POSITION: Superintendent, St. James Parish schools, since 2007.
Overseeing a River Parishes school system with 3,877 students, Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, a native of Hammond, recently was named the 2013 Louisiana Superintendent of the Year. Luce formerly served at school districts in Greenville, S.C., New Orleans, Livingston Parish and taught at LSU. He began his teaching career in 1992 at Istrouma High School and Technology Magnet in Baton Rouge. A colonel in the Army National Guard, Luce was deployed to Afghanistan from May 2002 through January 2003, overseeing engineer detachments, and was awarded the Bronze Star. He now commands the 199th Leadership Regiment.
This year, the performance score for the St. James Parish school district went from a C to a B. How did you accomplish that?
In 2003, the district performance score was 76.2. When I started in 2007, the score had risen to 82.5. In 2012, the score had risen to 104.7, just 0.3 of a point away from a B. Under the new accountability system, our score finally rose to a B score this year. We have not done anything remarkably different this past year than what we’ve been doing. We have gradually raised the teacher salary scale to one of the highest in the state and attempt to recruit and retain the best teachers.
A goal of St. James Parish is to offer a performing arts magnet program, and art and music in all the schools. How is that going?
The performing arts magnet program at Gramercy Elementary School has been a great success. Some students are great at art or music or athletics, but struggle with some core academic content. Instead of double-dosing those students with content they detest, we prefer to enrich them with content they love. Then we explain that if students want to do the things they love, they need to struggle through the things they don’t want to do.
What is the status of the school district’s efforts to gain unitary status so it will no longer be under a desegregation court order?
The closure of Romeville Elementary School and the addition of the Gramercy Elementary School Magnet have greatly increased the racial interaction in our district. The U.S. Justice Department has recently changed attorneys for our desegregation case for the third time since I’ve been superintendent. The process is lengthy, laborious and costly to educate the new Justice Department attorneys about our case.
What is the biggest concern you hear about Common Core, the new education standards?
Teachers want resources and planning time to change what they are teaching. We attempted to provide resources, but in some cases the publishers have not caught up with the Common Core standards yet. Some of our parents have complained about the grades their students are getting and the amount of homework their students are receiving.
You have worked in a number of fields: technology, at a university, the military. What skills from your background serve you in your role as school superintendent?
The different fields have taught me how to lead and follow people who are very diverse, how to become more efficient through automation, how to make difficult decisions and how to accomplish missions/goals. My current military job and civilian job complement one another very well and I learn how to become a better leader every day.