LEESVILLE - Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards joined local, state and federal officials to celebrate the completion of technology learning centers at five Vernon Parish schools that serve thousands of families stationed at or employed by the U.S. Army’s Fort Johnson.
Funded by a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and a 10 percent match from Louisiana Economic Development, the new learning centers will support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programming in state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor learning spaces. The investment of federal and state dollars resulted in the construction of new buildings and installation of enhanced technology, such as wireless communications, digital displays and interactive learning tools.
Two high schools, two middle schools, and an elementary school – Leesville High, Leesville Junior High, Pickering High, Pickering Elementary and Vernon Middle School – benefit.
“This investment is a perfect illustration of the old saying that ‘security begins at home,’” Gov. Edwards said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Leesville High School. “By equipping schools with new technology, we are improving the quality of life of thousands of Fort Johnson families and strengthening the surrounding community, which does so much to support this critical military installation.”
The elite Army training post is the largest non-state-government employer in Louisiana, with nearly 15,000 jobs, $770 million in payroll and an annual estimated economic impact of more than $1.36 billion. Formerly known as Fort Polk, the base was renamed in June to honor Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a Black soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions during a fierce battle in World War I.
The award is part of the Defense Department’s Campus Connections and Learning Spaces initiative, a pilot project of the 2020 Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP), to facilitate quality of life enhancements in military communities. More than 2,000 Fort Johnson military children attend school in Vernon Parish and make up nearly a quarter of district enrollment.
“Military installations contribute $9.64 billion in annual economic output and more than 77,000 jobs across all regions of our state,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “We have a genuine stake in these military assets, not just for their defense of America – which is paramount – but for their importance to Louisiana’s economy.”
“We have been searching for ways to serve our students more efficiently and this partnership and joint venture allows that,” Vernon Parish Superintendent of Schools James Williams said. “Our students in Career and Technical Education will be well trained and career ready upon graduation. We appreciate the tremendous efforts and support from all of our stakeholders and local partners for this opportunity to improve the educational infrastructure for our students.”
In addition to the DCIP match, LED awarded the Vernon Parish School Board $1 million to address critical maintenance needs at North Johnson Elementary School, located on base and part of the Vernon Parish District.
“I'm excited to see this project get completed,” said Dist. 30 State Sen. Mike Reese, founder and former chairman of Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance, formerly known as Fort Polk Progress. “These education technology centers showcase the continued effort by the local school district, state of Louisiana and the Department of Defense to provide first class educational opportunities to not only our military connected students but to all students in the Fort Johnson region. Providing high quality education is a cornerstone in improving the military value of our defense installations, and this community continues to invest in making Fort Johnson a station of choice.”
Louisiana Economic Development is responsible for strengthening the state’s business environment and creating a more vibrant economy. It is the only state agency in the U.S. accredited by the International Economic Development Council, boasting award-winning programs like LED FastStart, a longtime national leader in customized workforce development. LED also supports a wide range of higher ed partnerships that Business Facilities magazine recently credited for Louisiana’s ranking as the No. 1 Tech Talent Pipeline in the U.S. In 2022, LED attracted 53 new economic development projects representing 18,137 new direct, indirect and retained jobs and $20.7 billion in new capital investment. Explore how LED cultivates jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Louisiana and employers of all sizes at OpportunityLouisiana.com.