West Baton Rouge Parish school teachers and employees were welcomed back with an assembly in the new Port Allen High School theater by Superintendent Wes Watts.
He launched his talk by reminding teachers of the importance of remaining vigilant to keep their students safe from campus intruders, but quickly moved on to encourage them to keep up the good work of past school years.
“We’re here to inspire our students,” Watts said. “I know we talk about academic excellence but we’re about people...We’re more about reaching the heart and soul of kids.”
The superintendent was joined by state Sen. Rick Ward III (D-Port Allen) at the assembly.
“Welcome back,” he announced. “I know West Baton Rouge is going to be the best it’s ever been.”
Ward said he was proud the Legislature “is finally investing in education.”
“If you look at this beautiful new building—is a perfect example of what can happen whenever we
decide to invest in education, invest in our students and our teachers,” he said, but he said more needs to be done. “We’re not anywhere near where we ought to be.”
Watts reminded teachers about and introduced new one to the school system’s 2020 Vision, its five-year improvement plan which included raising employee pay scales to be in the state’s top 10, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and raising expectations and providing opportunities for students to achieve beyond the proficient level.
While he said the West Baton Rouge school system is not in the top 10 yet, he emphasized the “yet” part of his comment.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” Watts said, but he continued by saying there had been “great growth overall,” especially in academics.
West Baton Rouge Parish is ranked in the top 25 among the state’s school systems, he said, but is only points away from being much nearer the top of the heap.
“You’re knocking at the door of being in the top 10,” Watts said. “…We have some things to do but we’re knocking at the door.”
He then turned to one of the accomplishments the school system has made of which he is quite proud.
“We had the highest graduation rates in the history of West Baton Rouge Parish,” Watts said, with a percentage rate over 80 percent.
“That was our goal for this coming school year but we hit it last year,” he continued.
Despite his obvious pride at hitting the target a year early, Watts raised the bar. “…I want 90 percent. That’s where we’re going.”
He launched his talk with reminders about the importance of keeping campuses safe.
“Our schools can be the safest in the world, but if you’re not paying attention, if you’re not in touch with your students, then it really doesn’t mean much,” Watts said.
“Once someone gets to a campus, it’s too late,” he continued.
“If you’re on duty, stay alert, be aware,” the superintendent continued. “You can see and sense things other can’t.”
"That’s why you’re so special, you’re teachers, Watts said.
Watts said he’s experienced two weapons incidents in his career and both ended without danger.
“In both of those situations, kids came and told me where they were and we went and got them immediately,” he said.
“Relationships with your students are the best way to keep our schools safe and it’s the number one thing we can do for our parents is to provide a safe school and a safe environment for our kids,” Watts said.
Schools across the parish opened last Wednesday.
“There’s some wonderful things happening in West Baton Rouge," Ward said. I hope West Baton Rouge can continue to be an example of what can be.”