Warren Drake, who spent a decade as superintendent of the top-rated Zachary school system, has applied to take the helm of the much larger but much more challenging East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Landing the superintendent job would serve as a homecoming for Drake, who spent most of his career in the parish school system before leaving in 2002 to launch the Zachary school district, which has sat atop state academic rankings since it started.

Drake is one of just two individuals who have applied to replace Bernard Taylor, whose three-year contract expires June 30. The search began more than three weeks ago. Forty-four applicants applied the last time the job was open in spring 2012.

Drake’s only competitor so far is Charles Michel, special education director for the Lafourche Parish school system, a job he’s held for the past seven years. Michel has been an unsuccessful candidate for several other superintendent vacancies in the recent past, including in Zachary in 2012 after Drake left to join the Louisiana Department of Education. Michel is one of six applicants for superintendent in Jefferson Parish.

The applications for Drake and Michel were released Tuesday afternoon in response to a public records request by The Advocate. The deadline to apply is March 13 and the School Board plans to pick someone by April 2.

Drake said he almost applied for the job Taylor now holds back in 2012.

“I just didn’t feel right,” he said.

The following summer, Drake opted instead to accept an offer from Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White to work closely with 19 school districts by leading one of five new administrative support networks. Drake, however, said he’s got the itch to get back to his old line of work, working on the ground in one school district, and East Baton Rouge Parish is where he wants to do it.

Drake served for years as principal of Tara High School in Baton Rouge before heading north to Zachary. Zachary, along with Baker, successfully broke away from the parish school system in 2003 to form their own school districts.

Drake noted that beside his own history with East Baton Rouge Parish, his three children went to parish schools for most of their schooling and his wife spent her career there as dietitian.

“There are a lot of good things in East Baton Rouge Parish, but I think they are sporadic; they are sort of in silos,” he said “What I can do well is I can bring the board together and can bring the entire district under one mission and vision.”

Unlike previous searches, this search on purpose has not been widely advertised or shopped around by a national search firm.

Drake admitted he’s known for a while that the job was coming open.

“I’ve run into board members at (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) over the last year,” he said. “There’s just been a natural conversation, not ‘Would you come?’ ”

Drake’s application includes four letters of recommendation, including one from Charlotte Placide, who served from 2004 to 2009 as East Baton Rouge Parish superintendent.

Drake’s competitor, Michel, started his career in Lafourche Parish as a special education teacher at an alternative school before moving to Texas, where he has spent most of his career. He rose to become principal of two different middle schools in Texas over a seven-year period before returning to Louisiana in 2006 to take over New Orleans’ J.S. Clark High School as it was reopening after Hurricane Katrina. He spent a year there and then six more months as an assistant deputy superintendent with the Recovery School District before heading to Lafourche Parish for his current job.

Attempts to reach Michel for comment Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.