“These kids wouldn’t have that opportunity at any other time in the history of our district,” he said, “32 courses that have never been taught in this parish, offering opportunities for our high school kids that have never been offered these opportunities before…500 students receiving dual enrollment credit, AP coursework and content that’s hard to staff at a lot of schools.” Next year, that number could grow to 750 to 800 students.

Calcasieu Parish Schools graduated 18 EMTs this past year, he said. “Sitting in the queue as emergency medical responders, there’s 40 or so next year you’ll graduate as EMTs. We’re helping McNeese right now and McNeese is helping us. We’re exposing our kids to opportunities to get an associate’s degree through LSU-E.

“There’s so many things that go on in our district that we just don’t know about,” he said, “Every opportunity I have to expose Southwest Louisiana to what we give our kids. I think you’d be so amazed and impressed. It gives us hope that our kids have opportunities that we never had.”

Like businesses poised for growth, the school board is focusing on good customer service.

“We’re the largest employer in Southwest Louisiana. We have a $400 million operating budget. We have to provide good customer service to you, to the partnerships, the kids, to their parents. I hope you start to see more and more and more coming from our offices, our school building level meetings and the way we respond.”

LaFargue said that everywhere he goes, he gets asked about safety and security.

“Do we feel 100 percent certain that we can always, always prevent such callous, ridiculous incidents? Of course not,” he said. “But I tell you that to the greatest extent possible, humanly possible, strategically possible, fiscally possible, we’re going to do that.”

The CPSB is in the process of putting film on entry points, not bulletproof but “it turns glass into something almost impossible to get through,” he said. Areas will be fenced to funnel into controlled entry points and the School Board is in pursuit of security grants to purchase metal detectors and so it can look at third-party private security firms to assist with human capital and hardening the perimeter, he said. “We must provide a safe and secure environment.”

“Having an opportunity and exposing kids is the most important thing because you never know what is going to be that moment, that aha moment. Once they’re exposed to it, they have a fire that’s kind of lit in them. He called it the moment when  opportunity and skills come together. “You’ve got to take advantage of your advantage,” he said.

“In so many different ways we resonate with the West Cal Chamber of Commerce’s mission statement –  providing a voice for economic, educational, social and public growth in the region. We provide a voice for students so they can demonstrate growth and be the best they can be and be civic minded in this great region.”