Northside community: What do you need from us?

by Heather Miller

A large gathering of support for Northside High's academic turnaround project culminated in the school's cafeteria Thursday night as the new administration laid out its plans for improving the ongoing discipline and achievement problems that place Northside in danger of state takeover.

Northside High's new principal Melinda Voorhies possesses the kinds of qualities one would expect from a former basketball coach: She's tall, lean, resonant - and commands the full attention of her team.

Her new team, as outlined Thursday night during a presentation on the academic turnaround plan that began Friday morning at Northside High, is hundreds strong and includes Northside students, teachers, faculty, parents, alumni and any other stakeholder who's ready to join her in an excited effort to turn around the discipline and performance problems that have long plagued the north Lafayette high school.

"This is a group effort ... I need you, we need you, to come together," Voorhies told an enthusiastic audience of about 100 people who crowded the Northside's cafeteria to hear what's in store for the school. "I met with faculty today, and we're changing all kinds of things around here. Are all of them on board yet? No. But it's time to sit down and buckle you seat belt. You're in for one hell of a ride. This is hardball. I don't know how else to say it."

Voorhies, a retired school administrator (and former basketball coach) who lives in Lafayette Parish and most recently led the turnaround of Park Valley school in East Baton Rouge Parish, was chosen by Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper and subsequently approved by the school board to lead his Northside academic rebound "SWAT" team, a group of veteran educators that also includes Garrick Johnson (also of Park Valley), former N.P. Moss Annex Principal Sandra Billeaudeau and several other key personnel additions to oversee the pilot turnaround project.

The turnaround plan also calls for more than $2 million in repairs and renovations to the school.

Discipline policies will see vast changes, Voorhies warns, starting as early as Friday morning when "we're going to be everywhere in this school."
Her goal, she says, is to have the discipline issues under control in two and a half weeks.

An already passionate Voorhies became even more animated Thursday night when Northside High School alum Jennifer Jackson explained that many in attendance aren't parents of Northside students, but alumni and north Lafayette community members who are ready and willing to step up and help.

"What do you need from us?" she asked Voorhies.

"We need mentors," Voorhies responded. "For both our young men and our young women. I need you time ... and your physical presence."