Step one: Northside High School

by Heather Miller

Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper hopes to launch a three-tier pilot program for academic turnaround and facility renovations at Northside High, one of the school district's worst performing schools.

Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper offered a sneak peek Wednesday night of his three-tier pilot program for academic turnaround and renovations at Northside High School, which could serve as the first school in Lafayette Parish to experience Cooper's model for addressing troubled schools.

Cooper, widely known for his work in improving poverty-stricken and poor performing school districts, told board members at Wednesday's meeting that although the details of the plan won't be ready until the end of the week, "we need to act sooner than later."

Since voters shot down a property tax to fund the district's facilities master plan, part of Cooper's pilot program includes addressing facilities needs by using maintenance dollars that already exist in the budget.

"Regardless of when the bond issue might be brought up or passed, if we wait to build a new Northside High School that could be six, seven or eight years from now," Cooper says. "We can take existing dollars that we have and make sufficient repairs and remodeling and renovations at Northside to make it not only feel good and look good, but to also be an enhancement for the learning and teaching that goes on there.

"We've got a lot of money set aside for facilities," he continues. "Is there a way we can stretch that money even further? It's a new methodology. Instead of major general contracting, we'll look at specific projects like lighting, flooring, painting, and do them individually. We think we can get much better prices and more efficient work. A lot of this we're doing right now is by the hour. This way we won't be at their mercy."

Cooper's proposal also calls for a new model of managing custodial services, the cost of which could decrease under a pilot program he's pitching for 11 schools in north Lafayette, Northside included, he says.

"Instead of asking you to look at the whole district, we want to give you a little sample of what's possible," Cooper said during the board meeting.

The new superintendent says he would like to see the district's pool of 70 grass mowers significantly lowered by replacing them with inmate labor, also noting that some of the full-time custodians could be better utilized as part of a night-cleaning crew.

"It's hard to clean schools during the day when the children are there," Cooper says. "We think we can not only save money and time, we can save on personnel costs, too."

The school board is expected to vote on Cooper's pilot program at the board's Feb. 1 meeting.