Six candidates have applied to replace James Meza as superintendent of Jefferson Parish Public Schools, and the School Board president promises the selection process will be open and transparent.
Cedric Floyd said the exact shape of the process will be determined in the next week.
He said there still could be other applicants because the Jan. 22 deadline set by the board applied to when applications needed to be postmarked.
Floyd, who leads a board that lost its previous business-backed majority and gained a teachers union-backed majority in the fall elections, said he expects a selection could be made sometime in February.
“I look at this interview process as being open,” Floyd said Friday, saying the candidates will be questioned rigorously at an open meeting for interested parents and system employees to see. “Everyone’s going to know what they’re going to get because they are going to see it for themselves.”
Meza, who was brought in by the previous board, is due to step down Jan. 31.
The candidates are:
Michelle Blouin-Williams, of Gretna, the system’s deputy superintendent, who was named publicly by Meza as his choice to replace him.
Germain Gilson, of Gretna, a chief student support officer for K-12 students in the system.
Isaac Joseph, of Harvey, the system’s executive director of grants and federal programs.
Charles Michel, of Metairie, special education director for the Lafourche Parish School System.
Carolyn Van Norman, of River Ridge, the Jefferson school system’s executive director of performance management.
Sharon Wegner, of Gretna, director of Jefferson Parish government’s Workforce Connection and a former longtime teacher.
“I think we have a good slate of candidates,” said Ray St. Pierre, the board’s vice president.
Meza was brought in on an interim basis after former Superintendent Diane Roussel stepped down in 2011. He was aligned with the business community-backed board faction, whose candidates won a majority of the seats in the 2010 elections.
St. Pierre said he expects the selection process will be similar to what was followed for superintendents prior to Meza, with a public vetting before minds are made up.
The selection of Meza, St. Pierre said, “was not done in that fashion. It was a foregone conclusion that those five people were going to make that choice, and I wasn’t privy to that.”
Floyd said the candidates’ certifications and credentials will be checked before the interviews start, though the questionnaires submitted by the candidates offer clues about their priorities and philosophies.
Blouin-Williams, who taught at the college level and in the Jefferson Parish system, went on to become the system’s chief human capital officer and then chief academic officer.
She said in her application that she would draw from strategies that have been proven to work nationally to improve the system and the quality of education its children receive. She said hiring the best teachers, including those who are bilingual or Hispanic plus African-American males, is a priority, as is their ongoing professional development and training. She said access to data to address problems in student behavior, gaps in academic achievement, graduation rates and college entrance rates is key.
Gilson was a teacher and principal and became the system’s assistant superintendent of federal programs before taking her current job in 1993.
She said she would work to increase the number of early childhood education slots for poor students and those who do not speak English as their primary language. She supports smaller schools at the elementary level, research-based reform at the middle and high school levels, more bilingual teachers and increased access to honors courses. She said resources should not necessarily be applied equally across all schools but equitably to account for those that need more, so as to give all students the same chance to succeed.
Joseph was a teacher and principal in Waggaman beginning in 1990 before becoming the system’s director of Title 1 programs and assistant superintendent of its federal programs and human resources.
In his application, he said the system should draft a mission statement that drives all of its decisions, evaluate existing staff and beef up hiring and recruitment of teachers. He said his job would be to make sure school administrators are independent and autonomous enough to succeed without having so much on their plates that they can’t focus on what’s going on in classrooms. Joseph also touted professional development and leadership training and a willingness to try new programs that have been successful elsewhere.
Michel has been a teacher and principal in Lafourche Parish and in Texas since 1984 and spent two years as a principal in the Recovery School District.
He said in his application that he would keep a high profile in the classrooms and have frank conversations with teachers, administrators and parents to craft a plan to improve the system’s instruction, technology, professional development and use of resources. He said decisions would be driven by data taken directly from the classroom and the system’s plan for moving forward would rely on feedback from an advisory group of teachers.
Van Norman began her career as a teacher in Calcasieu Parish in 1966 and has been both a teacher and principal in Jefferson Parish.
She said the demographic changes in the system’s students need to be embraced and emerging student populations fully supported quickly. She said the budget should be analyzed to make sure staff and services are supported, and a budget committee should be formed with a diverse membership. If new revenue is necessary, she said the superintendent’s job is to effectively make the case to the public for new taxes.
Wegner was a Jefferson Parish teacher for 31 years before working for the Job Corps and Edustrands for three years before joining the parish government.
She said the system should create forums that encourage students, their families, teachers and administrators to learn about the different cultures represented within the system, and new methods of instruction should be adopted to get the most from its increasingly diverse classrooms. She said the curriculum must include material that shows respect for each student’s culture and life experience.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.