Dec. 29, 2010 06:00 AM
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In January you will take an oath to fulfill the profound duty of charting the future of our community at the most intimate level of government service. You were elected or re-elected to serve 30,000 students in Lafayette Parish public schools, from the 900 precious children who enter pre-K classrooms each day to the 1,500 sophisticated seniors, impatiently enduring the endless countdown to commencement. The decisions you make will determine the quality of their lives for decades to come. You will influence their families now and the children they will one day nurture on their own. Your choices will determine the success or failure of the businesses that will employ them and the communities where they will live, near and far.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In January you will take an oath to fulfill the profound duty of charting the future of our community at the most intimate level of government service. You were elected or re-elected to serve 30,000 students in Lafayette Parish public schools, from the 900 precious children who enter pre-K classrooms each day to the 1,500 sophisticated seniors, impatiently enduring the endless countdown to commencement. The decisions you make will determine the quality of their lives for decades to come. You will influence their families now and the children they will one day nurture on their own. Your choices will determine the success or failure of the businesses that will employ them and the communities where they will live, near and far.

Most of you are returning members; only a third of you are new to the board. You have been chosen to lead at a pivotal time for our parish. Although there have been many successful innovations in our system, like Schools of Choice and High School Academies, there is concern that our test scores have slipped to the mid-range statewide while other parishes, like Vermilion, are showing impressive gains in some key competencies. Our teachers were once the top earners in the state, but that too now lags. Most of our schools are old inside and out, which prevents our kids and teachers from maximizing high tech amenities like LUS fiber, and the infrastructure needs expensive major renovation. We are making little or no progress in closing the achievement gap between top-tier and low performing schools. All this costs money, but some powerful community organizations have lost confidence in the stewardship of our public schools in the past decade. It will be difficult to pass a tax until that is mended, a situation exacerbated by the rampant national anti-tax sentiment that is widely embraced here at home.

If you choose to restore the relationship, you could have a key ally in the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council. With membership representing a half-dozen influential groups in the city, it could provide a forum for working through some of these issues and building public support. Earlier this year, LPSS representatives withdrew participation from LaPESC; it's time to return to the table. Goodwill can be built there.

But nothing will be more important than the choice you make about new leadership for the system. You will soon have the opportunity to select a new superintendent. With its great quality of life and tremendous community resources, Lafayette can attract a first-rate visionary who could help us build a world-class school system. The board must be willing, however, to transition into a policy-making body and pledge hands-off system management for such a person to even consider taking the job.
 
As you begin your term of office together, I hope your dreams are as big as the thousands of children you have in your care. We are all depending on you.

ABiz and The Independent Weekly have invited all members of the Lafayette Parish School Board and other community stakeholders to a Jan. 12 free screening of the acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman,' a deeply personal exploration of the current state of public education in the U.S. today and how it is affecting our children. A limited number of tickets are available to the public. Contact Robin Hebert: robinh@theind.com or by phone: (337) 769.8603 for details.

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