State, local and regional education officials will be among those meeting Thursday to develop a community-wide understanding of the issues facing educators in Acadiana and beyond. They will also begin formulating strategies to improve K-12 schools.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Education, United Way of Acadiana, and the Pugh Family Foundation present the six-hour lecture at UL Student Union. This first Community Education Summit starts at 1:30 p.m.
“We want to involve the community more,” said Aimee Barber, assistant professor at UL Lafayette. She will discuss the “state of education” shortly after the summit opens. Thereafter, the assembly will be divided into four round tables focusing on fundamental issues: “Early Childhood Education”, “Teacher Recruitment and Retention”, “Community Engagement” and “Preparing our Workforce”.
“We’re going to hear from teachers,” Barber said, “true stories about life in the field. This will help everyone understand better.
This is the purpose of this session: the organizers will focus on the three ‘U’s – ‘Understand’, ‘Unite’ and ‘Elevate’ in order to improve the 3 ‘R’s.
Organizers said that was the goal of the summit, according to the United Way website:
- To understand: Gain a better understanding of education in our community by listening to leaders and educators to learn about current data, promising best practices, and current challenges in our region’s school systems.
- Unite: Network the diverse perspectives and talents of our region’s excellent educators and community members invested in innovative partnerships for the betterment of education.
- Uprising: Listen to teachers share potential solutions to educational problems and commit to at least one educator-endorsed action to actively pursue and share progress to broaden awareness and enthusiasm of communities working to sustainably improve education.
UL Lafayette organizers said eight area school superintendents will attend and form a panel. There will also be a panel of educators.
The keynote address will be given by Ronnie Harvey and Kimberly Eckert.
A critical issue concerns the recruitment and retention of teachers. Barber said 44% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. They’re not easy to replace, said Nathan Roberts, dean of UL Lafayette’s College of Education. Enrollment in teacher preparation courses has declined.
Organizers have suggested that the pay is not competitive, but that excessive workload is more of a problem than low pay. Teachers’ duties have increased during the pandemic. Many teachers find themselves faced with questions unrelated to teaching, Barber said, which has become particularly frustrating.
“Compensation has not kept pace with other public entities,” Roberts said. “It’s a great position if you have a spouse: it provides retirement, insurance and an income that allows the other spouse to do their job.
“Money is great when you’re single or when your spouse is working,” he said. “For a single parent, however, it’s difficult.”
Education professor Douglas Williams said community leaders should be present as the summit seeks contributions from all corners and wants to mobilize all resources. This means education administrators, board members, BESE members, business leaders and the public. Lawmakers were also invited.
Organizers said it’s especially important to listen to teachers, and the conference hopes to attract classroom teachers.
About 100 people had registered on Friday — registration costs $15 and includes a meal — and seats are available for about 250 people.
Emma Bloomfield, head of marketing and communications for United Way, said the idea for the summit came from a conversation with education partners.
“We all want a better education in and around Acadiana. The purpose of this first meeting is to provide a shared space to define understanding of issues, elevate educators, and unify action plans.
“This summit is different from previous efforts because it involves 38 partners. This is an issue on which we must mobilize together.
Success, she said, would come from having a definite plan of action — “Maybe a few things to work on and things to address in the future.”
She said registration is open until the day of the event.