Ed Cancienne

A former St. James Parish schools superintendent is returning to that role once again after the School Board voted unanimously to hire P. Edward Cancienne Jr. as its new superintendent.

The current St. James schools superintendent, Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, whose contract the board declined to renew, is stepping down May 31. Luce, meanwhile, is one of the semifinalists for the Ascension Parish schools superintendent position.

Cancienne, who has been the Iberville Parish schools superintendent since 2007, served for eight years before that as superintendent in St. James. Prior to that post, he served 10 years as superintendent of Assumption Parish schools.

Cancienne said Friday he won’t submit his resignation to the Iberville Parish School Board until contract negotiations with St. James are complete.

“St. James has always been like home to me,” Cancienne said, “so it’s sort of like I’m going home.”

He also praised the employees, teachers and board members in Iberville Parish for their hard work and support of his vision for the district.

Debra Webre, administrative director of human resources for the St. James Parish school district, said the School Board will vote on the contract with Cancienne at its June 7 meeting.

Cancienne was the only candidate for the St. James position after the other finalist, Kelli Joseph, schools superintendent in St. Helena Parish, withdrew Wednesday, according to the St. James Parish School Board’s website.

The board voted Thursday to hire Cancienne, who holds a bachelor’s degree in education from LSU, where he also received a master’s degree and doctorate in education.

“He was very successful in Iberville Parish and in St. James Parish in his tenures there,” St. James School Board President George Nassar Jr. said. “We feel we have everything in place to move to an A district” up from its current state score of B.

Superintendents rarely serve without some controversies. That was the case during Cancienne’s long tenures in the Iberville, St. James and Assumption school districts.

In 2009, Cancienne drew ire from parents and leaders in north Iberville after persuading the School Board to close North Iberville High School, and transfer those students to Plaquemine High, because of declining enrollment and underperformance.

That decision prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit from one of the parish’s mayors who accused Cancienne of violating state Open Meetings Law by lobbying for votes prior to the board meeting.

In 1999, some parents in St. James Parish called for a school boycott after Cancienne recommended — and the board approved — transferring the black principal of St. James High School to the system’s then-new alternative school and replacing him with a white principal.

Cancienne had said he recommended the transfer because Ridgely Mitchell’s military background and skills in handling students with disciplinary problems was an excellent fit for the alternative school.

During Cancienne’s tenure in Assumption Parish, a group of parents in 1993 filed an unsuccessful discrimination complaint against the school system with the U.S. Department of Education.

In Iberville Parish, School Board President Polly Higdon said the board has called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday to map out how it will handle the search for a new superintendent to replace Cancienne for the school district of approximately 4,800 students.

“We’re hitting the ground running to find the best fit for a person who can continue to move our school district forward,” Higdon said Friday. “We’re going to be just fine.”