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December 11, 2013
Polk Progress

LEESVILLE, La.-Fort Polk Progress is confident that the Vernon Parish School District can withstand the scrutiny called for by Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno in an Oct. 31 article published by the Army Times. In the article, Odierno said the Army would soon begin evaluating the performance of public schools near its installations in order to pressure officials to make improvements.

"We have to identify those schools that are under-performing, whether it be elementary schools, middle schools or high schools," Odierno is quoted as saying in the article as he addresses a family forum at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting. "I've actually asked for an evaluation of every school outside of every Army installation." Odierno made it very clear that the evaluations would be part of the criteria in future force structure decisions.

In a meeting of the Vernon Parish School Board Tuesday evening, Michael Reese, chairman of Fort Polk Progress, addressed the board, congratulating the district on its current successes and informing them of the Fort Polk Progress Education Initiative.

"Surviving Army 2020 was only one short-term battle" in the war to keep Fort Polk vibrant and thriving, Reese told the board. Another front exists in education.

"You do an exceptional job educating students," Reese said. "Fort Polk Progress intends to work in cooperation with the Vernon Parish School Board to inform our military partners on the achievements of the school district, plans for continued excellence and the pursuit of implementation funds."

Aside from its high academic standards, the Vernon Parish School District has demonstrated its commitment to its students, and especially the military child, in a very tangible way by securing more than $40 million for not just one, but two new schools: Leesville High School and South Polk Elementary, both of which serve the largest military populations in the parish.

Since 2007, the Vernon Parish School District has been making steady improvements in its state scores, which assigns points and letter grades to schools and districts. In 2013, the district made the leap from a B school, to an A school, and continues to hold a spot in the top five districts in the state. The district is currently fourth in the state.

Educating 10,000 students in 19 schools, the Vernon Parish School District is one of only nine districts (out of 71) in the state to receive an A letter grade. In addition, 82 percent of the district's third through eighth graders performed at or above basic levels, significantly higher than the state average of 69 percent.

While the performance of Central Louisiana schools as a whole falls in line with the state's performance, Vernon Parish Schools literally soar above the pack, with 10-or-more-point leads in English and Math scores on the LEAP tests at both fourth and eighth grade levels.

Louisiana, which requires every student to take the ACT, has an average score of 19.5, while the U.S. average score is 20.9. Vernon Parish students, including those who have no intention of attending college, have an average score of 19.4.

Two Vernon Parish schools logged ACT scores in the top twenty of the state in 2013. Anacoco High School has the 9th highest Act score (24.2) in the state, while Rosepine High School logged the 20th highest score (21.2).

Though the Army's evaluations have not yet been developed, according to the Army Times article, Army officials plan to collect data from publicly available national, state and district sources and identify how schools are performing based on their own state standards and national benchmarks. The officials offered the caveat that the process will require constant diligence to make meaningful decisions over the long term.

The Fort Polk Progress Education Initiative Team is made up of stakeholders representing the military, the school district and higher education, as well as educational experts. The first meeting of the team is set for Jan. 8, 2014.

In March 2014, Fort Polk Progress will host an Education Symposium to inform the general public about initiatives developed during the January meeting.