LAFAYETTE — About 30 people gathered Thursday for the first of six planned forums to discuss issues in the Lafayette Parish school system and the qualities needed in the next superintendent who will have to face them.

The School Board is in the process of selecting a new superintendent and so far 11 people have applied for the job to replace Burnell Lemoine, who is retiring at year’s end.

The School Board plans to use the public responses to develop interview questions for the top 10 applicants. Interviews should begin in October with a final selection made Dec. 7, according to the board’s tentative timeline.

While the board makes decisions on candidates, they should post online their votes and reasoning behind their decisions, suggested Leroy Thompson before the forum began Thursday.

Thompson is a math tutor who said he is not affiliated with the school system, but recently signed up to volunteer in the district’s schools.

“I want to give my voice to the selection process and make sure that School Board members not think for us, but represent us,” Thompson said.

During the forum, small group discussions centered on problems within the system and solutions to fix them. Those gathered were also asked to discuss qualities desired in the next superintendent.

Some issues discussed included a lack of focus on eradicating the district’s achievement gap among poor and minority students, a lack of defined vision for the school system that is clearly communicated to the public, lack of access to early childhood programs, and lack of parental and community involvement.

Increasing teacher salaries and expanding educational programs like Montessori and schools of choice should be priorities of the new superintendent, said Ayesha Martin before discussions began.

Martin teaches students at South Louisiana Community College and also teaches students located on the campus as part of the district’s Early College Academy. The program is one of the district’s several schools of choice options.

“I think schools of choice help students decide what they’re going to do when they finish school,” she said. It also helps steer them toward a career, she said.

She said she’d like to see the new superintendent ask for student input on policies that impact them.

“Involve the students in decisions,” she said. “Make them feel a part of it.”

Snowden Grant emphasized the need for student-focused leadership during his small group’s discussion.

“We need to keep the child in the equation every time we make a decision,” he said.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s communications department developed the script and questions used by the small group of facilitators. The department is also developing an online survey for those who cannot attend the forums which is available at: www.lpssonline.com/superintendentsurvey.