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In this file photo, Combre-Fondel Elementary principal Mark Steward greets students during their first day of the 2018 school year. The school is showing marked improvement.

It's no secret that Combre-Fondel Elementary School has struggled.

With a Louisiana Department of Education grade of "F" for the 2017-2018 school year, it seemed to Principal Mark Steward as though nothing would successfully improve the high teacher turnover rate and low test scores. Nothing that is until a group of guardian angels descended upon the school and started siphoning love and positivity into the halls, along with new ideas and some much-needed assistance.

After taking the helm two years ago, Steward made some major changes himself. In revamping the entire teaching staff, he said he did begin to see some improvements; but there was always more that could be done and he had very little resources available.

Enter Steward's guardian angels – who are actually the members of First United Methodist Church. When word of Combre-Fondels' struggles spread to the halls of the church, members decided to take action and became the schools official Partner in Education.

"The church has been such a blessing to our students and staff," Steward said. "In addition to providing us their own time as volunteers whenever and wherever we need them; they have helped teacher morale by leaving little gifts on the desks, donating books, and providing us lunch during our teacher in-services. It's these little things," Steward continued, "that can really make a difference."

Combre-Fondel, Steward explained, is populated by lower-income children who come from all walks of life and often difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Those statistics alone provide a challenge to even the most seasoned teachers. But Steward now has a staff he feels are as committed as he is to improving the lives of all of those who enter the halls.

"For the first time in a very long time we've retained the entire teaching staff for a second year in a row," he said. "The generosity of the Methodist church has certainly had a hand in that."

Heading into the 2019-2020 school year, Steward is more excited than ever before. "Knowing that we aren't alone in this is such a great feeling. For the first year in a very long time our LEAP 2025 scores increased in every single subject last year. I believe this is a direct result of our new partnership with our guardian angels at First United Methodist Church."

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