Cover Story

A Q&A with the 14 challengers seeking seats on the LPSB

by Patrick Flanagan

The following questions were posed to all of the new candidates: Have you read the Turnaround Plan? Are you for it or against it? Why or why not?

The following questions were posed to all of the new candidates:
Have you read the Turnaround Plan?
Are you for it or against it?
Why or why not?

"Coach Don" Gagnard
District 1
Yes, I did get to read and review the Lafayette Parish School System Turnaround Plan.

I found the plan very interesting and in detail. I'm sure it entailed many hours of work and dedication. I would have to say that I am for the plan.

Not being around it apparently for two years now, I can only agree with the design and the specifics. This assimilates a teacher's lesson plan with addition to a budget, basically. The hardest part would be the evaluation or should I say, "the follow through." Yes, I would have to agree with the Turnaround Plan.

Mary Morrison
District 1
Yes I am for the Turnaround Plan

I support it because it addresses most of our challenges in LPSS. In order to bring our schools from a D or C school to an A or B school we need to address the early childhood barriers to learning. Implementing the Turnaround Plan has allowed LPSS to make progress by partnering with many early childhood centers to address these concerns.

Four-years-olds are going through a pre-screening process in order to identify barriers to learning and developmental kindergarten classes have been implemented. With health and wellness there are fewer discipline issues, less truancy, increased attendance thus better academic outcomes. Encouraging teen parents to continue toward their high school diploma or a GED while educating their children at the same time will also prepare them for learning. It provides our teachers with the tools that are needed for instruction.

Simon Mahan
District 2
Yes, I have read the Turnaround Plan. It's a thorough document built by broad community support to help ensure the future of our children. Petty politics has slowed the plan's progress down.

The Turnaround Plan has been a part of my platform since before day one of my campaign. The research and dedication of community experts that went into developing the plan has given me confidence to run for school board.

Numerous task force members associated with developing the plan live and work in District 2 (Carencro/Upper Lafayette) - the district I hope to represent. Outright opponents to the Turnaround Plan have offered no comprehensive alternative and are playing politics with our children's futures.

John Chavis
District 2
I have not read it in detail, but I am familiar with the basic nuts and bolts of it.

The Turnaround Plan as originally presented has developed into a "Roundabout Plan" between the superintendent and the present board with no immediate end in sight.

For that reason and others I'm proposing an alternative.
[Chavis' lengthy proposal diverges from the question at hand. But in summary, it includes ideas like providing laptops and/or tablets to all students receiving free or reduced lunches as a means for closing the "achievement gap," as well as a "school voucher" program to give disadvantaged children access to various enrichment programs during the summer months.]

Erica Williams
District 4
I've taken a look at the Turnaround Plan and its objectives to make us into an A-plus school system.

I'm all for backing anything that's trying to make us more successful at educating our children, and that's what the Turnaround PLan is trying to do.

I think that when you hire someone for a position and ask them to make a plan to better educate our students, you should allow that plan to work. The Turnaround Plan is a good plan. It was well-researched by four different task forces of community leaders and educators, and I trust their opinions. I think it's time we give it a chance to work in our school system.

Britt Latiolais
District 5

Neutral on it right now.

I believe it is not the time to commit to any one plan. The new board will likely be looking to develop a plan that will address the academic needs before them. Whether it is the same, a modification of the current Turnaround Plan, or something more comprehensive will be something the incoming board will need to have a free and open discussion on rather than everyone defending a position.

Justin Centanni
District 6
I read the Turnaround Plan about two months ago prior to attending a meeting of LaPESC when they were unveiling their Common Vision for Our Future.

I fully support the Turnaround Plan for a number of reasons, the most important being the stated goal of having every child in our school system read at their grade level and graduate on time.

I support it because of the process of developing the plan, where a large number of education and community leaders served on task forces charged with developing the means to achieve that primary end. Since any high level policy change must necessarily be implemented in a political fashion, it's incredibly important that the Turnaround Plan asked for and received a diverse set of opinions so that all members of the community can feel a sense of ownership of not only the ideas but also the results.

Kathleen Schott Espinoza
District 6
I have read the Turnaround Plan. I served on the Superintendent's Community Education Planning Committee (CEPC), which was tasked with discussing the plan and recommending funding options for it.

I support the plan.

I believe it is an important strategic vision for the parish that expands the mission of public schools beyond only educating children. It charges schools with providing food security, medical and mental health services as well as social services and early childcare. The challenge is funding it without creating a budget deficit and providing clear evidence to the community its elements are administered effectively and are delivering clear results.

Dawn Morris
District 7
Yes, I have read the Turnaround Plan and I am committed to putting children first in Lafayette Parish.

I am in favor of a plan that seeks to improve and increase student achievement for all students in Lafayette Parish. I am also for promoting academic excellence; hiring and retaining highly qualified, experienced educators; and maintaining morale and professionalism.

The Turnaround Plan, however, needs to be revised to include measurable, objective goals as well as annual reviews of the plan's effectiveness. Without these, we have no way of determining what parts of the plan are working and which should be revamped.

Erick Knezek
District 8
Yes, I have read the Turnaround Plan as well as the annual updates. The plan is a living document, in that it was developed by different task forces focused on seven primary areas of achievement. These community and staff led tasks forces have the ability to adjust the plan based off the review of our progress and resources.

I am unequivocally for the Turnaround Plan. The plan provides for achievable and measurable benchmarks providing our school system with a definable plan to improve. The activities are clearly defined, provide responsible parties, due dates, suggested funding sources, and relevant research that backs up the reason for the activity.

You can't achieve superior results without a plan. Even the best plans are subject to change, and the Turnaround Plan provides for change by being a living document. The activities are backed up by reputable research. They allow for accountability as well as modifications based off performance and available resources.

Jeremy Hidalgo
District 9
I have read the version presented to the board [a condensed 59 page version of the plan], and saw Cooper present the plan on two occasions.

I am in favor of the plan.

The plan was created and supported by members of the community, from professional educators, to business owners and parents. It encompasses curbing the achievement gap in order to ultimately contribute to a more productive society. For me, it's also about a 100 percent graduation rate, and keeping our children home after graduation.

Brian West
District 9
Yes I have read the Turnaround Plan in its entirety.

I am in favor of the Turnaround Plan.

I support the Turnaround Plan because the plan was derived from groups of dedicated teachers, administrators, parents, experts and community members. Measurable goals were set over multiple disciplines and areas with the recognition that we must succeed in each so that all of our students can succeed.

[NOTE: District 1 candidate "Mama" Redell Comeaux Miller did not submit her responses before press time.]