Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB) – Southwest Louisiana

January 31, 2024

Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB)

How Calcasieu Parish School Board Leads with Technology and Collaboration

 

Where cutting-edge technology, strategic partnerships, and a culture of innovation showcase a model of educational excellence in Louisiana.

Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB), located in Southwest Louisiana, is a dynamic and progressive school district, ranking fifth largest in the state. With a motto of “Building Foundations for the Future,” CPSB is dedicated to fostering academic and athletic excellence and providing robust programs for gifted and special education students.

Established on July 16, 1877, the district encompasses a diverse student population of over 27,000 across its fifty-eight schools, including thirty-three preschools, thirty-eight elementary schools, fifteen middle schools, and eleven high schools. CPSB is renowned for its commitment to innovation and academic excellence. The district provides a technology-integrated curriculum and emphasizes the importance of professional development for educators to ensure the highest quality of instruction.

With over 4,900 employees, including more than 2,600 teachers, CPSB is the largest employer in the parish. This workforce is dedicated to creating a high-achievement and continuous learning culture. The district’s focus extends beyond academics, emphasizing the importance of preparing students for future challenges and opportunities.

CPSB’s commitment to its community and students is evident in its wide range of programs and resources designed to cater to its student body’s diverse needs and aspirations. From early childhood education to high school, CPSB offers a nurturing and stimulating environment, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed and thrive.

Exploring Educational Diversity and Competition

In Calcasieu Parish, where choice and competition are integral, the presence of charter schools introduces a unique dynamic. While these institutions are not under the direct purview of the CPSB, their existence brings forth an environment of healthy competition that shapes the district’s approach to education.

Dr. Shannon LaFargue, CPSB’s superintendent, shares his perspective on charter schools: “While charter schools operate within our region, they’re not part of our system, being type two charters. I see it as an opportunity for healthy competition. We believe in our ability to outperform them. This competitive spirit is at the heart of our culture, pushing us to improve our offerings continually.”

This competitive ethos is not about rivalry but about improving the quality of education for all students in the parish. Dr. LaFargue emphasizes the district’s responsibility towards public education, acknowledging the various educational choices available to families, from homeschooling to private and online schools.

“Our goal is to be the top choice for families, making their decision to choose other forms of education challenging,” he continues. “We aim to grow the whole child and provide unparalleled opportunities, ensuring that our public schools are not just an option but the best option available. While the financial implications of funds following students to other institutions is a concern, our focus remains on enhancing our offerings to retain and attract students.”

 

Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB) - Southwest Louisiana

 

Harnessing Technology for Educational Excellence

The CPSB’s innovative use of technology in education is a critical facet of its strategy, particularly in the post-COVID era. This strategic deployment of technology has enhanced the learning experience and expanded the district’s capacity to offer diverse and specialized courses, even in the face of teacher shortages.

Dr. Jason VanMetre, the school district’s Chief Academic Officer, elaborates on the district’s technological advancements, “We’ve embraced a 1-to-1 device program, equipping each student with a device appropriate for their level. This technology enables us to offer unique educational opportunities, like our Virtual Instruction Program (VIP). Through this, we can provide synchronous, virtual classes across the district, even in subjects that are typically hard to staff, like physics. This approach allows students in small or remote schools to access a broader range of subjects.”

This innovative use of technology illustrates CPSB’s approach to overcoming geographical and logistical challenges to ensure equitable access to education for all students.

Dr. LaFargue proudly adds, “The state recognized Our VIP as a model of excellence. We’re now a template for other districts, with many looking to replicate our approach. This is a homegrown, organic initiative, born from a culture that encourages creativity, innovation, and risk-taking in education.”

He also mentions the partnership with Sowela Technical Community College, “This collaboration has allowed us to offer an unprecedented range of dual enrollment and AP courses despite the challenges of teacher shortages. Remarkably, we now offer thirty-four more courses than ever, serving nearly eight hundred students. This growth reflects our relentless pursuit of educational excellence and our commitment to providing the best possible education to our students.”

Cultivating a Culture of Innovation and Support

In Calcasieu Parish School Board, the culture is not just a concept but a tangible asset, deeply ingrained in the district’s approach to education. As Dr. LaFargue describes, this culture is a significant reason educators are drawn to work within the CPSB.

“We’re committed to what we say, establishing trust with our teachers,” he says. “We emphasize autonomy, steering clear of a centralized control model. Our focus is on a decentralized approach within the framework of our strategic plan. We encourage innovation and creativity, seeking to reintroduce joy in the learning process. This starts with making our schools a place where teachers can thrive, feel supported, and enjoy their profession.”

This philosophy extends beyond just teaching methodologies, encompassing the entire environment in which educators operate. Dr. LaFargue further highlights the importance of creating a rewarding and supportive workplace, particularly for new teachers.

“The district is dedicated to supporting teachers, especially those new to the profession,” he continues. “Our teacher leader program for first to third-year teachers exemplifies this. It’s about providing a nurturing environment where teachers don’t just work but thrive and feel valued. Feedback from our teachers on this support has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Financial incentives and professional development opportunities also play a crucial role in retaining and attracting talent. Dr. LaFargue points out the district’s ability to offer substantial financial benefits thanks to community support and local industry contributions.

“We can offer attractive financial perks, like significant stipends, thanks to our community’s support. This year, we could provide a $7,000 stipend, enhancing our overall package to our educators. We also ensure our teachers have the necessary technology and opportunities to leverage their certifications and passions.”

Dr. LaFargue also addresses public education’s broader challenges and how CPSB navigates these complexities. “Public education often finds itself at the center of political debates, leading to sweeping generalizations. We strive to differentiate ourselves from these narratives, focusing on our unique strengths and the specific needs of our district.”

He emphasizes the importance of steering the narrative in an increasingly competitive educational market. The CPSB’s proactive approach in shaping its story is critical to its success. “We’re not just participants in the educational landscape; we’re actively shaping it,” Dr. LaFargue asserts. “Our public information office plays a pivotal role in ensuring our partnerships with universities, technical colleges, government bodies, and local businesses are known. We’re focused on integrating the community with our schools, and vice versa, breaking down silos that can hinder progress.”

This effort to forge strong community links is about collaboration and providing students with the broadest range of opportunities possible. “Our goal is to create a culture where opportunity is not just a buzzword but a tangible reality for our students,” he explains.

 

 

Strategic Partnerships: Driving Educational Success

The importance of strategic partnerships cannot be overstated, especially in a district as forward-thinking as the Calcasieu Parish School Board. These alliances are about procuring resources and fostering a collaborative environment conducive to growth and innovation.

Dr. LaFargue highlights vital partnerships that have been instrumental in the district’s success. “Microsoft stands out as a significant partner. We’ve remained a Microsoft school system, deliberately choosing not to shift to other platforms. This consistency has been a cornerstone of our technological leadership. Dell, another crucial partner, has supported our 1-to-1 device initiative, equipping every student with the necessary tools for modern education.”

He also emphasizes the role of lesser-known but equally vital partners, ” Bullseye, a provider of personalized professional development, has been a game-changer for us. They’ve helped us implement a system where we can offer targeted coaching and professional development, enhancing teacher confidence and effectiveness. This aligns perfectly with our growth-focused, non-punitive approach to teacher development.”

These collaborations reflect the district’s commitment to providing the best tools and resources and ensuring that these tools are used to their fullest potential in fostering an environment of continuous growth and learning.

Dr. VanMetre adds to this, underscoring the adaptability and responsiveness of these relationships. “Our relationship with Bullseye is a prime example of this adaptability. As the Louisiana Department of Education introduces new evaluation methods, we can easily collaborate with Bullseye to integrate these changes into our system. It’s not just about the tools; it’s about the people behind them and the relationships we’ve cultivated with them.”

The success of the CPSB is not solely a result of internal strategies and initiatives; it is also deeply rooted in the robust network of partnerships and collaborations the district has fostered. These partnerships are more than just contractual relationships; they are a testament to a shared vision of excellence in education, where each entity plays a pivotal role in creating a learning environment that is dynamic, responsive, and ultimately focused on student success.

AT A GLANCE

Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB)

What: A dynamic and progressive school district ranked fifth largest in Louisiana, known for its innovative technological approaches, supportive educational culture, and strategic partnerships.

Where: Southwest Louisiana, USA

Website: https://www.cpsb.org

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DIG DIGITAL?

January 2024 cover of Business View Civil and Municipal

January 2024

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