How West Fel's Public Schools Became the Key to Parish Prosperity
West Feliciana Parish’s A-rated school district is one of the biggest draws for attracting new investment and maintaining strong property values. Even in a year defined by uncertainty, voters in the parish overwhelmingly said “yes” to a July tax renewal to support local schools. It’s part of a longstanding commitment to uphold the community’s schools as a civic anchor and a beacon of excellence.
“The community made a promise a long time ago to make our public schools work for everyone,” says Bank of St. Francisville Chairman of the Board Conville Lemoine, a veteran public education advocate. “Our schools have just gotten better and better over time.”
An Education For Everyone
As the son of two teachers, Conville grew up with a deep appreciation for public education. He was the only one of his four siblings who didn’t go into teaching, entering banking instead in 1976. Two years later at age 24, Conville ran for and won a seat on the West Feliciana Parish School Board. He was elected president of the board in 1980 and served in that position for 28 years.
A lot happened along the way, including the peaceful integration of the parish’s public schools. Integrating the schools was a key step in helping the community begin to heal segregation’s wounds, says Conville, and unlike other communities across the South, it happened in West Feliciana Parish without a court order. Conville and others believed in creating a system that welcomed and educated everyone.
“This is a school system that has true diversity,” he says. “It enables kids from all different backgrounds and life experiences to learn from each other.”
Early on, the West Feliciana School Board prioritized using sales and property tax revenue to improve schools and to raise teacher salaries, key factors that enabled the parish’s public schools to attract talent and drive results in the classroom. Still the only school system in the state to offer parish-wide pre-K, the West Feliciana School District is considered a model for kindergarten readiness.
Awards & Accolades For a Succeeding System
Under the leadership of Superintendent Hollis Milton over the last decade, the school system has continued its forward march toward innovation and excellence. Hollis was named Louisiana Superintendent of the Year in 2018, the same year that West Feliciana High’s Dana Wallis won Louisiana School Nurse of the Year and teacher Amy Dreher was named a ProStart National Educator of Excellence for her work with the school’s culinary arts training program.
In 2019, Bains Elementary fifth grade teacher Stephanie Whetstone earned a prestigious Milken Family Foundation Award. In athletics, West Feliciana High School has won seven state championships in the last four years.
West Feliciana High School boasted its highest graduation rate ever during the 2019 school year. Announced in July 2020, the school achieved a 94.9% rate, the highest in the school’s history and the top rate in the region.
Strong Schools Are Better For Business
“It’s such a positive indicator for the community, having a strong public school system,” says Conville. “It makes it easier to attract new business or to sell a house. Houses in our parish, particularly in the $250,000 to $400,000 price range, sell very quickly.”
With more families moving to West Feliciana, the school system will soon break ground on several projects to help it cater to the corresponding increase in new students. It will also better prepare graduating seniors with the skills to be successful in the workplace. Work will soon begin on a new building to replace Bains Elementary, which opened in 1960 and is the oldest school in the district. The new building—a larger complex featuring wired, interactive classroom spaces, better security and improved traffic flow—will open in fall, 2022. The new Bains will serve first- through fifth-graders, enabling Bains Lower Elementary to focus solely on the needs of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children.
High School Gets a Freshman Academy, Too
Exciting changes are also forthcoming for West Feliciana High School, including a new Freshman Academy that will create a focused learning community for entering freshmen. The move is expected to improve academic performance for these students as they continue throughout high school. The high school will also see the creation of a new Career Tech Education Center focused on courses like welding, nursing, carpentry and other programs that dovetail with in-demand careers in Louisiana and do not require a four-year degree.
“What our schools have achieved has been incredible,” says Conville. “It’s made us all very proud.”