Dec 9, 2010 by Terri Zezula

Superintendent Donald Aguillard

Superman is here… is more powerful than a locomotive and can leap tall buildings while raising district scores in a single bound, the Superhero the education world has been waiting for. Who is this Superman? It’s the School District leader who makes failure not an option; who sees opportunities and possibilities where others see roadblocks and status quo. The Superintendent who takes risks to make progress and the teacher who knows all students have dreams and unique learning capabilities. The Superheroes are among us – saving and enriching the lives of students every day.

Take one such Superhero, Dr. Donald Aguillard, Superintendent of Schools at St. Mary Parish Public School System. His story is like many great district leaders – he saw a need, he embraced the challenge and he took measures to take his schools from failing to proficient in just a few years.

In the mid-2000s, after years of struggling, St. Mary Parish Public School System knew powerful change was needed. The rural district’s high stakes test scores lagged behind the state average, and there were large disparities between the reading proficiency of student subgroups. The state of Louisiana had placed several of the district’s schools in Academic Assistance, a designation for schools that fail to grow sufficiently — and some had remained there for nearly 10 years.

Dr. Aguillard and his leadership team took charge – they invested in a program that builds brain fitnessand accelerates learningfor all students. During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of Fast ForWord® software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. “One of the things I was excited about was that the Fast ForWord program is based on the science of how the brain learns and retains information,” said Dr. Aguillard. “Our challenge wasn’t necessarily that our programs were ineffective. It was that we weren’t meeting the individual needs of students. We realized that to make the most of our programs, we needed to develop and strengthen the cognitive skillsessential for learning and reading success.”

As a result of building students’ brain fitness, the district saw a marked increase in student performancein these eight schools and adopted the program district-wide. “This built tremendous momentum because there were so many more students reaching the proficiency bars set in high stakes testing,” said Aguillard. The results are evident across the district. In fact, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.

Dr. Aguillard has a wonderfully supportive staff that enthusiastically promotes the Fast ForWord program and strives for excellence in education; a community that rallies behind his efforts and students who see the future as a world of open doors. Lead on Dr. A., the world loves a Superhero!