WPSB Superintendent Al Simmons Speaks to Rotary

Recently-appointed superintendent of Winn Parish schools, Al Simmons, was introduced by Rotarian of the week, Jerry Price, at Winnfield Rotary Club’s meeting on August 4, 2021. Mr. Simmons is a native of Winnfield, graduated from Winnfield High School, and has been in teaching and school administration for 29 years.

He received his bachelor’s degree in education from LSU in 1991 and began his teaching and coaching career here in Winnfield. He also taught and coached football, basketball and softball at schools in Crowley, LA. Mr. Simmons and his family then returned to Winn Parish, where he taught and coached at Winnfield Senior High. He was awarded a Master’s degree along the way and was appointed principal at Winnfield Intermediate School in 2005. In addition, he served as director of personnel and transportation, with additional responsibilities for athletics, child welfare and attendance beginning in 2007 until he was appointed superintendent of schools last month.

Mr. Simmons announced that he is pleased to be superintendent of Winn Parish schools. However, he recognizes the job will have significant challenges, particularly under present circumstances involving COVID-Delta. He has plans, first and foremost, to improve available educational opportunities and outcomes for all students in Winn Parish.

Mr. Simmons first spoke about the foundations of public education in the United States to dispel the common belief that the sole purpose of public education is to provide the country with quality workers in exchange for the taxes paid to support public education. He pointed out that, in the long history of public education in this country, the very first public school was created in the state of Massachusetts even before the independence of the country from Great Britain was started for religious purposes, to teach children to read so they could read the Bible and “avoid the pitfalls of Satan.”

Simmons further noted that, in addition to the socioeconomic purpose of providing educated workers, the founding fathers of the country from the beginning realized that a self-governing representative democracy such as they intended to form requires that the citizens be educated so they could become informed and make reasoned decisions in their voting. Moreover, Simmons believes that, because evidence shows that education improves the quality of our lives and, in fact, lives improve more with every level of education attained, there is a moral and ethical duty to provide public education to all citizens.

Simmons said he has three primary focuses regarding the beginning of school at the end of this week. First, every child in Winn parish had a year of incomplete learning last year, not only because of the closures due to COVID-19 but also because Winn Parish happened to be in the sweet spot where we had both a hurricane and a snow/ice event and interfered with school attendance, as amply demonstrated by the year-end testing, The teachers, staff and administration will work hard to make up for what the children missed out on last school year.

The second primary focus will be holding as many and varied extracurricular activities and events as possible during this school year. However, certainly, modifications will be made in the way such activities are handled. This is very important to Superintendent Simmons because it has become evident that the limitation of extracurricular activities last school year had a negative effect on the children’s mental health in the parish.

The third primary focus will be on minimizing the effect of teacher and staff absences due to COVID-related illness and quarantine so that the schools will not only meet but improve the educational needs of the children in the parish.

Mr. Simmons said Winn Parish schools would comply with all directives of the governor. Louisiana’s Department of Health is encouraging testing of all students and offering two options for doing so, that is, funding of the testing by the department or testing by teams from LSUHSC-Shreveport. The purpose is not only to detect COVID for quarantine but also to generate data to improve public health. Testing will not be mandatory and will be done with parental consent.

According to Mr. Simmons, the parish’s student population has decreased steadily over the last 14 years. Over the last couple of years, the rate of decrease has been about four to five percent. As a result, enrollment for the 2021-22 school year is expected to be between 1,950 and 2,000 students parish-wide.

Virtual learning is optional for students this year. The system will be provided by a selected vendor called Ingenuity, which will deliver separate classes to online students. The parent will sign up with Ingenuity. The provider will help them with accessibility to the system and monitor and record the child’s progress. The school will have access to the child’s progress online as well.

The meeting was adjourned, as usual, with Rotary’s motto, “Service above self!”

The Rotary Club of Winnfield meets every Wednesday at Noon for lunch at Lynda’s Country Kitchen. For more information about the Rotary Club of Winnfield, you may contact President, Jodi Taylor (832) 573-5085. You can also find club information on Facebook at Rotary Club of Winnfield Facebook Page or online at Rotary.org.

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