Non-school board members pick Cooper, Aguillard, Pitre-Martin

by Leslie Turk

The two community leaders assisting in the interview process for selecting a new superintendent for the Lafayette Parish School System have named their top three choices, but the official finalists will ultimately be picked by the board itself.

The weeks-long controversy over non-school board members' involvement in the process for selecting a new Lafayette Parish Schools superintendent appears to have been settled: the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council's Margaret Trahan and 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette's Chip Jackson issued separate press releases about their top choices and then willingly bowed out of the board's business.

The Advocate quoted Jackson saying at Thursday's school board meeting that he and Margaret Trahan never had any intention of usurping the authority of the board: "Our intent, which we're prepared to do at any time, is to provide our written recommendations to the board and at that point, our participation ends."

In those two press releases, both community groups selected Dr. Pat Cooper, CEO of Early Childhood and Family Learning Foundation in New Orleans; St. Mary Parish Superintendent Don Aguillard; and Maria Pitre-Martin, director of K-12 curriculum and instruction for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette wrote:

On behalf of the 100 BMOGL and the community which we represent we would like to thank the Lafayette Parish School Board members for allowing community participation in the selection process of our next school superintendent.  We believe that your decision to allow the 100 BMOGL and the Lafayette Parish Education Stakeholders Council (LaPesc), to be part of the interview process will go a long way towards building trust and the working relationship necessary to improve our school system.

We stand ready to partner with LPSB, the new superintendent, teachers, parents and students to make LPSS not only the best school system in the state, but also in the nation.  We remain committed to the goals that all children can learn, that we can eliminate the achievement gap by race and income and that we can achieve a 90 percent graduation rate.

Listed below is our recommendation regarding the three finalists for superintendent.
In making these recommendations we kept several factors in mind: 
    A leader who can articulate a clear vision of where we need to go
    A change agent who will bring a fresh perspective
    A person with a proven track record for reducing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates
    A person who can communicate with all stakeholders
    A person who can manage a complex public school operation consisting of 30,000 students, over 4,000 employees and substantial assets

Keeping these factors in mind and based upon the interviews we recommend the following candidates for your consideration in the final pool:
1.    Dr. Pat Cooper
2.    Dr. Donald W. Aguillard
3.    Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin

Dr. Cooper Recognized as a state and national leader in school reform, Dr. Cooper has demonstrated the ability to reduce achievement gaps and improve graduation rates for all children.  With over twenty years of executive experience Dr. Cooper has the leadership to move our schools forward.

1.    Success in turning around McComb and West Feliciana school districts
2.    A data driven leader who believes that every child can achieve
3.    Uses a holistic approach to educating children
4.    Every teacher must be an expert in the curriculum
5.    Has demonstrated the ability to bring all groups "to the table" including parents, stakeholders, business and agencies
6.    Implements a 100% In & 100% Out approach
7.    Views discipline as part of larger problem
8.    Strongest proponent of Universal Early Childcare "enter school ready to learn"
9.    Provided an excellent power point presentation and took the time to write answers to the Interview Committee's questions
10.    Clearly demonstrated that he wants to lead the LPSS
11.    Has demonstrated the ability to leverage funds from other sources to implement programs

1.    Was unable to answer all questions during the allotted time

Dr. Aguillard As superintendent of St Mary parish Dr. Aguillard has been able to move the District Performance Scores for St. Mary into the top 15 in the state.  His power point presentation was excellent.  He is the first superintendent in Louisiana to be invited to join the National Center for Education Research and Technology.

1.    Data driven uses data to set direction and make policy
2.    Believes all children can achieve and has record to demonstrate his success
3.    Really did his homework concerning issues with LPSS
4.    A leader with confidence, ability and know how
5.    Target schools with greatest need and allocate accordingly
6.    Says literacy is key and mentioned specific intervention program "Fast Forward"
7.    Keeps board informed with weekly information packet
8.    Visited every school to meet teachers and staff, accessible to the community,
surveyed 3-11th grades
9.    Believes in strategic planning "Road map to top tier"
10.    Only candidate to include special education in his presentation
11.    Provided solid alternatives for school funding "pay as you go" or maintenance tax

1.    Not real specific on how he kept community and stakeholders involved
2.    Has strong attachments to LPSS staff, would he make needed changes?

Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin Very personable, exudes confidence and leadership.  Her background working with turning around schools at the state level have given her a very solid picture of what needs to be done.  Her experience with actually doing it is limited.  She is a planner and "Big Picture" person.

1.    Strategic planning, presented well prepared handout. Really did her homework on what is needed in LPSS
2.     Provided plan for first 90 days
3.    Focus groups for communication to include students
4.    Emphasized teacher training in the curriculum as crucial.  Teachers must be trained in their content areas.
5.    Gave best answer on discipline.  Look at other data to solve problem.  Early warning indicators.  Modeling behavior.  Must have multiple interventions
6.    Would keep board informed with 60-90 reviews.  Retreat for strategic planning
7.    Must have common core standards
8.    Great power point
9.    Did her homework

1.    Her experience with actually accomplishing closing achievement gap is limited.
2.    Is she strong enough and does she actually have experience to run a school district?
3.    "I'm a planner"
4.    Has moved around a lot

LaPESC wrote:

The Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council is a coalition that represents 5,000 external stakeholders of Lafayette Parish Schools. Members include the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, UL Lafayette, 100 Black Men, United Way of Acadiana, State of Greater Black Lafayette, Concerned Citizens for Good Government, Citizens' Action Council and the Greater Southwest LA Black Chamber of Commerce and the 705.  In addition, LPSS was a founding member of LaPESC.

LaPESC fully participated in the initial interviews of the ten finalists for Superintendent of Lafayette Parish School System.  We noted that many of the candidates acknowledged the need to reduce the achievement gap, improve academic achievement, reduce the number of dropouts and to improve overall cohort graduation rates.

We listened to the interviews to learn who most closely reflected our core beliefs.
LaPESC believes that a district superintendent's actions must always reflect that all students are entitled to a quality education and that every student can learn at high levels and graduate from high school on time and at grade level, regardless of gender, race, class or religious affiliation.  LaPESC members have developed a list of competencies, which are attached, and we considered those competencies in narrowing the candidate pool to the final three candidates for the position.

The candidates which we recommend for the final three are
        Dr. Patrick Cooper
        Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin
        Dr. Donald Aguillard

Our preferences, in general were based upon the following:

1.    A proven track record
2.    A change agent
3.    A two-way communicator
4.    Authentically inclusive of  the board and external stakeholders
5.    Strategic and focused
6.    Able to inspire others and  build trust

Specifically, we have listed the strengths and weaknesses of our recommended finalists:

Dr. Pat Cooper has been a leader in educational innovation in Louisiana and Mississippi. He is a sought-after speaker and educational consultant.  He is a recognized expert in a birth to five program model for school readiness.  His work in the McComb school district is inspirational, having demonstrated there that regardless of socio-economic factors, parental involvement or ethnicity, all children can succeed. He also engineered a turn-around in West Feliciana, and this district today continues to be one of the top-rated districts in Louisiana.  The creation of the Mahalia Jackson Center in New Orleans post Katrina demonstrates his continuing commitment to a holistic approach to meeting the needs of children and their families in support of educational rigor and results. The Center is also a model of true community collaboration, involving government, non-profits, faith-based organizations, neighborhood leaders and the school system.

1.    Sustainable results created in both of his previous districts as superintendent
2.    Breadth of knowledge
3.    His experience and passion for early intervention and early childhood education
4.    No excuses/no blame philosophy
5.    Change the way we do business in the village
6.    Understands the interdependency of the school system, health care, mental health, and corrections; only candidate who talked about crime and teen pregnancy as issues for district consideration
7.    High expectations:  100% in/100% out mindset for student achievement; believes in the same level of rigor for all students
8.    Prefers an investment in teacher efficacy instead of implementing more programs
9.    Understanding of missed funding opportunities and options for LPSS
10.    Unique perspective on the achievement gap
11.    Only candidate to suggest that the Facilities Plan needs to be linked to the ongoing planning efforts at UL and at Lafayette Consolidated Government
12.    Provided written answers to all questions

1.     Did not have time to speak to all the questions that the committee intended to pose

A graduate of the renowned Broad Academy, Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin has Lafayette Parish roots, but has worked for the 7th largest school district in Texas and is working at the state level currently in North Carolina.  She came across as personable, thoughtful, poised and focused.  Her 90-day entry plan included extensive community outreach and a focus on improving public trust and confidence in LPSS. Her powerpoint was one of the best, and she had clearly done her homework on Lafayette Parish Schools.

1.    Focus on strategic planning and the needed linkage between a district strategic plan and the facilities plan
2.    Emphasis on early grade literacy
3.    Broad vision of LPSS with responsibilities to students beyond graduation
4.    60% success rate using the an Early Warning System (grades, attendance, disciplinary referrals) to address discipline problems with multiple interventions  including coaching and mentoring
5.    Very supportive of early childhood education
6.    Big emphasis on two-way communication
7.    Same level of rigor for all students
8.    Remove focus on programs and focus on GLE training, student literacy, and social/affective needs
9.    Deliberate focus on strong instruction and the supports to make that happen

1.    Unclear if she can translate plans into actions
2.    Did not address the issue of resources for early childhood education
3.    Has moved frequently

Dr. Donald Aguillard has an impressive record as the current superintendent for St. Mary Parish.  That parish has seen steady growth in school performance scores and in a narrowing of the achievement gap.  St. Mary is similar to Lafayette Parish in that both are currently ranked as "C" districts.  His presentation was very well done.  He came across as confident, relaxed and very approachable.

1.    Good use of data in his presentation; easy to understand the degree of progress being made
2.    Strong emphasis on literacy
3.    Use of double-dosing in  ELA and Math to reduce the achievement gap
4.    Willingness to explore alternative funding scenarios for facilities improvement
5.    Emphasis on data-driven decision-making
6.    Extended day program for those in danger of being retained
7.    Focus on low-performing schools
8.    Seemed well-acquainted with challenges of LPSS

1.    Seen as an "insider" which complicates the existing trust issues with the community
2.    Did not specify how the board would provide vision and direction
3.    Not specific on how he would maintain ongoing two-way communication with external stakeholders
4.    Ability to make significant change given the strength of his past relationships

Read Thursday's Advocate story here and more about the selection process in next week's Independent.