Teachers credited for DHS’ national award

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

Winning a national award says one thing; you’re doing something noticeably right. Donaldsonville High School is no exception as it earned the TAP Ambassador Award along with six other schools in the United States. The award wraps up a year of achievement for DHS as it increased its student performance score from an F grade to a B.

Announced last weekend in Washington, D.C., the TAP Ambassador Award goes to schools that have strong implementation and have been willing to open its doors to other schools from around the country to see how this system is working out and playing out and being implemented in schools, according to Patrice Pujol, Ascension Parish School Board Superintendent.

TAP is the System for Teacher and Student Advancement and has become America’s leading comprehensive education reform that offers teachers career advancement, professional development, educator evaluation and performance-based compensation.

The TAP system was implemented at DHS and Lowery Middle School in the 2008-09 school year to increase teaching effectiveness and improve student achievement, Pujol said and “it’s really phenomenal now that we are starting to see the payoff in terms of student achievement.”

“I knew it could make a difference and it has taken a while for us to get it where it needed to be but we are really starting to see the results of all the hard work and focus on improving student achievement.”

“DHS is one of the first strongly successful high school models, so we’re very proud of their work,” Pujol said.

DHS Principal Dr. Esrom Pitre said TAP really has helped the school set a foundation in terms of how to improve teaching and how to improve learning on our campus. He said it was “awesome” to be one of the first TAP high schools in the nation.

“We were able to go through TAP in its early stages,” Pitre said, “and to have other schools from across the country to come in and visit and be able to borrow some things from us just to serve as that model piece to serve other schools was really important not only for me, but the district as a whole.”

Various schools from Indiana, California, Florida, and many Louisiana schools have all come to see the TAP system work at its best at DHS. Many of those schools got on board and implemented TAP, Pitre said.

Brian Richardson, American History and Black Studies teacher, said the motto has always been to produce productive citizens at DHS, even when he attended the school during his high school years. From a student to becoming a teacher, Richardson said it’s a good feeling to see DHS achieve.

“I always knew it is a great place to grow up and live,” Richardson said, “but when you finally get recognized for all the hard work and especially the teachers do it shows the work is paying off.”

Richardson said the students are “loving” the achievements the school has been getting and he said it’s causing them to want to continue to work hard and stay in Donaldsonville.

“It’s continuing that trend of giving back.”

“I notice a lot of seniors are advising the juniors and the juniors advising the sophomore, and so on, and letting them know about the work ethic to have and what they need to keep these high academic standards and high academic accomplishments going because they don’t want to see it fall down,” Richardson said.

With success there once was a downfall. Steve Matassa, Social Studies teacher, said the kids are more focused and in tune of what’s going on and is expected of them.

“Teachers have higher expectations of the students and they are fulfilling the high expectations,” Matassa said, who has been at DHS for 23 years. “Students have risen to the challenge.”

“It says that students and faculty at Donaldsonville High School can do and will do and have achieved what was expected of them to do.”

Matassa said the teachers believe that TAP is an instrument they can use, it allows them to collaborate with other teachers and it helps them to focus in on what exactly needs to be taught. With that, Matassa said DHS can compete with any school in the United States on an education level.

“As a whole I feel it can compete with any school in the nation. It has proven it and showed it can be done.”

But Matassa isn’t one to rest on his laurels and he knows from experience the job isn’t done. He said he reminds the other faculty “victory is fleeting.”

“We have to continue pushing forward,” Matassa said. “We’re at a B right now, an A is excellent, and we have to keep pushing.”

The academic culture change couldn’t be done without with the teachers and Master Teacher, Mary Dazé, said she credit it all to the teachers.

“They are in the trenches every single day growing students,” Dazé said, who has been at DHS for five years. “I applaud them because we couldn’t do it without them.”

Pitre echoed Dazé and said DHS has the hardest working teachers anywhere.

“Our teachers are constantly willing to do whatever it takes to improve student achievement and they just work with the TAP model has been really good because it causes our teachers to collaborate and work together to solve issues and improve student achievement,” Pitre said. “When you have that focus on improving student achievement and you’re working more so as a team than individual nine times out of ten the results are going to be better.”

Dazé said the progress really started to change when everyone had an all hands on deck approach. Everyone is doing whatever it takes, collaborating around what’s essential for these kids to know and do, she said.