The Daily Review/Ivory Bibbins
St. Mary Parish Superintendent Leonard Armato addressed industry leaders as the guest speaker for the St. Mary Industrial Group monthly meeting Monday.

Armato: Enrollment is still on the decline

St. Mary Parish Superintendent Leonard Armato addressed industry leaders at the St. Mary Industrial Group monthly meeting Monday on the economic impact and successes of St. Mary Parish schools and school board.
Armato said the petroleum industry economic downturn has affected enrollment, which has continued to decrease in St. Mary Parish and remains one of the biggest concerns for the school board.
“(In previous years), we’ve lost 350 students with the downturn in the economy,” Leonard said. “We are down 100 students since last year.”
The lack of enrollment led to two school closures in 2016, M.D. Shannon Elementary and J.A. Hernandez Elementary. Armato said the board does not regret closing the schools because the district has saved money and will continue to save money. However, he also said that the board does not intend to consolidate any more schools, but consolidation is still a possibility because of the continued decrease in enrollment.
“Numbers dictate school closings,” said Armato.
In addition, Armato said the district spent about $2 million in capital improvement projects for schools in the summer, such as the building of the new Patterson Junior High School, and tries to keep a majority of those funds in the parish by hiring local contractors.
Despite enrollment issues, Armato said he will continue to lead the district to become an A-rated school district with the help of the school board and teachers.
He said that pre-K has a new curriculum called Frog Street and a new math curriculum for all grades called Eureka Math. Both curriculums now meet the new state curriculum standards. However, due to the limited spacing in rre-K classes, students who test at lower levels are accepted into the federally funded programs first and then so on.
“When problems are solved early, you don’t have problems later in life,” said Armato.
High schools are get-ting more career-oriented Jump Start programs, elective course paths that allow students to work and earn educational credits at the same time, with the courses that are most wanted and needed in the workforce here in St. Mary Parish.
“When the economy does turn, we have students ready for the workforce,” said Armato to industry leaders. “(We asked) what do you need and what do you want our students to look like when they leave out of St. Mary Parish?”
Armato praised his school board for the graduation rate being at 85-percent, which is higher than the state’s rate of 75-percent and surrounding parishes.
“Five years ago, the graduation rate was 73 percent and we continue to grow with that (rate) and not go backwards,” said Armato.
Armato said the district meets the need of all students, including minorities and economically disadvantaged students, and is the highest B-rated school district in the state, ranking 17 out of 63 districts.
“We are in a better position to further education, whether it is at the college level or trade school level,” said Armato.
Armato said he looks forward to last year’s results, which he will receive in November, so he can continue to improve the district so that when the economy turns around, St. Mary Parish schools can be leading the way in education.

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