Mais Oui

Worth Every Penny

by Heather Miller

Incoming Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper is a smart investment. By Heather Miller

Incoming Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper is a smart investment. By Heather Miller

If the Lafayette Parish School System were a publicly traded company, its stock would likely be soaring to an all-time high. With high hopes resting on incoming LPSS Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper to give our system the shake-up it so badly needs, shareholders are finally starting to believe that the Lafayette Parish School Board has made a worthwhile investment for higher returns.

At a special meeting held Dec. 19, the school board voted 5-4 to accept the terms of Cooper's contract, which includes a $190,000 annual salary, $700 a month car allowance, $160 a month phone allowance, 10 days a year allotted for outside consulting work and fully funded health insurance for Cooper and his wife.

His total package, according to The Advocate, is worth $48,150 more than the contract of retiring Superintendent Burnell Lemoine, predictably causing an uproar from the four school board members who've been resistant to real reform since Day 1. Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey, Mark Babineaux and Rae Trahan still don't acknowledge that Dr. Cooper is one of the most dynamic résumés to ever take the reins.

Cooper has 22 years of experience as a top education administrator and has been nationally recognized for his reform efforts and turning around graduation rates in high-poverty school districts. His model includes a coordinated school health program that focuses on poverty-stricken children from birth to 5 years old receiving solid developmental training - and health care resources - to ensure that underprivileged and often underperforming children are ready and able to learn when they begin public school.

Lafayette Parish's stagnant school performance scores have long been viewed as a roadblock in our otherwise thriving economy, as high-performing schools are a large factor for companies looking to relocate. The district has been unsuccessful in its past directives to fix what keeps our students consistently ranked in the middle: closing the achievement gap in north Lafayette's failing schools.

"Is the salary exorbitant? No. We know in the business community you have to pay for delivery of a good product," says Bruce Conque, vice president of marketing and governmental relations for the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. "We certainly support any effort to eliminate the achievement gap, and the person who can accomplish that in my estimation is Dr. Cooper."

Cooper's first superintendent stint was in West Feliciana Parish, where he developed and administered the first birth to 5 program in Louisiana and began a district-run family health clinic. West Feliciana Parish schools have been among the highest performing in the state ever since.

From there, Cooper took on the McComb, Miss., public school district, where 90 percent of students live in poverty. During his 10-year tenure in McComb, graduation rates climbed by more than 20 percent.

Since 2007, Cooper has served as CEO of the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood and Family Learning Center in New Orleans, a post-Katrina birth to 5 facility under the umbrella of the Orleans Parish School Board.

Education stakeholders wanted the best - and got the best - in the district's search for a new superintendent. Dr. Cooper is a wise investment.