Pujol says money can help aggressiveness


Leadership is exposed when either something good or bad happens to a unit or organization. For the Ascension Parish School District, its leadership is under the spotlight again for fighting to improve its student learning success. The school district was announced in the top-60 to receive the "Race to the Top District Grant," which is a Federal grant that is part of the administration's stimulus package.

The Race to the Top District Grant is designed to give significant funding to districts across the country that are doing innovative things that might can be replicated in other places after having success with kids, according to Patrice Pujol, Ascension Parish School District Superintendent.

For the Ascension Parish School District, being awarded this grant worth $30 million would be really significant. And, Pujol said certainly that would go a long way towards the district being more aggressive in implementing some of the school improvement efforts.

There were over 1200 districts across the nation who applied for the grant and the list is down to 60, with Ascension still on it and as the only district in Louisiana to be in the running.

"It's amazing," Pujol said. "I looked at the list, these are heavy-hitter districts from across the country… It's very affirmative of the direction we are heading."

Pujol said it shows her that the grant-reviewer think the direction the district is headed is "research based, the appropriate direction in which to head, and something that will indeed have an impact on student learning."

And, she said, "Another part of the grant is to show our past history of success with improving student achievement and doing and supporting innovative program. I do believe that our past success is part of what has gotten us where we are. They want to invest in district that have the capacity to do the work well, and I think that's very affirming for our team."

The most recent and notable success in student improvement came a few months ago when Donaldsonville High School received a "B" on the state's performance grade sheet, improving from a "D" the previous year.

"We had the greatest growth since we've been keeping track of accountability throughout the district," Pujol said, "Donaldsonville High being one of the examples, but it happened in a lot of different places. And certainly, I think one piece says to the grant readers that we have a history of improving student achievement."

Some of the things Pujol said she'd tackle first if funded the money start with a tiered approach including: students, teachers and leadership. For the students, she'd like to "personalize learning" for each of them because she says each child is a tough measure in terms of making sure each in the district can meet those high standards.

"Looking at personalizing learning, we have several different things we would focus on," Pujol said. "First, how do teachers use technology and technology tools in order to personalize that learning? And how do they collaborate together in order to create a learning environment across a school?"

As far as leadership goes, Pujol said without appropriate leadership change in the learning environment is not going to happen.

"We are very interested in really developing both our current and future leadership," Pujol said.

Pujol also talked about the technology improvements the district could use. She said the technology itself can't change the learning environment, it's the way the teachers use it.

"We need to provide some coaching for them (teachers), professional development and opportunities to see models of what great use of technology to push the envelope of great standards would look like."

Also, with that technology comes a whole other realm of support to keep the technology running and those are pieces Pujol says the district could really put some dollars into.

"We can't just throw another three or four thousand devices out there without having the technological support system," Pujol said, "both on the mechanical, technical side, and on the instructional side to assure the machines work properly and to assure the right things are happening with them."

Pujol said part of it would be an investment of human capital to assure that the support is there and of course the collaborative opportunity requires time, which Pujol says money can buy you time.

"Also, we will need to continue to develop leadership we will need some structures and somebody to lead that effort," Pujol said. "Those are all the kinds of costs that are associated with the things we are trying to do."

Pujol and the school district have plenty uses for the $30 million grant if approved for it, but Pujol said the plans she and the district has for the future of the schools will go forth with or without the grant money.

"The money helps us get more aggressive with our plan because we can't currently put more technology out there than we can afford to support," Pujol said. "We can't currently be as aggressive as we want to be with leadership development because we don't have personnel to do it. The money would help us be more aggressive in the implementation of the plan."

Pujol added: "We have a strong commitment to our community that we will continue to improve student outcomes, to our community here in Donaldsonville and to our community throughout all of Ascension Parish. The money would help us be more aggressive, but with or without the dollars we are committed to continuing to provide the best outcomes possible for our kids, so they can be successful in this global economy in which they now have to thrive."