Ascension Parish School Board members will begin next week planning the search for a new superintendent after Patrice Pujol announced Wednesday she is retiring March 1.
Pujol, who’s been with the school district for 39 years, the last six as superintendent, will become the president of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching based in Santa Monica, California.
Pujol will be working out of a newly created Baton Rouge office of the organization, which helps schools attract and develop top teachers and leaders, she said Wednesday.
“I didn’t seek this position,” Pujol said. “Obviously, I’m passionate about what I do here.”
She called her new position “a unique opportunity.”
Pujol told School Board members about her decision to retire before they met Tuesday in a regular session.
“I was a little sad for me but super excited for her,” said board President Pat Russo.
The School Board’s four-person executive committee will meet Monday to talk about naming an interim superintendent, said board Vice President Taft Kleinpeter, who chairs the committee.
Kleinpeter said he thought it was a good idea to name an interim superintendent since Pujol is leaving in a little over a month.
“Whoever we get will definitely have big shoes to fill. She’s done a great job,” he said.
Also on the executive committee are Russo and board members Troy Gautreau and Shawn Sevario.
“It’s going to be bittersweet to see her leave, but on the other hand, it’s a great opportunity,” Sevario said.
Pujol will retire about a month before an April 9 election on a proposal to extend an existing 15.08 millage for $120 million in bonds for the construction of three primary schools and a middle school and other school construction and renovation projects.
She said she will continue to work to spread public awareness about the bond proposal in the coming weeks.
“I am absolutely committed, until the day I leave here to everything that needs to happen, including campaigning on the renewal of the extension of the millage,” Pujol said.
Russo said Pujol’s plan to depart before the bond issue is not the best situation, but will work out in the long run.
“I thought about it a little bit and wished it could have happened after the (bond) election,” Russo said of Pujol’s retirement. “But everybody’s on board, and we’re going to have a successful campaign, getting the word out to the public.”
Pujol began working in the district as an English teacher at East Ascension Junior High, now Gonzales Middle School, in 1977.
She went on to become assistant principal and principal at St. Amant High School, then became the district’s director of school improvement and assistant superintendent before being named superintendent in 2010.
Under her tenure as superintendent, Ascension public schools earned an A district rating for four consecutive years, including in the 2014-2015 school year.
Pujol, who’s 59, was the 2015 Louisiana State Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for the national honor.
“I’ve known Patrice for many years from when we were both principals,” said Rogers Pope, director of the Louisiana Association of School Executives and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Pujol has served in the past as president of the state Superintendents Association.
“We’re not only glad to call her a friend and colleague, but we look up to her as someone who’s done a great job for education” on the state level, Pope said.
Board member Troy Gautreau, who’s in his fourth term as a School Board member and has previously served as board president, said that in its past searches for superintendents, the School Board has advertised nationally and also has brought in people from the community, outside the school system, to sit in on interviews.
Like Pujol, the two previous superintendents, Donald Songy, who served before Pujol, and Robert Clouatre, before Songy, came from within the Ascension Parish school system to head the district before retiring, Gautreau said.
“We’ve ‘grown’ a lot of good people in our system,” said Russo.