Three candidates vying to become St. Landry Parish's school superintendent remain in the running after an initial round of interviews this week.
The School Board selected James Gray, Francis Touchet Jr., and Patrick Jenkins to return for a second round of interviews on Oct. 5, following a series of votes that concluded a special meeting of nearly seven hours on Wednesday night.
Although the board established a date for the subsequent interviews, no decision has been made on a final date for the selection of a superintendent.
Five of the 10 qualified applicants -- including Gray, Touchet and Jenkins -- were interviewed before the board voted to limit the second round of interviews to three. Also interviewed on Wednesday were Quentina Timoll and Esrom Pitre.
The meeting attracted a large crowd, with some left standing inside the district’s Resource Center meeting room. Many who attended remained for the entire meeting, which lasted until just before 11 p.m.
Only board members were allowed to present questions to the candidates, who were provided with time for opening and closing statements.
Jenkins, a former U.S. Army officer who is currently employed as principal of Copper Middle Elementary School in the Zachary Independent School District, received 11 votes. Gray, an assistant superintendent in charge of school leadership in Vermilion Parish had eight, while Touchet and Timoll were tied with seven.
The board voted a second time to break the tie between Touchet and Timoll.
Touchet, a team leader with the Louisiana Department of Education, collected seven votes to six for Timoll, an assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction for St. John the Baptist Parish.
Pitre, a Southern University professor who also works as a leadership educational director for that university, had six votes, all on the first ballot.
Jenkins, Gray and Pitre told the board during the interviews that they grew up in St. Landry Parish. During his interview Touchet, who is also a member of the Abbeville Board of Aldermen, said he is familiar with St. Landry, since he has spent the past 14 months assisting the district with improving its state school performance scores.
The board has taken steps to select a new superintendent during the past four months after voting in April not to renew the contract of Superintendent Edward Brown, whose three-year contract ends Dec. 31.
Board members questioned candidates on on topics that included their ideas for handling the district’s $116 million operating budget, strategies for improving the large number of parish schools with low performance scores, methods of hiring and firing personnel, the recruiting of certified teachers and whether they would seek to close or reconfigure current grade levels at six Opelousas elementary schools.
In addition, applicants were asked how they would unite the board and promote vocational education.
None of the candidates proposed closing any of the elementary schools. The four who answered that question told board members they would carefully consider options on how to proceed with improving the schools, whose highest performance score was a C in 2015.
Touchet said he would have to examine the district’s financial situation before deciding on what should be done with the schools.
Gray said he wouldn't allow any of the elementary schools to close.
Jenkins was not asked for his ideas about the status of the Opelousas schools. When answering a related question, Jenkins said he has plans to invigorate support for the city’s schools.
“I would invite the families to go into our schools and see how well we are doing. I would also engage civic organizations and clubs and see if they want to be part of this effort," Jenkins said. "This would allow me to communicate our vision and expectations.”