Dr. Holly Boffy, Vice President and District 7 Member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (“BESE”) sat down with Jan Swift, host of Discover Lafayette, to talk about the state of education in Louisiana. The most important message Holly wants to share with parents: read to your children, talk to your children, love your children, and get your children ready by engaging their minds!
Holly’s choice to be an educator was profoundly influenced by her paternal grandparents who taught in East Texas. She still vividly remembers the plaque hanging by the backdoor at her grandparent’s home which had been bestowed upon her grandfather posthumously recognizing his achievement in his profession. She wants everyone to understand that the teaching profession is powerful and the best profession a person can choose to make a difference in society.
She previously spent 10 years teaching middle school and was named the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year in 2010 while she was an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Paul Breaux Middle School. She is the founder of Ed Talents, a consulting service that supports school districts in creating an educator talent system to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain teachers and leaders for student success. Holly knows that all children can learn and passionately works to create systems that give educators the tools they need to meet students where they are so that academic success may be achieved.
The BESE Board has 11 commissioners, eight elected and three appointed by the Governor. The area Holly represents as an elected member, District 7, encompasses all or portions of the southwestern parishes of Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, and Vermilion. BESE members are unpaid but receive a per diem to cover expenses incurred in executing their duties. BESE is responsible for setting statewide education policies and determining an equitable funding formula for schools (MFP) which the Legislature can then vote up or down. For more information on BESE, its members, and the Department of Education, visit https://www.louisianabelieves.com.
BESE is also responsible for establishing the formula for letter grades given to the approximately 1300 schools in Louisiana, including early education centers for toddlers (ages 1 to 2) that receive state funding. Parents can visit https://louisianaschools.com/ to learn more about their children’s school. School success is determined both by student academic achievement and the growth a school is experiencing as it works to improve educational outcomes. The importance of this accountability system, in Holly’s eyes, is not so much about the letter grade an individual school receives, but in sharing the success stories identified in schools that are thriving, yet located in a high-poverty school district area. Dialogue among teaching professionals, when given this information, affords the opportunity for all to learn what constitutes best practices in educating our students from all walks of life and then sending the appropriate resources to those schools that are struggling in closing achievement gaps.
As a beginning teacher who started out teaching inner-city economically disadvantaged youth in Baton Rouge, Holly quickly realized that the students she was teaching were not being set up for success, nor was she as the teacher. Looking into the eyes of her students, many of whom had parents who had been incarcerated or hadn’t finished high school, it was disheartening to accept that there was only so much she could bring to the table as an individual teacher. She became determined to work to bring about improvements to the educational system to give students as many opportunities as possible to be successful in their academic career. Her decision to run for BESE was driven by her desire to lift up all students so that they can achieve success.
While many blame low educational achievement on the parenting a child receives, Holly Boffy pushes back by saying, “We have the next generation of parents in our schools, and if we can provide them opportunities that will result in a successful life, then they will be able to provide more for their own children.” She believes that it is incumbent on schools to close gaps where possible so that today’s children will have a shot at a decent life that they can pass forward to future generations.
While Louisiana has a long way to go in raising educational outcomes, drastic improvements are being celebrated. In 2012, 72.3% of students graduated with their cohort class (graduated in 4 years (9th to 12th grade). In 2018, 81.4% graduated with their cohort class. The goal is to achieve 90% graduation rates by 2025. The state is also increasing the credentials which our students earn at graduation, such as certification to be a welder or advanced placements in English or Biology credits. Increased expectations, articulated by law and shared with the students, have resulted in increased outcomes.
Louisiana is now #1 in the U. S. in completion of FAFSA applications (federal application for student aid), now that it is a BESE requirement to complete this task to be eligible to graduate from high school. While many students may not have qualified for TOPS in the past, they would have qualified for other types of grants and Federal funding opportunities that were left on the table for untold numbers of otherwise qualified students.
Early childhood education is of utmost importance so that children can start kindergarten ready to learn. Louisiana has worked over the past two decades to ensure that quality childcare experiences get children ready to learn. Teachers now earn a Child Development Associates Degree to obtain competence in getting children ready to learn. In particular, growing a child’s vocabulary is one of the most important things one can do to help a child be ready to learn, so all parents should read to their children, speak to them, ask questions, etc. Engage your children in conversations through all the years with you at home.
Teachers are the #1 factor that impact a child’s education. It is important for educators to continue to nurture and grow their talents throughout their careers, and it is also important that our school districts retain our most talented educators. Research has proven that for those children who have fallen behind and are then taught by strong, effective teachers for three years in a row, the gap in educational achievement is consistently closed. Leaders are the #2 most important factor, having strong administrative leaders who support the teachers’ efforts.
Thanks to Dr. Holly Boffy for taking the time to serve our state, as well as to appear on Discover Lafayette! She may be contacted at Holly.Boffy@la.gov.