LAFAYETTE - The first two of 10 candidates for the Lafayette Parish school superintendent job pitched their plans for the district in Monday interviews.

School Board members interviewed Maria Pitre-Martin, director of curriculum and instruction for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and Gary Jones, current Rapides Parish School System superintendent.

Interviews continue today at 2 p.m. with Katherine Landry and at 4 p.m. with Craig Fiegel at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

The job is a chance to come home, said Pitre-Martin, who began her career in Lafayette Parish and still has family in the area.

It was as a child in a voting booth, reading complex propositions and names of candidates to her illiterate foster grandmother that Pitre-Martin said she learned the power of education and decided to make it her life’s career.

“Every decision I make will take me back to that voting booth with my grandmother,” she said.

She presented the board with a proposed 90-day “plan of entry” with outreach to the community and employees and reviews of district data, topping the to-do list.

A goal for her first few months is the development of a strategic plan to chart the district’s vision and progress.

Pitre-Martin said she has a good reputation for developing and executing strong strategic plans that are “steeped in accountability.”

Such a plan is needed to guide the 2012-13 budget process to help identify priority areas to improve student achievement, she said.

Focus groups with students, teachers, parents, community members and employees should guide the strategic plan’s development so the plan

is “owned by everyone in the community,” she said.

She and Jones agreed that the board shouldn’t rush back to the voters with a tax to fund its facilities master plan. A $561 million bond proposition for major construction and repairs failed Oct. 22 by 69 percent.

Pitre-Martin said a strategic plan aligned with the facilities master plan is needed before going back to the polls.

INTERVIEWS

Jones shared his success in passing five bond issues, including one previously defeated by voters twice prior to his involvement.

He recommended the board identify the tax’s opposition and have a sit-down to discuss the issues.

Jones has 40 years of experience as an educator and is a Louisiana National Guard retired brigadier general.

As Rapides Parish superintendent, Jones said his goal has been to give parents as many choices as possible. He enacted open enrollment for high school students, giving them the option to attend any high school in the district.

During his tenure, he closed the district’s 40-year-old plus desegregation case and turned around an $11 million deficit - a feat accomplished without layoffs.

Although the recent budget cycle in his district translated to 150 layoffs, attrition a buy-out program ensured no one lost their job, he said.

The district now has a $12 million contingency fund and a $2.5 million balance in its general fund, he said.

Both candidates discussed early intervention to ensure students are reading on grade level and support universal pre-k classes.

Currently, Lafayette only enrolls about a third of its kindergarten students in pre-k classes.

Developing individual learning plans for struggling readers would make an impact, said Jones. He suggested using the allowable percentages of federal grant funding for special education or Title 1 to target regular education students who need extra reading help.

Jones said he does not support early grade retention or social promotion. His philosophy: Identify the problem and fix it.

He said last year in Rapides Parish, 144 children who would have been retained in grades three and below were promoted and given extra support.

“At the end of the year, 86 of them were back on grade level. (The) other ones were still working on it,” Jones said.

To get students to the fourth grade on time: “They can’t be retained and you’ve got to be fixing it,” Jones said.

The answers to improving academic achievement in the district won’t be found in programs, but in teaching grade level expectations, Pitre-Martin said.

For that to happen, teachers need support by way of training and coaching, she said.

“Preparation in teaching the standards is key,” she said.

Maria Pitre-Martin

EDUCATION: Ph.D. in educational administration, Texas A&M University; M.S. in organizational communication and B.A. in speech education, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

EXPERIENCE:

•Since 2009, worked for North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as lead regional coordinator from 2009 until earlier this year when she was promoted to director of K-12 curriculum and instruction.

•2008 to 2009: Chief academic officer for the School District of Philadelphia, which enrolled 284 schools and 163,064 students.

•2006 to 2008: Assistant superintendent for instructional Service Area II, East Baton Rouge Parish schools, with 90 schools and 46,200 students.

•Prior experience in central office and school-level administrative roles and teaching positions in Texas.

•Began her career in 1989 as a teacher and debate coach at Northside High School, where she taught until 1996.

HONORS: Selected as Region VI Principal of the Year and Texas Middle School Principal of the Year by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals.

Gary Jones

EDUCATION: Ed.D., University Louisiana of Monroe; master’s of strategic studies, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Penn.; master’s plus 30, master’s of education and B.A., Northeast Louisiana University.

EXPERIENCE:

e_SBlt Since 2003, Rapides Parish school superintendent.

•From 1999 to 2003, superintendent of Claiborne Parish Schools.

•Began his teaching career with Monroe city schools in 1971 and moved up through the district, serving as assistant to the superintendent from 1994 to 1999.

HONORS: Named 2010-11 Louisiana State Superintendent of the Year by the Louisiana Association of School Executives and the American Association of School Administrators.