A busy and productive week for LPSS

by Patrick Flanagan

In recent days, the Lafayette Parish School System has closed the gap on one of two ongoing principal vacancy searches; it also has a new superintendent following a rare and unexpected show of board unanimity.

“I was actually shocked by the 9-0 vote. There’s been a lot of things neglected over the last 20 years in this school system, but now, I believe we have a situation where we can really start making some positive changes.” — District 8 school board member Erick Knezek

The superintendent vote came after an extensive interview process between the board and its two finalists, the superintendent of the St. Mary Parish School System, Dr. Donald Aguillard, and Francis Touchet, Erath High School’s former principal who now works as a network leader for the Louisiana Department of Education. The board in a historic show of solidarity, voted unanimously, 9-0, to make Aguillard the next leader of the school system.

“I know people may think otherwise, but there really was no talk about it beforehand,” says board member Erick Knezek, who began his first term representing District 8 earlier this year. “I was actually shocked by the 9-0 vote. There’s been a lot of things neglected over the last 20 years in this school system, but now, I believe we have a situation where we can really start making some positive changes.”

The next step is to hammer out Aguillard’s contract. That work is already underway, according to interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune, who taught years ago alongside Aguillard in the science department at Acadiana High. According to LeJeune, Aguillard has indicated that he should be available to assume his new post by the middle of next month, right before school lets out for the summer on May 28. For LeJeune, Aguillard’s hire seals the deal on his coming retirement after 40 years as an educator and administrator in the LPSS. LeJeune’s last day is officially set for June 30, but before he gets to turn his focus to fishing and a much-needed vacation with his family, he’ll be spending most of his last month on the job helping Aguillard make a smooth transition into the superintendency. He’s also tasked with finding new principals at Northside High and Carencro Middle.

To clarify our most recent report on the Northside High principal search, LeJeune says the decision process does not include members of the school board, but rather a five-member committee created by both the superintendent and the Human Resources department consisting of central office administrators (usually with diverse educational backgrounds) and the academic officer assigned to the zone of the school in question. Questions for the job candidates are then submitted by the academic officer and committee members for review by HR and the superintendent. Questions are also taken by faculty members of the school with the vacant position.

Don Aguillard was selected in a unanimous vote Wednesday by the LPSB, making him the next superintendent of the LPSS.

“If we’re alright with the questions, then we set up interviews, and the interviews are held in front of the five-person committee. We also invite the faculty to attend the interviews,” explains LeJeune. “At Northside this week, we held the interviews in the library, with five committee members and about 41 members of the school’s faculty there. In Northside’s case, we also had a few questions submitted by the school’s student council.”

The interview process for Northside's new principal was wrapped-up on Tuesday, and LeJeune says the next step involves scoring each of the three candidates' responses to all the questions.

“The committee then submits their scoring individually to HR; there’s not a consensus at that time, and we also ask — not in public, but individually — we ask the faculty, ‘If you were selecting a principal for your school, who would you like to see? Who do you think is the strongest candidate?’” says LeJeune.

“The superintendent, with HR, then reviews the score cards and the votes, and looks at the questions and how the individual committee members voted. The superintendent then has the right to take only the top choice from the committee. Sometimes if it's very close, they may take in two, three people to interview again, depending on how many applications were submitted for the position. Then the superintendent can interview them again, alone, or with a deputy superintendent present, or the HR director or the academic officer. And then a final interview is held, and a decision is made by the superintendent.”

Interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune

LeJeune confirms that he’s received the committee scores and votes on Northside’s three principal candidates. His review should soon be wrapped up, with the candidates likely be whittled down to two by Friday. “Hopefully I’ll have made an appointment sometime next week,” he says.

For Carencro Middle School’s vacancy, the two-week advertising phase — conducted through the Apple Track System, which alerts other school districts of LPSS job openings — is set to end Friday. But with school staffing for next year also just getting started, finding Carencro Middle’s new principal will likely prove a slightly longer process than it has for Northside High. “We’re staffing in schools now, just started today [Thursday] actually, so it may slow down the interviews a bit for Carencro Middle,” LeJeune adds.