PORT ALLEN — Cynthia Ourso stressed to the West Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Tuesday night that school superintendents should lean on direction from school principals in order to build successful schools — something she promises to do if chosen to head the school system.
Ourso, the third of four finalists interviewed for the parish schools superintendent position, also referred to school-sponsored extracurricular activities as bankable incentives teachers can use to push students to achieve more in the classroom.
Ourso, 47, serves as the school district’s elementary supervisor. She holds degrees from LSU.
She has worked for more than 20 years in West Baton Rouge Parish schools with stints as the principal and assistant principal at Cohn Elementary and Devall Middle schools, respectively.
Ourso told the board her proven leadership record with the school district is what makes her an ideal candidate to replace outgoing school Superintendent David Corona.
Corona is retiring in July after a decadelong tenure as superintendent of the parish school system.
Like the previous two candidates, the board questioned Ourso publicly for 30 minutes before finishing the interview in executive session.
Ourso called her time with the school district a well-rounded experience that has helped her foster productive relationships with current administration, faculty and staff and gave her institutional knowledge to keep the district on its continued road to success.
As its elementary supervisor for the past 11 years, Ourso said, she has co-written a number of grants that brought in more than $8 million the school district.
Ourso said she also played an instrumental role in literacy initiatives at the elementary level, resulting in gains in standardize test scores for fourth-graders.
From 2004 to 2012, Ourso said, the school district saw a 27 percentage point increase in the percentage of 4th graders who scored basic or above on the state’s English language arts assessment — or iLEAP — test, from 53 percent to 80 percent.
The district saw a 38-point gain, during the same time period, in the percent of fourth-graders who scored basic or above on the state’s math assessment test, from 42 percent to 80 percent. Ourso attributed those gains to convincing Corona to hire math coaches for the parish’s four elementary schools.
When asked by the board how a school superintendent should handle day-to-day functions, possible budget cuts and school staffing, Ourso said the person should take cues from school principals.
“If a principal comes up with creative ways to cut staff, I need to listen; they’re on the front line,” she said. “They know the types of people that will work best at their schools.”
And in reply to a question about her views on the importance of extracurricular activities and school-sponsored clubs, Ourso said she views them as “social capital.”
“Not all the kids are passionate about going into the classroom and learning. But they may be passionate about art, choir, music or sports,” she said.
When teachers attend games or concerts, they are reaching those students, she said. And that pays off in the classroom.
“When you want that child to persevere and really do something academically, that relationship is going to give you a bargaining tool,” Ourso said.
The School Board will interview its final candidate, Zachary High School Principal Wesley Watts, on Wednesday night.
The board already interviewed Frances Annette Mire, the school district’s associate superintendent of human resources and staff development, last week and John Jackson, the administrative liaison for the University of North Georgia, on Monday.
The board hopes to appoint a new superintendent by July, before Corona vacates office at the end of the month.
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