Cooper: Children are waiting

by Heather Miller

Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper doesn't start full-time until Feb. 1, but he's wasting no time in his plans for analyzing the district's data and poising our schools for the kind of reform for which Cooper is known.

Who does the grant writing for the Lafayette Parish School System? What is our grant success rate?
Have there been any new LPSS positions added over the past three years? If so, how were they funded?
How many children from birth to 5 years old are being currently serviced by LPSS?
Did LPSS apply for Race to the Top and other funding sources?

Questions like these are among the 12-page assessment plan crafted by the Lafayette Parish School System's newest superintendent, Dr. Pat Cooper, who distributed the document to board members Wednesday during his first regular Lafayette Parish School Board meeting as the school district's top administrator.

Cooper, hired in December to take over following the retirement of Burnell Lemoine, will begin his new post full-time on Feb. 1, though he plans to spend some time in Lafayette in January while finishing his stint as CEO of an early learning center in New Orleans.

The answers Cooper finds through the assessment outline, coupled with countless meetings planned with LPSS staffers and local government and civic organizations, will pave the way for a first-year mission statement to be presented to the board by March or April. Before the first-year goals are outlined, Cooper says he plans to analyze district performance data and clarify to the school board in February the performance status of the district's schools.

A more detailed five-year plan is expected to be complete by December, but Cooper does suggest in his early assessment plan some "basic infrastructure" within the district to increase graduation rates. Among those recommendations are a parishwide early learning coalition that includes all child care centers in the district, teen parenting programs in high schools, placing a truancy officer/liaison at each underperforming middle and high school, and having at least one nurse, social worker and guidance counselor for every 450 students in the district.

Cooper began his career in education as a classroom teacher in Baton Rouge before working his way up the ranks in the state Department of Education. While at LDOE, he oversaw a program for emotionally disturbed and autistic children and eventually served as the assistant superintendent for special education services in Louisiana, among other roles.

LPSS's new super has 22 years of experience as a top education administrator and is known nationally for implementing a model that has drastically turned around graduation rates in districts where he's formerly served as superintendent.

Read more from The Ind on Cooper's qualifications here.