The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday unanimously selected as its next superintendent former Zachary Superintendent Warren Drake, the only person they seriously considered for the job.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am for this moment,” Drake said. “I’m so honored. I think we are going to do some great things together.”
As he has before, Drake promised to make all nine board members look good.
That appealed to board member Vereta Lee.
“I want this job to be easy,” Lee said. “When people have problems, I want to be able to send them straight to you.”
“Take a deep breath and have them call me,” Drake responded.
Long rumored as a potential applicant, Drake, who spent a decade overseeing the top-ranked Zachary school system, was the first of 10 people to apply for the parish job, and on March 20, the board unanimously named him its top contender.
Board members quickly settled on the 63-year-old native of Homer after just 45 minutes of discussion behind closed doors.
It’s not clear when he will start, even though he’s expressed willingness to do so soon. Outgoing Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s three-year contract expires June 30 and he has shown no signs he will leave before that date.
Drake said he is giving two weeks’ notice to his current employer, the Louisiana Department of Education, where he is employed as a top administrator, working with 19 school districts across the state. He said he’s not sure how soon after that he will start, saying it depends on the discussions he has with board leadership.
As far as contract negotiations, Drake said afterward he has not hired his own attorney to represent him, a common practice, though he said he may vet any contract with an attorney.
Taylor makes almost $239,000 a year in base salary.
Drake spent most of his career in East Baton Rouge Parish schools. His first job was as a history teacher at Glen Oaks Junior High School in 1974. Except for a few years running a hardware store, Drake stayed with the school system until he left for Zachary, including six years as principal of Tara High School.
In returning to his old employer, Drake is taking on the biggest challenge of his career.
East Baton Rouge Parish is home to 80-plus schools and more than 42,000 students, making it the second-largest school district in Louisiana. While all Zachary schools are A-rated schools, East Baton Rouge is dominated by schools with C, D and a small number of F grades. On the other end of the spectrum, however, the parish school system also has several schools that outperform Zachary schools.
Where Zachary’s enrollment is almost evenly divided between black and white students, East Baton Rouge’s school enrollment is almost 80 percent black and 10 percent white, with the rest a mix of Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds.
Zachary is the most affluent district in the state, although 4 out of 10 of its students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. By contrast, about 80 percent of East Baton Rouge Parish school system students come from families that meet those income guidelines.
If hired, Drake would be the first current or former employee to lead the system in six years and the first former East Baton Rouge teacher at the helm since Raymond Arveson retired in 1987.