DENHAM SPRINGS -- For a few hours, the state’s top education leaders were in Livingston Parish.
State Superintendent Cade Brumley and others from the Department of Education spent Wednesday afternoon touring and learning about the offerings of the Livingston Parish Public Schools system.
Brumley and his staff — assistant superintendents Trey Folse, Keith Leger, and Ken Bradford along with chief of staff Quentina Timoll — received a personal walk-through of the Denham Springs High School STEM and Robotics Center and Walker High.
State Rep. Buddy Mincey, Jr., a former Livingston Parish School Board member and past president, organized the tour and lauded the “exciting things” going on in the district of 26,000 students.
“I think you’re going to see why we brought you to these two schools, but you could’ve gone to any one of our schools in the parish and saw the great job they’re doing,” Mincey said.
LPPS Superintendent Joe Murphy noted the district’s redoubled emphasis on career and technical training, saying that the district ranks No. 1 in the state in dedicated career development funds with $1.317 million.
This year, students will earn more than 11,500 credit hours of career and technical education.
“No matter what they choose when they leave, they’re going to have a great opportunity to be successful, whether they enter a four-year institution, a two-year institution or the workforce,” Murphy said.
During the tour, education leaders got a first-hand glimpse of the DSHS STEM and Robotics Center and Walker High, which have both added much in recent years.
The STEM and Robotics Center is in its second full year after opening in the fall of 2019. A multi-purpose facility that serves as a satellite campus for Denham Springs High, it enriches students’ learning in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Inside the building, the next generation of learners study topics such as video editing and processing, sound design, robotics and pre-engineering, computational thinking courses, and basic computer science and design. Students also take courses in partnership with LSU, learning from experienced professionals who have worked extensively in their fields of study.
Mike Simmons, the center’s director, said that 293 students earned 313 certificates last school year. Those numbers have grown this school year, with 392 students expected to earn 546 certificates.
“Only real estate will hold us back,” Simmons joked.
At Walker High, Principal Jason St. Pierre took education leaders on a walk-through of the school’s updated campus, which recently underwent a $25 million capital improvement plan.
The campus houses operational businesses such as Papa John’s, Neighbors Federal Credit Union, a Nike apparel store, a Gerry Lane Paint and Body Shop, and the Walk-On’s Conference Center.
All of the businesses are run by students and business professionals, and all are open to both on-campus and off-campus customers.
“We’re trying to be a conduit from school to the outside world,” St Pierre said.
The tour started at the STEM and Robotics Center, where guests enjoyed a meal prepared by Denham Springs High’s ProStart program, a culinary arts and restaurant management program for students interested in food service jobs or careers.
Brumley spoke at the STEM and Robotics Center and praised the work of the local school district and others across the state for their work in what has been a most challenging year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I would put the work of the Louisiana educational community up against anything in this nation this year in what we have done, said Brumley, who is in his first full year as state superintendent after leading the state’s largest school district, Jefferson Parish School System, for two years.
“I know all of you from the board level to the state level have had to make difficult decisions that may not have been initially popular or even popular throughout time, but you made the right decisions.”
During his brief speech, Brumley cited a recent report from American Enterprise Institute that said the Louisiana educational reopening plan for this school year was “the eighth-most aggressive in the country.”
He added that the report said Louisiana currently has “the fifth-largest percentage of kids in daily face to face instruction every single day.”
In Livingston Parish, public school students returned to traditional, five-days-a-week learning on home campuses in mid-September after opening the school year in a hybrid approach.
“Our kids need to be in school,” Brumley said. “Our mitigation efforts are the right ones. They’re keeping kids safe. And I worry about what happens to kids if they’re not here with us, and that’s what you all get and understand.”
Murphy had similar remarks to Brumley’s, saying that the state’s national rankings aren’t indicative of “the great stuff going on in the state of Louisiana.”
“We get crucified sometimes where we stand in the national rankings, but if people would come down here and see what we got going on in this state, they would be more appreciative of the efforts of LDOE and the efforts of the local school districts to continue the education of our children.”