All six semifinalists for East Baton Rouge Parish superintendent have spent their careers in public education, but only two, Kelt Cooper and Samuel King, have risen high enough to run a school system.
The four semifinalists who haven’t yet been superintendents are currently or have previously held high administrative posts in mid-to-large size school districts, all of them much larger than the ones Cooper and King run in Texas and Georgia, respectively.
The School Board settled on the six semifinalists Tuesday, narrowing down the field from more than 40 applicants. Interviews are scheduled for Wednesday and Jan. 23. The board plans to narrow down the semifinalists to perhaps three finalists Jan. 25.
Current Superintendent John Dilworth is leaving June 30 when his three-year contract expires.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has 43,300 students. About 81 percent of the students are black and 82 percent live in poverty.
The school system has created a special website for the search, http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/2012suptsearch/. The site went live late Wednesday.
The site includes the résumés of all 44 applicants for the job, though personal contact info and professional references have been blacked out. It also includes a short written description of each candidate, an online application they filled out for the search firm PROACT, and a candidate data sheet with test scores, district demographics and other academic data for their employer.
Cooper and King are superintendents respectively of school districts in Del Rio, Texas, on the U.S./Mexican border, and in Conyers, Ga., east of Atlanta.
Cooper has held his job for three years. The San Felipe Del Rio district serves about 10,000 students in 13 schools. Only 6 percent of the students are white. Hispanics represent 92 percent of enrollment. About 71 percent of the students live in poverty.
Cooper has previously served as superintendent of smaller school districts in Nogales, Ariz., and Elgin and Tornillo, Texas. In all, he has 16 years of experience as a superintendent
In 2004, when he was in Nogales, Ariz., Cooper applied to become East Baton Rouge Parish superintendent, but was not picked as a finalist. In summer 2011, he was one of three finalists for the superintendent’s job in Green Bay, Wisc., but failed to land the job.
King has spent almost seven years as superintendent in Rockdale County, Ga., and is the 2011 superintendent of the year for the state of Georgia. It is his first superintendent’s job. He spent his career in Georgia public schools. Recently, he was a finalist for superintendent in Cobb and DeKalb counties near Atlanta.
Rockdale County has more than 15,000 students in 18 schools. About 24 percent of the students are white. Blacks represent 60 percent of enrollment. About 62 percent of students live in poverty.
Of the four other semifinalists, Tisha Edwards, chief of staff with Baltimore Public Schools, currently works for the largest school district, a job she has held for almost three years. Baltimore has more than 82,000 students. Just 8 percent of students are white, while 87 percent are black. A total of 78 percents live in poverty.
Maria Pitre-Martin spent part of 2008 and 2009 as chief academic officer of the even larger Philadelphia public schools, which at the time had more than 160,000 students. Since 2009, she has worked with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and for the past year has worked as director of K-12 curriculum and instruction.
From 2006 to 2008, Pitre-Martin served as assistant superintendent for middle school in East Baton Rouge Parish. She is a Louisiana native who began her career in 1989 as an English, drama and speech teacher at Northside High School in Lafayette.
Herman Brister Sr., is also a Louisiana native and the educator with the deepest ties to Baton Rouge public schools. He has spent the past four years as chief academic officer, the number two position in the parish school system. He applied to become superintendent in 2009, but failed to make the list of finalists. Dilworth, who started in July of that year, retained Brister as chief academic officer.
Brister started off as a teacher in Baton Rouge and rose through the ranks to become a principal and later a Central Office administrator. His wife Darlene is the interim director of elementary programs for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, his son, Herman Jr., is principal of McKinley Middle School, and his daughter-in-law, Jessica, is principal of Park Elementary.
The only non-educator of the six semifinalists is Elliot Smalley. He is deputy of strategy and communications for the county school district in Charleston, S.C., and has held that job for more than two years. The school district has 43,000 students, almost exactly the same as East Baton Rouge Parish, but only 46 percent of the students are black and only 49 percent live in poverty.
Although he spent most of his career in the communications side of public education, he went through the Los Angeles-based Broad Institute’s Residency in Urban Education program. King and Pitre-Martin graduated from a separate arm of the institute, the Broad Superintendent’s Academy.
As a teenager, Smalley lived in Baton Rouge for a while, attending McKinley High School.
Updated Jan. 16, 2011 to correct title of Darlene Brister.