How Central Schools Can Be No. 1 in State

The Central Community School Board made a great decision in selecting Dr. Jason Fountain to become Central’s next Superintendent of Schools.  It is unfair to compare him to Supt. Mike Faulk whose vision and commitment to integrity took the Central school system from an idea to reality and made it one of the two or three best school systems in Louisiana.

They may someday erect a statue to Mike Faulk in Central or name a school after him but no honor could adequately recognize what his leadership has meant to a generation of young people in Central. Moreover, it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to destroy what he has created, at least anytime soon.

Dr. Fountain has very big shoes to fill.  Nevertheless, there is every indication based on his performance over the past nine years that he is every bit up to the task and will in fact not only continue Mr. Faulk’s model but improve upon it.

If Mr. Faulk has had a failure, it is that he failed to overtake Zachary as the state’s No. 1 school system. Many will be looking to Dr. Fountain to do just that. But there’s a problem with that idea, because the reality is the adults are not in charge of whether Central ever overtakes Zachary.

No superintendent, school board, principal, faculty or community leader can make Central No. 1.

That decision will have to come from the students themselves.

More students — many more — at Central Intermediate School, Central Middle School and Central High School will have to make a commitment to academic excellence for that to happen. In fact, under state guidelines, 60 percent of the system’s score comes from the test results at CIS.

A few years ago, I spoke with a Central faculty member about this very topic.  He had taught for a number of years at a large private school in Baton Rouge and for a number of years in Central. I asked him what difference he saw in the quality of the students. His answer surprised me.

He said, “On the surface, they are very similar. The kids from Central are at least as intelligent as the kids in private schools in Baton Rouge.  But most of them don’t try as hard. Don’t get me wrong. They perform above average. They are great kids.  I love them. But most don’t push themselves academically like they are capable of. They are content to get A’s and B’s but few strive to excel and be the very best. Personally, I think it starts at home.  We have great parents, but not enough of them push their kids. These are blue collar families. Most of the parents didn’t go to college. They work hard and have been successful without going to college.  Where I taught before, everyone was expected to go to college. Not just that. Many had their eyes on earning scholarships to big name colleges.  Their parents have high expectations.”

Performance scores in Central confirm this view at least in part.  Central has a very high percentage of students who meet the state’s minimum standards but relatively few who perform at the Mastery level.  Zachary beats Central primarily because it has such a high percentage of students at the Mastery level.

The reality is, Central will never be No. 1 unless students push themselves academically. Central needs many more students like Justin Nijoka, a National Merit Finalist.  Some local schools have multiple National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists every year. But Justin was the first Central High student in quite a long time to be a National Merit Finalist.

The most famous name in the history of education in Central is J.A. Smith, the principal at Central High School from 1937 to 1967 and the principal of Central Private from 1967 to 1977.  Mr. Smith was dedicated to transforming the youth of Central from an undisciplined group of rural boys and girls into scholars. To a large degree, he succeeded.

Since the 1930’s many of the leaders of Central and especially the educational leaders of Central have been products of Mr. Smith and his commitment to academics.  Mr. Smith and those who followed him made it possible for Mr. Faulk to pull things together and create an outstanding school system.

Nevertheless, Central is only No. 2 or maybe No. 3.  It is not No. 1.

We don’t have to choose between academics and athletics.  I graduated from a high school — Istrouma — that was at the top in both, and our dads were blue collar workers without a college education. Zachary also proves that you can be the best both in academics and athletics.

We have to be honest with ourselves.  The truth is, the students in Zachary schools are more committed to academics and to athletics than the students in Central schools. Quite simply, they work harder.

If you want to be No. 1, you have to work harder than everybody else. If you put in the second best effort, don’t expect to be No. 1!

Now the state is imposing even higher standards. As a result, students will have to double their efforts.

So don’t wait for Dr. Fountain to make Central No. 1.  He can’t do that.

If Central becomes No. 1, it will be because more students do what Justin Nijoka did — decide to be the very best they can be!

As Eric Liddell said in Chariots of Fire, “So where does the power come from to win the race — from within!”

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