Excited about learning

DeRon Talley
DHS Algebra I teacher Mrs. Tracy Swacker teaches two students who are working in a group.

There's something to be excited about Donaldsonville High School and it isn't sports related. In fact, it's as exciting as coming home with your name being on the honor roll. It is because that's what they did. DHS received a "B" grade on the school performance report card released by the Louisiana Education Department last week.

The students and the staff are all very proud of their feat and attribute it to the culture change, the strategy and the personell involved. For the teachers it has been the structure of the Teacher Advancement Program (T.A.P.) that has helped them most in diagnosing how to teach the students at a level is best for both the students and the teachers. Master Teacher at DHS Robyn Simmons helps with the break down of the class instruction, and ensures the students are being served.

"In doing that we became data driven instead of data rich," Simmons said, "that is what made the difference."

That means the teachers started put a name with every number so that they knew where all of the kids were performance-wise at all times.

There was a lot of data the school embedded into its curriculum with the help of the T.A.P., which is the fifth year the school has been part of the program. Part of the T.A.P structure is having Master Teachers who do not have a class, there are also Mentor Teachers who do have classes. All Master Teachers and Mentor Teachers have had a strong hand in developing plans to help the school as a whole perform at a higher level.

Mary Daze', a Master Teacher, said all teachers became part of the accountability process, which payed off very well in the success, she said it was basically "shared teaching."

"Knowing that you were part of helping a student make an investment in their own education is a reward within itself," Daze' said, "because the end result is them being able to make it in the real world."

One of the top teachers both Daze' and Simmons recommends to any student is Algebra I teacher Tracy Swacker. Swacker believes the success is contributed to the students. She said they just have to have the confidence to know they can do it.

"I think one of the things is to always let the student know why they are doing something," Swacker said. "We always talk about teaching conceptually rather than procedurally."

DHS's Principle, Dr. Esrom D. Pitre has been known for his impact he's made to the culture of the school since his arrival in the Spring of 2009. Dr. Pitre likes to credit the success to the hard work the teachers and staff put in as well as the students but the students point their fingers at him too.

"When we first got here, a lot of people looked down on DHS and it didn't make me feel too good," senior Ronald Comeaux, Jr. said, "actually I wanted to go to Dutchtown High."

Comeaux said he was making plans to go to Dutchtown because of the reputation at DHS and he thought he would have a better opportunity elsewhere. But, when Dr. Pitre arrived Comeaux Jr. was glad he came to DHS and saw he didn't need to go elsewhere to benefit. Now he serves as the DHS senior class president.

"Dr. Pitre opened our eyes up to make school more of a priority," Comeaux said.

Some of the students talked about the discipline change since Dr. Pitre's arrival such as the consequences to bad behavior.

Senior Alia Woods talked about the intervcntion program the students participate in where they go for 45 minutes out of the day and dedicate it to reading and ACT Prep.

"It's really been helping," she said.

Sophomore Jason Williams Jr. said that being a sophomore and starting out with a lot of different and new policies it seems like it is better for him.

"I get a better learning experience and educational experience to become a community leader," Williams Jr. said. "Having that discipline has been a stepping stone for me."

The students all agreed that learning has become important to them and junior class president Michael Favorite Jr. said before Dr. Pitre arrived DHS was about sports.

"When he came here he put the importance of school back into school," Favorite Jr. said. "It made us put school as a top priority."

There is one guy who has seen some of it all from DHS, the good and the bad. But in his 26 years of experience as a teacher, Darrell Marquette, Donaldsonville wasn't really a town that had high standards when he first arrived.

"The discipline got better over the years and the students' expectations raised especially in the past six years or so," Marquette said.

According to Marquette, education became important under Dr. Pitre's leadership and the students began to understand either; to get on board with the program or they wouldn't be a DHS Tiger.

"I think the students now are seeing that without education they aren't going to excel in life," Marquette said.

Jobs for Americas Graduates (J.A.G.) instructor Tarleshia Miles said she's seen a lot more students are working and keeping up their academics.

"It's good to know that it could happen in Donaldsonville," Miles said about the school improving from a "D" to a "B" performance grade, "because years ago you would have not guessed it."

For Dr. Pitre, the pay off is exciting. When he first started, DHS was considered a "School of Choice," so parents had opportunities to send their children to other school in the area. Dr. Pitre said since that time the focus has not only been to improve the students academically but also behaviorally.

"The efforts that our teachers put in have shown me the most hard working and dedicated teachers I have ever seen," said Dr. Pitre, who is the 2011 High School Principal of the Year for the Ascension Parish School Board.

"The mission has always been to inspire students to think, to learn, to achieve and to care. So when I got here students weren't quite inspired to be that successful person that I and our faculty knew was in them."

Dr. Pitre added, "I'm extremely proud to have worked with the parents and the community because they have supported me and the school 100 percent since day one. That has been totally reassuring to know that we have that full support as we move forward."