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White: High School graduation rate increases for 3rd straight year

The state department of education reports for the third year in a row the state's high school graduation rate has increased. State Education Superintendent John White says for the class of 2013, 74-percent graduated in four years a 12-percentage point increase from 2001.

"I commend our schools and our school systems for focusing relentlessly on the most fundamental of ideas which is that every young man and woman deserves a chance at the life opportunity that is granted by a diploma," said White.

White credits holding districts and schools accountable for their graduation rate as a reason why the state has seen a recent rise in the percentage of students who receive a diploma.

"Now it shows up in schools accountability scores and it shows up in the letter grades of schools," said White. "It's a significant percentage of that."

White says while it's encouraging to see the graduation rate rise, they still have a long way to go.

He hopes a new program called "Jump Start," which provides career courses and workplace experiences to high school students, can improve the graduation rate even more.

"Jump Start is going to provide a pathway to technical opportunities in the work force that exist in our state in abundance," said White. "That's going to mean motivated kids and pathways through college and right into the workplace."


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Cause of Talaija Dorsey's death remains a mystery

Michelle Southern reporting.
Authorities in St. James Parish say we may never know how 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey died. Sheriff Willy Martin says he spoke with the coroner after the autopsy and was told that an exact cause of death has not been established.

"But we're at the point now where we know we're working a homicide," said Martin. "If we don't find out how she died we still feel we have a strong case against this individual."

42-year-old John Celestine is charged with murder in the death of Dorsey.

Martin says they have requested more testing be done and this is still very much an ongoing investigation. Dorsey was found in a cane field near a wooded area in Vacherie five days after she was reported missing on July 1st.

Martin says the little girl had been lying out there for a long time before he found her.

"There are a lot of issues with the body," said Martin. "It's just a difficult task."

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Thibodaux officer sits in hot car for 10 minutes and posts the video on YouTube

Michelle Southern reporting.
A Thibodaux Police Department officer videotaped himself locked in his patrol car for just 10 minutes to illustrate how dangerous the heat can become inside in just a short period of time. The Department posted the video on YouTube and a day later it had over 30,000 views.
Officer David Melancon said he became miserable after just 20 seconds.

"I'm already starting to feel the sweat build up in the back of my neck," said Melancon. "Ok now it's been three minutes and let me tell you I feel like I've been in here a half hour."

There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about parents forgetting their kids were in the car on hot days which could lead to death.

Melancon becomes visibly anguished just a few minutes into the experiment.

"I'm just reaching five minutes. It's hot," said Melancon. "I can only imagine what a little kid goes through when they're sitting in a car without any air. Or a pet."

At one point in the video Melancon described the heat as nearly unbearable and says he felt as though he could bake cookies on the dashboard of the car.

He said his undershirt and socks were soaking wet after five minutes and it just got worse from there.

"I'm nine minutes in and I've got sweat everywhere," said Melancon. "It's hard to breathe. Temperatures are well over 100 degrees inside this vehicle."

When Melancon got out of the vehicle he said it felt like winter outside.

He says children and pets should never be left in hot cars even for just a few minutes.

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Polls continue to show a tight senate race

Another poll on Louisiana's US Senate race shows its a tight race between democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and republican US Representative Bill Cassidy. The Rasmussen survey of 750 voters has Landrieu leading Cassidy 46-43 percent. Political Analyst Clancy Dubos is not surprised by the poll numbers.

"It's going to be a typical Mary Landrieu race," Dubos said. "It's going to be hard fought, there's going to be a lot of charges and counter charges going back and forth. It's a classic Louisiana showdown."
Public Policy Polling also released a survey this week that showed a tie between Landrieu and Cassidy in a likely run-off. 
Dubos says what motivates a voter could decide this race. He says voters who care about national issues, like the Affordable Care Act, will vote for Cassidy, those who support Landrieu's clout in the Senate will vote for her. 
"She's a committee chair, presiding over a committee (Senate Energy and Natural Resources) that's very important to Louisiana's economy. Those who look at it through a Louisiana prism, tend to lean towards Landrieu."
Republicans Rob Maness and state representative Paul Hollis are also running, but they were not included in this poll. 


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Michael Vick visits Pelican State as part of comedy tour

New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick is in Louisiana this weekend, and not everyone is happy about it. Vick will be hosting "The Michael Vick Comedy Explosion" at the Strand Theatre Saturday night in Shreveport. 

Local animal rights activists plan to protest the event.  Attorney Dan Keele says the protest is against the venue for hosting the show.

"We have a problem with dog fighting in the Shreveport area.  We have cases of animal abuse," Keele explained.  "This is not the place and time for the Strand Theatre to host Michael Vick."

There are some who welcome Vick to Shreveport. 

A "Forgiveness Rally" will also take place at the Strand before the comedy show. 

Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover hopes both groups hold peaceful demonstrations.

He feels Vick has paid his debt to society and his story is, now, one of redemption.

"It's possible to be able to elevate yourself above and beyond your past and to move forward into a positive direction," the mayor insisted.

He says Vick can have a life now of betterment and advancement form himself and other people as well.

Vick was jailed in 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting ring. Since his release in 2009, Vick has been a part-time advocate for animal rights and stricter animal cruelty laws.  Keele says his group's main concern is the comedians on the show making fun of dog fighting.

Vick is scheduled to talk to young football players today at a football clinic at Independence Stadium. 

Glover thinks Vick can give a very important message to the kids.

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Natchitoches Meat Pies made healthier? Good enough for TV.

Michelle Southern reporting.
The famous Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen in Natchitoches will be featured on a new syndicated show which is scheduled to air this fall called "Flip My Food with Chef Jeff." The television crew was in town this week filming with the Meat Pie Kitchen owner, Chef Angela Lasyone.

"He comes in and works with you on the recipe of your specialty," said Lasyone. "And then he goes back onto his food truck and flips it into a more healthy version."

Lasyone says in each episode, Chef Jeff meets with people to show them how to "flip" their favorite dishes into dining experiences that are healthier.

She says Chef Jeff worked with the Lasyone Meat Pie Kitchen staff to learn about how they make the dough and meat that makes a delicious meat pie.

"Then we went back out to his truck and he actually made a different version," said Lasyone. "But you'll have to see the show to see what he did."

Lasyone says their episode of "Flip My Food with Chef Jeff" will air on the Food Network either in September or October.

She says she liked the healthier version of the Natchitoches meat pie Chef Jeff came up with, but it wouldn't be something you would be able to mass produce the way they do.

"I will say he used a lot of fresh herbs in his pastry and used a totally different type of flour," said Lasyone. "It was a lot different than what we make."


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The economy tops Louisiana voters minds

A recent survey asked Louisiana voters what issue is most important in deciding how you will vote for Congress this year.  The survey, conducted by Harper Polling, shows the economy as the top issue for voters.

UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says that result is not surprising.
"In most years, election years and otherwise, when you ask what people care about the most, they'll say the economy.  In this particular poll, something like 52% of the people mention, specifically, government spending, the economy, or jobs, economy related things as their top consideration."
Cross was surprised that Obamacare was listed as the number two concern for voters. He doesn't see Obamacare as a real issue in Louisiana by and large. With two contested congressional elections on the horizon, in the fifth and sixth districts, Cross doesn't see either issue playing very strongly in those races.
"I think those elections are going to be decided mostly about the demographic profiles of the voters, whether they're Republican or Democrat.   And then all the candidates, the candidates some of whom are yet to be decided who's going to run and who's not going to run, and the strength of those campaigns."
The poll surveyed 506 likely voters. They also asked voters if things in the country are going in the right direction. 66-percent of respondents feel the country is moving on the wrong track. Cross says sitting lawmakers should take heed.
"It doesn't look good for incumbents in Congress.  It doesn't look good for the President's party.  So Democrats should hunker down this election cycle because it's probably coming."
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Plenty for Louisiana to brag about on today's Emmy nods

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Pelican State is once again getting more recognition as a hotbed for entertainment as several Louisiana filmed series' earned Emmy nominations today including the leading HBO show "True Detective." Tim Hanks, who runs security at UL-Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center, played two roles in True Detective.

"I was signed on as a technical advisor and provided them with little intricate details of the Louisiana State Police," said Hanks. "I did 22 years with LSP and 15 as a detective."

Film and TV critics expect "True Detective," which was nominated for best drama series, to be an extremely strong contender in this year's Emmy awards.

Hanks feels people fell in love with the authenticity of the show and the Louisiana backdrop where creator Nic Pizzolatto is from.

"He had a lot of intimate knowledge of Louisiana culture and those types of things," said Hanks. "He's also a brilliant writer."

The Emmy Awards will be presented August 25th. Top Chef, which had some New Orleans episodes, got nominated as did The Big Easy based show "Treme" and "American Horror Story."

Hanks says he's not surprised "True Detective" is getting so much praise.

"It was well written and I think they got the best of the best with this one even with the crew to put this together," said Hanks. "I'm sure HBO spared no expense and I knew it would win some type of award."

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BESE proposes testing plan, but Jindal administration says can't be done

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education leaders offer a compromise in their dispute with Governor Jindal over Common Core. BESE President Chas Roemer says they propose to use LEAP tests again this upcoming school year, but the exams will also contain questions from the PARCC exam, which is associated with Common Core. 

"We feel a need to move now and outline a clear path for our teachers, students and school systems. And not wait another week and perhaps not reach a solution in another week."
Roemer says the PARCC questions used on standardized tests next year, will be ones that Louisiana helped develop. He says this allows the state to compare how its students are doing against others nationwide. 
But The Jindal administration threw cold water on an idea for standardized tests in public schools. BESE leaders floated a plan to have a test with questions from the LEAP exam and the test tied to Common Core. But Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols says its not doable because existing contracts with LEAP are not valid for next school year.
"Both of those contracts were designed to get them through 2014, test development for different type of questions, neither of them contemplated new LEAP tests for 2015."
Nichols says there's also no state contract that would allow Louisiana to use Common Core tests for the 2014-15 school year and they have concerns over how questions from that test would be acquired. 
It's unclear what will happen as there's still no standardized test in place for next school year, which begins in about a month.



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