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Reaching Out to Paraprofessionals, Parents

St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools officials are encouraging paraprofessionals to earn associate degrees and stressing early literacy as part of an improvement plan, as well as reaching out more to parents.

As part of its plan to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements, officials at St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools in Louisiana are encouraging paraprofessionals to enroll in college coursework instead of passing a test to show they are highly qualified.

St. John has put in place paraprofessional training and is using Title I funds to pay tuition to a two-year college as an incentive for paraprofessionals to start working on earning degrees. St. John plans to encourage its paraprofessionals to take the coursework, not only as a way to develop future teachers, but also to better prepare paraprofessionals to assist teachers with instructing students, whether in the computer lab, a special education classroom, or the simulated "supermarket" created in the classroom to help students apply math skills. Thirty-two paraprofessionals were enrolled in the college courses offered by River Parishes Community College in 2003.

A high-poverty district, St. John also is using different ways to actively involve students in learning and trying to accommodate individual differences. In an effort to increase the literacy rate, St. John's has embarked on a new three-year district wide plan that starts in kindergarten.

A balanced literacy program with a phonics base has been implemented in St. John schools, and teachers have been trained to use standards-based instruction and specific strategies to motivate students who are not achieving as they should. Teachers also are trained to use technology so they can become proficient in using a prescriptive/diagnostic approach to individual student needs in math, writing, and reading.

All teachers are required to attend this training. Each teacher also is provided with three non-teaching days during the year. During these times, teachers work in study groups with specialists and coaches as part of teams to improve day-to-day instruction.

Louisiana also has begun to provide training for principals, teachers, and support personnel to better prepare them to develop and improve their school improvement plans and meet the requirements of NCLB. The St. John district has been approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to offer a teacher preparation program for certification in special education.

Currently, the district offers a Practitioner Teacher 40 Program, which is a fast-track teacher certification program with 270 hours of instruction. To date, this program has focused on preparing teachers for students in grades 3 through 8.

School placements of teachers in the practitioner program vary each year depending on the need for teachers with appropriate certification. It is the intent of St. John to use this program to assist special education teachers in reaching full certification.


Recognizing that past efforts with parent involvement did not produce the results that were needed, St. John adopted a different way of delivering services to parents. Each school received a specific budget for parent involvement activities, and a variety of new programs were designed and carried out.

For example, some schools created Breakfast Clubs as a way to encourage parents to start off the school day with their children. More than 300 parents attended a Saturday "Parent Reading Extravaganza" for families. The district implemented a full program of parent literacy that used special software designed for adults. And one school developed a partnership with a local baseball team; team members visited classes, classrooms featured "literacy dugouts," and families attended the baseball games free of charge as part of the partnership.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.

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