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    State epidemiologist receives The Reverend Connie Thomas Award

    Erica J. Washington, an epidemiologist for the State of Louisiana, will be presented with The Reverend Connie Thomas Award in honor and appreciation of her years of service and dedication to Luke’s House, the community and her robust work in the field of healthcare. Washington, a native of Baton Rouge, LA, moved to New Orleans in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in public health from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She began working with Luke’s House as the organization’s first public health intern, and recruited others to volunteer from Tulane SPHTM. In 2013, Washington was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Prevention and Public Health. She was a 2016-2017 Informatics-Training in Place Program Fellow through Project S.H.I.N.E. – a collaborative between Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and National Association of City and County Health Officials that seeks to increase the informatics capacity of health departments nationwide.

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    Robinson speaks against Kolwe, number of failing schools

    HAMMOND–Tangipahoa Parish School Board member Betty Robinson is highly critical of the superintendent of Tangipahoa Parish Schools Mark Kolwe and she questions the number of failing schools.
    “I have three failing schools in my district,” Robinson said. “Hammond Junior High, Woodland Park, and Westside Elementary, all these school having failing grades. It not the educational system; it is the Superintendent Mark Kolwe is to blame. He is not an educator.”
    Robinson said, “Another problem we have in the school system is that our children are being taught by uncertified teachers.”
    “Everytime a failing school gets a principal who turns around a school, the superintendent will transfer that principal. (For example) Terran Perry was turning around Hammond Junior High, a failing school,” she said.
    “The tax payers can change the school system, and remove the superintendent by attending school board meeting in record numbers and challenge how their tax dollars are spent,” she said.
    According to Robinson, the school board has hired a public relations firm to produce information about a proposed tax that will appear on the November ballot.
    “I cannot support a tax. I don’t trust them with the money, and the community doesn’t trust the system. If the tax passes, the majority of the money will go to Ponchatoula High,” she said. “We must vote against the tax.”
    Robinson said her trouble with the school board started on November 3, 2015, when she was sworn in. “I did not received new members’ orientation until 2016–14 months later,” she said.
    In a letter to The Drum, Robinson wrote:

    Dear Editor:
    The recent report ranking our city as being among the worst cities to raise a child hit hard. The reason is that this is a direct reflection of our educational system. Citizens need board members to be open and honest with them about the state of education.
    Likewise, board members need a superintendent who is courageous enough to be honest and open about these matters with us. We cannot go on pretending like everything is great when national reports state otherwise as this makes us appear uncivilized. I understand politics, but the well being of children and families is far too important to play politics. We simply cannot afford to do so. Doing so has caused the outcome seen nationally.
    Our parish it’s cities and towns are a jewel. However, a better job must be done with our schools.
    The superintendent of over a decade owes local mayors, business leaders, civic leaders and especially families answers as to why our system is in this current condition. And please, do not continue to place blame on money.
    People are tired of this excuse and have stated that they will invest when they can trust that their dollars will be effectively spent on improving educational outcomes for all children. Would you believe that one of the highest ranking school districts in our country actually spends less than we do per pupil? Go figure.
    It is about effectively prioritizing and managing what you have, and our data points out that prioritizing funds starting with what is in the very best interests of children has definitely not been an area of strength for our system’s leadership.
    An entire decade has passed, and this is the outcome. We must do better in assisting our parish’s cities and towns by doing our part in securing leadership that we know can improve system wide academic outcomes so that we all can reap the benefits of having a district filled with high ranking schools.
    Betty C. Robinson
    School Board Member
    Tangipahoa Parish District G

    By Eddie Ponds
    The Drum Founding Publisher

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    Centenary College Choir prepares for fall tour

    The Centenary College Choir takes its 2017-2018 program, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” on the road in early November for six performances in south Louisiana. The group will visit and sing at both churches and high schools during the three-day tour.

    The Choir debuted the full season program at its annual “Rhapsody in View” performance at Shreveport’s Riverview Theater during Centenary’s Homecoming weekend on October 21 and 22.

    The tour opens with a concert at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge at 7pm on Thursday, November 2. On Friday, November 3, the Choir will visit several Baton Rouge-area high schools in the morning and afternoon, giving prospective students a chance to hear the Choir and interact with current members. That evening, the Choir travels to Hammond-Ponchatoula-Well United Methodist Church for a 7pm concert. On Saturday, November 4, the group moves to Lafayette for a 6pm. appearance at St. Anthony Catholic Church. The tour wraps up on Sunday, November 5 as the Choir sings for morning services at Asbury United Methodist Church in Lafayette and then gives a final concert at First United Methodist Church in DeRidder at 6pm.

    Established in 1941, the Choir is the oldest and largest ensemble at Centenary College and celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016. The group sings a diverse repertoire of music from classical to casual, making an international tour every other year. Nicknamed “America’s Singing Ambassadors” by the press, the Choir has toured throughout the world, representing Centenary College to audiences in 32 countries on six continents.

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    University leader calls high school decision to keep athlete, ban valedictorian ‘height of hypocrisy’

    The following is a copy of Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough’s letter to Tangipahoa School Superintendent Mark Kolwe in regards to the national embarrassment:

    Last night, I watched “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore. In the first segment, he discussed the case of Andrew Jones at Amite High School. Living in New Orleans, I was already aware of the case, but I watched Wilmore present the absurdity of this situation to the nation. For the past week, this case has been a national embarrassment to the school, the parish, and the entire state. For me, it represents a tremendous lack of judgment and a colossal failure of leadership. It also exposed blatant hypocrisy present in your school system, Mark Kolwe, Superintendent Tangipahoa Parish School System.

    So, I began to research this situation more closely and I want to present my findings. My hope is that you will issue a public apology to Mr. Jones and his family. Additionally, since this once in a lifetime event was ruined because of what appears to have been an ego contest with an 18 year old, I recommend that you offer restitution to him in the form of a scholarship for college.

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    In your letter, which appears in the Amite Tangi Digest, you write: The Tangipahoa Parish School Board Student Dress Code Policy states that “beards will not be allowed.” As Superintendent, I am obligated to ensure that all Board policies are followed.

    Indeed, the Student & Parent Handbook explicitly states this on page 8 under Student Dress Code, item #1 under dress code regulations grades 4-12. On page 9, it then describes how dress code violations will be handled, with the first violation resulting in a notice to parents and students (essentially a warning), and a subsequent violation resulting in a one day suspension due to disrespect of authority.

    Jones and his family contend that he has worn a beard all year, and that he shaved part of it before the ceremony. I tend to agree with them, not because I know them, but by this story in the Hammond Star recapping the basketball season found here: http://www.hammondstar.com/sports/season-in-review-amite-warriors-district—a/article_ad9875c6-12e2-11e6-932f-47ef2c0ac71f.html).

    The picture shows a young man, wearing a #3 on his jersey, who looks like Andrew Jones to me, with the fuller beard as he has described. I then checked the roster for the Amite Warriors and confirmed that Andrew Jones wore #3. (http://www.maxpreps.com/high-schools/amite-warriors-(amite,la)/basketball/roster.htm).

    So the question is, why would you wait until graduation, after he has completed all requirements to graduate and will no longer attend the school, to finally enforce a policy that has been unenforced for an entire year? More specifically, why would you punish your top student, 4.0 grade point average, and three-sport athlete with academic and athletic scholarships to Southeastern Louisiana University, on the very last day of his formal association with Amite High School?

    Yes, you are obliged to ensure the policies are followed. But policies were ignored during the football season. He was allowed to play football against Bogalusa in October, where the Amite Tangi Digest reported, “This would help set up a scoring drive that resulted in Walker hitting Andrew Jones for a 33-yard touchdown reception.” He was still playing in November, as the team played against Port Barre, The Advocate wrote “A fumbled punt snap gave Amite the ball at the Port Barre 39, and Walker drilled Andrew Jones with a 39-yard touchdown pass that made it 40-0.” He wore a full beard, in plain view, all through basketball season in the spring.

    The height of the hypocrisy is that you personally made a case for an exception to a rule in the name of fairness for students. In late November, a fight between Amite and Bogalusa resulted in Amite being removed from the football playoffs for violating the Louisiana High School Athletic Association rule that players are automatically suspended for the next game if they leave the bench area during an altercation. In fact, you sued because you felt the decision was too harsh. In an Advocate article, it reads “Taking away the opportunity for senior players to continue their quest for a state title was also deemed unfair by the Tangipahoa contingent.”

    At a school where only 36% of the students go to college within a year, where 80% of them are Black, and the average ACT is below 16, you are more willing to fight for students to participate in athletics than you are for an athlete who shows academic accomplishment to give his valedictory address at his only high school graduation.

    This facial hair rule, one that was not enforced all year long, is now non-negotiable at the very end of the year. Again referencing the handbook, page 10 explains discipline and indicates that administrators will “implement the Student Code of Conduct in a fair and consistent manner” (#3), “implement Board policy in a fair and consistent manner” (#7), and “use professional judgment to prevent minor incidents from becoming major challenges” (#5). There is nothing fair or consistent in the implementation of this rule, and now this minor incident has become a national embarrassment.

    The interim principal, and you as superintendent, failed on these responsibilities. However, if you are willing to exercise leadership, you can work to make amends to Andrew Jones and his family. Here are my suggestions:

    1. A public apology should be issued to Andrew Jones and his family. It is still okay to say “I’m sorry” and “We made a mistake.”
    2. Work within the local community to find a venue for Andrew to give his commencement address. He should still be afforded that opportunity.
    3. Some form of restitution would be appropriate in the form of a scholarship to assist with his first year of college. That moment has passed and cannot be relived, but a scholarship would serve as a tangible expression of regret.

    Please understand that these actions display a, hopefully unconscious, bias that allows you to advocate for Black students on the field or court, but to be punitive when it comes to academics. The vast majority of them will never be professional athletes, but they can use their athletic ability to pay for college. And so when you have a true scholar athlete like Andrew, he must be celebrated profusely so that he becomes a role model for others to follow.

    It is my hope that you will rectify this situation as best as possible.

    z4j1f6mgx9kvyl8i5pqw-1Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D.
    President, Dillard University
    2601 Gentilly Blvd.
    New Orleans, LA 70122

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    Reed becomes deputy under secretary

    Kim Hunter Reed has been appointed by President Barack Obama as deputy under secretary of education.

    Reed will be a member of the senior leadership team at the Department of Education that oversees higher education in the United States. She is the former chief of staff for the Louisiana Board of Regents and the former executive vice president of the University of Louisiana System. Earlier, she served on the faculty at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge and was executive assistant to the president and interim vice president of student affairs at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

    Reed earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and master of public administration degree at Southeastern Louisiana University. She holds a doctorate in public policy from Southern University.
     

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  • Leaders urged to let the courts help solve desegregation case

    HAMMOND—A LARGE CROWD gath- ered at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church to hear Nelson Taylor, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the ongoing 1965 civil rights case against Tangipahoa Parish School Board. The case was filed by the late M.C. Moore 49 years ago against

    the 19-member school board. Taylor told attendees he felt the need to speak to residents after reading and hearing about all of the good things that were directed at him.

    “Before going any further, let me tell you a little about myself,” he said. “I was twenty 27 years old and just out of law school when I got this case. I am a well trained civil rights lawyer, only interested in enforcing the 14th Amendment and protecting my clients, a class of Black children and their parents.”

    He also told attendees he isn’t op- posed to magnet or specialized pro- grams many of which are Hammond- area schools, but that he is opposed to providing enhanced academic offerings in some schools and not others.

    Taylor denounced the ideal of indi- vidual taxing districts. He urged implementation of a single-bonding district,which he said he believes will lead to fairness in the distribution for all of the parish schools.

    All portable building must be moved from Midway Elementary School and other schools around the parish, he said. The school board promises to build three new schools, which they never did, the board has the money—$50 million— more than enough to build three new schools.

    By Eddie Ponds

    Publisher

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