LAFAYETTE — Each of Thursday’s candidates for superintendent assured their potential new employers they can help failing schools excel.

School Board members, joined for the third day of interviews by community representatives Margaret Trahan and Alterman “Chip” Jackson, interviewed three candidates Thursday: Donald Aguillard, Sheila LeBouef-Guidry and Luis Gonzalez.

Interviews conclude Friday with Pat Cooper at noon, Walter Gonsoulin Jr. at 2 p.m., and John Pate at 4 p.m.

The board plans to select a new superintendent next month. Superintendent Burnell Lemoine plans to retire when his contract expires at the end of the year.

With 29 of his 36 years of experience as an educator in Lafayette Parish, Aguillard said he has an advantage.

“I’m here today because my DNA truly is comprised of the actions and the philosophy and the mission of the Lafayette Parish school system,” Aguillard said. “I bring to you the ability to step in the system and immediately have the ability to lower the achievement gap.”

He discussed his successes in St. Mary Parish to lower the achievement gap and his district’s emphasis on lowering retention rates — of students being held back a grade — at middle school grades and lower. St. Mary Parish enrolls about 9,500 students.

During his seven-year tenure in St. Mary Parish, the district’s performance scores rose from 79.1 to 96.7, out of potential maximum of 200.

Achievement gaps between white and black students in math and English have also been narrowed significantly in grades 3-5, he said.

Aguillard committed to reducing retention rates and also improving graduation rates. In St. Mary Parish, extended-day programs target struggling middle school students.

Failing students and their parents commit to the additional instructional time. The district has also begun a summer school for struggling second and third graders.

LeBouef-Guidry presented the board with a three-year plan to move its district performance score to 105 or greater. Lafayette Parish’s current score is 97.6. The advance to at least 105 would bump the district from a “C” district to a “B” district.

“Research shows true change needs three years … and five years to make it stick,” she said.

As part of her initial 90-day plan, she proposed clustering schools and providing team support to those schools most in need of help.

For those goals to be reached, “curriculum implementation is key” and targeted student support for struggling students is needed, she said.

For schools that need “rapid rejuvenation” and an increase of more than 3 points, the district needs to leverage additional resources, LeBouef-Guidry said.

She noted a trend of declining grant awards in the district from $47 million in 2009 to $19 million this year.

While working as a master teacher at a Terrebonne Parish school, she said, educators worked to improve the school’s performance score by 8 points. “Basic management” skills that focused on identifying needs and implementing strategies to address those needs helped get the job done, she said.

Gonzales said customized instruction to meet students’ needs is “critical” to reducing the achievement gap.

“We’ve got to be able to provide a blended or hybrid learning model,” he said.

The “stand-and-deliver” model of instruction, in which a teacher lectures the students, doesn’t fit with today’s student, he added. He touted different delivery models, such as online coursework, and support systems for teachers.

“A professional learning community in each school is important,” Gonzalez said.

All three candidates discussed the importance of engaging the community in developing a vision plan for the school system.

Connecting the community to the district’s plan is “a sure-fire way to build confidence,” Gonzalez said.

Community chats and forums, as well as advisory groups, have been part of Gonzalez’ models of connecting with communities, he said.

During the interview, Margaret Trahan noted Gonzalez’ varied superintendent experience and a pattern of three-year stints in some districts.

He said that when he’s felt there hasn’t been a “match” with a district, he’s moved on.

“I don’t come here (as) a person who wants to stay for a short period of time,” Gonzalez said. “I want to contribute and be part of the system so we can grow … not for Luis Gonzalez … not for anyone else or for any other reason, other than the children in this community.”