I want very much to take an opportunity to thank the people of Lafayette for allowing me to serve you for the past three years as your school superintendent. I make this my home now and will continue to be engaged with the community and especially with education of our children and youth. Lafayette is a community with so much potential for the children, and that leads to some of the reasons I have chosen to stay.
The first point I will make is an acknowledgement that it has been a rocky road, no doubt, but I do not regret the decision to come to Lafayette Parish. Certainly hindsight is handy, but in seeing how everything has rolled out, there is actually very little that could have been dealt with differently. I am not saying mistakes weren’t made, but I know now my purpose was not to make people feel comfortable but to stretch people’s minds and vision. My efforts were never undertaken to demean those who came before, but to do justice for all of the 31,000 students in the parish. If I stretched some of you too far, too fast, then I sincerely apologize.
Second, in regard to the issue of community and the desire to do things better and differently, there are always two competing sides: those who resist change for personal or monetary reasons and those who embrace change if it is for the good of the whole. The blessing is that I have met hundreds of people who have been embracing, encouraging and very kind — another reason I decided to stay in Lafayette: the nice and civil far outnumber the not-so-nice.
Third, there is the “100 Percent IN … 100 Percent OUT” plan designed by the community and school leaders to bring Lafayette Parish to an A district in six short years. Lafayette has moved from a C district to a solid B in the first two years of the plan.
The plan incorporates mechanisms to lower discipline problems and reduce dropouts and juvenile crime. It is working. There was a 16 percent reduction in juvenile crime last year, and the graduation cohort group (freshmen enrolled four years ago who should have graduated last year) rose to over 94 percent — edging ever closer to the “100% OUT” completion goal.
New state requirements such as the teacher evaluation system and Common Core standards, while troublesome, have been mastered by Lafayette’s personnel to the extent that other school districts are constantly asking our professionals for guidance.
The buildings are cleaner, safer and maintained at a higher level now than in the preceding years. The leadership in this area has put a stop to the old practices that shortchanged the taxpayers by ridding the system of personnel who did not put the children and the teachers first. There is no more stealing or corrupt practices.
Technology has been focused upon like never before, and we are now in line with most state requirements.
Early education programs have been enhanced, and Lafayette being named a state “referral and resource center” enables local staff to access thousands if not millions of new dollars through the state tax credit system.
A school-community partnership has developed a health and wellness program that addresses the physical, mental and social health needs of the students to assist in learning and behavior issues.
Finally, I am also staying in Lafayette to accomplish one more thing: the establishment of case law around the now infamous Act 1. I believe all roads led to this. I am appealing my termination because we need to know if Act 1 has the clout to allow superintendents to transform local school districts into high-performing entities or stay bound up in school board politics. This is important.
Again, thanks for your hospitality and graciousness as a community.
Pat Cooper is the outgoing superintendent of Lafayette Parish schools.