Education Summit aims to draw stakeholders, coalesce around an action plan

By Ken Stickney

State, local and regional education leaders will be among those meeting Thursday to develop a communitywide understanding of issues facing educators in Acadiana and beyond. They’ll also begin formulating strategies to improve K–12 schools.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Education, United Way of Acadiana and the Pugh Family Foundation are presenting the six-hour conference at the UL Student Union. This first Community Education Summit begins at 1:30 p.m.

“We want to get the community more involved,” said Aimee Barber, assistant professor at UL Lafayette. She will discuss the “State of Education” shortly after the summit opens. Following that, the assembly will break out into four panel discussions centered on core issues: “Early Childhood Education,” Teacher “Recruitment and Retention,” “Community Involvement” and “Preparing Our Workforce.”

“We’re going to be hearing from teachers,” Barber said, “real stories about life in the field. It will help everyone better understand.”

That’s the point of this session: Organizers will focus on the three “U’s” — “Understand,” “Unite” and “Uplift” in order to improve the three “R’s.”

Organizers said that’s the goal for the summit, according to the United Way website:

Understand: Gain a broader understanding of education in our community by hearing from leaders and educators to learn about current data, promising best practices and current challenges in our region’s school systems.

Unite: Network diverse perspectives and talents of our region’s excellent educators and invested community members for innovative partnerships for educational improvements.

Uplift: Hear from teachers sharing potential solutions for educational issues and commit to at least one educator-endorsed action item to actively pursue and share progress to broaden awareness and excitement for communities working toward sustainable education improvement.

UL Lafayette organizers said eight area school superintendents will attend and form one panel. There will also be an educators panel.

The keynote address will be offered by Ronnie Harvey and Kimberly Eckert.

One critical issue involves teacher recruitment and retention. Barber said 44 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years. They’re not easy to replace, Nathan Roberts, dean of UL Lafayette’s College of Education, said. Enrollment in teacher preparation courses has been declining.

Organizers suggested that pay is not competitive, but that excessive workload is more of a problem than low pay. Teacher tasks grew during the pandemic. Many teachers find themselves dealing with matters unrelated to teaching, Barber said, which has become especially frustrating.

“Pay has not kept up with other public entities,” Roberts said. “It’s a great position if you have a spouse: It provides retirement, insurance and an income that lets the other spouse do their job.

“Money is great when you are single or when your spouse is working,” he said. “For a single parent, though, it’s tough.”

Douglas Williams, professor of education, said community leaders are expected to attend, as the summit seeks input from all corners and wants to marshal all resources. That means educational administrators, board members, BESE members, business leaders and the public. Lawmakers have also been invited.

The organizers said it is especially important to listen to teachers, and the conference hopes to attract classroom teachers.

About 100 people had signed up by Friday – registration costs $15 and includes a meal – and seating is available for about 250.

Emma Bloomfield, marketing and communications manager for United Way, said the idea for the summit came from conversation with education partners.

“We all want better education in and around Acadiana. Purpose for this first meeting is to provide shared space for defining understanding of the issues, uplifting educators and unifying action plans.

“This summit is different from previous efforts because it involves 38 partners. It is an issue we need to rally around together.”

Success, she said, would come from establishing a defined action plan – “Maybe a few things to work on, and things to tackle in the future.”

She said signup is open right up to the day of the event. See: