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Calcasieu Parish School Board Honored For Virtual Learning Program

The Calcasieu Parish School Board is working to help children succeed with innovative programs and partnerships.

By Livability on May 17, 2023

Calcasieu Parish Schools
Courtesy of Calcasieu Parish School Board

The combined punch of the pandemic, hurricanes and other disasters over the past three years might have knocked another school district to its knees. Not the Calcasieu Parish School Board, which in early 2023 received a Models of Excellence award from the Louisiana Department of Education for its new Virtual Instruction Program (VIP) and three main pillars of learning: innovation, partnerships and resilience.

“It’s one of the most prestigious honors the department gives,” says CPSB Superintendent Dr. Shannon LaFargue, whose district serves more than 28,000 elementary, middle and high school students within 1,094 square miles in Southwest Louisiana. “It shows momentum. When we say, ‘We want you to critically think in a different way,’ we actually mean it.”

The trio of pillars is emphasized weekly through online updates that showcase department accomplishments.

The VIP is a perfect example of the district’s innovation pillar, which encourages a growth mindset that puts students ahead of the career curve. Faced with a teacher shortage, CPSB partnered with SOWELA Technical Community College to build on existing technology introduced during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The district now offers 32 dual enrollment, hard-to-staff courses taught virtually and on the same bell schedule at all 11 CPSB high schools. The program is housed at the Lake Charles-Boston Academy of Learning.

Before the VIP was formed, students in rural areas sometimes traveled by bus one hour each way to participate in advanced, dual-enrollment courses, if they were even available.

“This has really benefited so many kids, especially those in the outlying areas,” LaFargue says. “Students are now able to engage virtually with a highly effective, certified teacher who’s delivering content in real time so that they cannot fall behind.”

Calcasieu Parish Schools
Courtesy of Calcasieu Parish School Board

Partnerships are equally critical to student success, LaFargue points out.

“We can’t ignore the tremendous resources that are available in our community, so we embrace all the partnerships that we possibly can. We say yes and then figure out how to make it work.”

More than 300 financial and mentoring partnerships — half come through the designated Partners in Education program — help prepare students for a competitive workforce. Some business partners offer paid after-school apprenticeships, while government agencies and other groups help meet socio-emotional needs.

A new partnership with McNeese State University and SOWELA Technical Community College, for example to create LIFE Academy, provides access to pre-employment transition services to students with significant developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The resilience of CPSB staff and students is evident in many ways, from the ongoing digital shift to the determination of teachers who delivered quality instruction even though their own homes were impacted by flooding and other weather events. One elementary school in Sulphur was named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education for its ability to bounce back through hard work.

“We don’t use the hurricanes and COVID as an excuse,” LaFargue concludes. “In some capacities, it actually facilitated some of the things that we were doing in a positive way. The resilient piece just kind of permeates everything.”

To learn more about the Calcasieu Parish School Board, visit cpsb.org.

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