East Baton Rouge School Board to tackle budget, charter schools, magnet programs at meeting Thursday _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Warren Drake.

Warren Drake is honored to be named the next superintendent of East Baton Rouge Parish schools, and we wish him the very best in his challenging tasks. We hope he’ll enjoy the support of the School Board and community in the new job.

Drake is the first former teacher in EBR’s system to be superintendent since Raymond Arveson retired in 1987. But his long career in the system and then his decade overseeing the top-ranked Zachary school system made him a natural for the post to be vacated by Bernard Taylor.

The system has been part of an education world too often divided into factions — reformers who don’t like the status quo, backers of traditional schools who don’t like charter schools, unions against management and so on. The selection of Drake, 63, offers a chance to dial back the rhetoric. The long-serving teachers and principals in the system should see him as one of their own, knowing their problems and willing to listen to their concerns.

That is an important bridge-building task for the new superintendent.

We also see one part of his résumé that is less frequently emphasized that is very important for the system in the next few years.

Drake served as an administrator in the state Department of Education, basically as a liaison with 19 school districts across the state. That means he had a familiarity with the difficulties that local systems have during a time of remarkable change in schools, including new teacher evaluation systems and the adoption of higher academic standards.

He thus brings an additional insider view of how the state department works under Superintendent John White, who has sometimes found himself at odds with the combative Taylor.

Managing that relationship with the state and with the troops in the classroom are all part of the tasks of a new superintendent.

The list of challenges is long.

In many cases, East Baton Rouge boasts some excellent schools even beyond flagship institutions like Baton Rouge Magnet High. Yet most of its 80-plus schools serve a significant portion of students from poor families, a reality that has a day-to-day impact on the basics such as student attendance, health and study habits.

A potential breakaway system in the St. George area is another troubling issue that might arise during Drake’s tenure.

Under Taylor, the system has made progress, if not enough. He’s had his fights — sometimes unnecessary ones — and we’ve occasionally disagreed with him. But his positive contributions are appreciated and those can be built upon by Drake in the position.

Drake’s career suggests he can reach out to the disparate elements of the community on behalf of public education. We wish him luck in that task.