Three veteran educators who all say academics is their strength pitched their candidacies Tuesday before the Central Community School Board to become the next leader of the second-ranked school district in Louisiana.
“(Central) is a winning team, and I hope to push it to new levels,” said Paul E. Nelson, superintendent of the small Tensas Parish school district in north Louisiana.
Leslie Jones, dean of the college of education at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, said she grew up in and worked for years in Assumption Parish.
“(Central) resembles where I’m a native of,” Jones said.
Jason Fountain, the only in-house applicant for the job, offered a more personal reason why he wants to serve as superintendent.
“I have a 4-year-old and 2-year-old,” he said. “I want them to be part of a world class school system.”
A veteran Central school administrator who’s risen through the ranks, the dean of education …
They are the only individuals who have applied to replace Michael Faulk, who has been Central’s only superintendent since it broke away from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. He is leaving Dec. 31 for another job.
The board made no decision Tuesday. Instead, it plans to reconvene at 6 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria at Central Middle School. The board will either choose a new superintendent from among the three or reject them all. If it rejects them, the board plans to hire an interim superintendent and restart the search.
Nelson, Jones and Fountain, in that order, spoke Tuesday night to an audience of about 60 people. Each candidate answered the same five questions, with each session lasting about 25 minutes.
As the public interviews began, board President David Walker said he had hoped for an even larger crowd. “I would like to have 200 here and not be able to get anyone else in,” he said.
Nelson, Jones and Fountain had already spoken in private to the seven School Board members. They were interviewed for an hour each earlier Tuesday at the district’s main office at 10510 Joor Road. Those sessions were held behind closed doors in executive session. After the last interview, the board continued to meet in in private for 15 minutes before heading to the high school.
The Central Community School Board has scheduled interviews for next Tuesday with all three …
Afterward, Walker said the meeting scheduled Monday will not include another executive session. He said he plans to hold call for a vote right away.
Fountain clearly had the most support in the audience at the public interviews.
He’s worked in Central for almost nine years, starting as assistant principal at Tanglewood Elementary, then becoming principal of Central Middle in 2012 before moving last year to the main office to serve as director of secondary curriculum and instruction. Fountain also spent six years in higher education, working with student athletes at four universities, including LSU.
Fountain, however, tried to dispel the idea that he’s simply rising through the ranks. He said he has a plan that he’s worked on the past two months to take Central to the next level.
Among its features, he said, is a plan to improve not only Central’s academics, but also its athletics and its commitment to the arts. Some teachers and coaches have pressed the School Board to find money to build better athletics facilities in Central.
Fountain said Central should not be an “Or System,” where it excels at academics or athletics or arts, but excels at all three. “We have to be an 'And System',” he said.
Fountain also urged the board to adopt a five-year strategic plan. He said currently too many “arrows are flying in different directions.”
“If we know where we’re going, we can create a world class school system and that has to be our ultimate goal,” he said.
Nelson and Jones talked little about their plans for Central. Instead, they spoke about their qualifications, their education philosophies, and their positions on various issues facing public education in Louisiana.
Nelson is the only one of the applicants who has worked as a superintendent. He spent almost four years as leader of Concordia Parish schools, which is close in size to Central. For the past 15 months, he has led the much smaller Tensas Parish school district, 30 miles upriver from Concordia. He was employed at Concordia for 21 years, working his way up to the position of superintendent, including teaching special education and social studies at Monterey High School.
Nelson emphasized his belief that public education can change children’s lives, particularly the lives of children in poverty. "Sometimes, just finding an outlet can make the difference,” he said.
“Every child needs an avenue to blossom,” he said. “For my son, it was football. For another student, it might be choir or it might be dance line.”
Jones has spent the past 17 years in academia as a professor of education and, for the past five years, dean of the college of education at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Nicholls is also her alma mater. Jones also spent five years as a math teacher at St. James High School. For a year, she was an assistant elementary school principal in Thibodaux and then for two years was principal of Labadieville Primary School.
Jones said she is “passionate about teaching and learning.” She said she’s versed in helping teachers customize their instruction for different children but also to find those areas that children already love.
“Tapping into the interest of those students will be critical for their future,” she said.