Two LaPlace residents will go head-to-head in a special election Saturday for a seat on the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board.

Nia Mitchell and Lisa Johnson Pittman, both parents of children who attend public schools in the parish, are competing to represent District 10.

The winner will fill the spot formerly occupied by Rodney Nicholas, who resigned in November to become St. John's deputy assessor. The term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

Mitchell, 38, has been serving as an interim board member since Nicholas’ resignation and cites her experience in education as a major qualification.

She said she has been an educator for nine years, serving as a teacher, executive school director, principal, director of academics and dean of students in schools throughout Florida and Louisiana.

"I aspired to become a school leader because as a teacher I could only impact the students in my classroom," Mitchell said. "As a school leader, I was charged with impacting an entire school community. As a board member, that territory has expanded, but more importantly, it encompasses my community."

Pittman, 53, who is a medical secretary in the New Orleans area, said she knows what the St. John school district needs because she has children and grandchildren in the parish's public schools.

She also touts her involvement in school and church activities.

"Participating in group activities at schools all over the parish has given me a foundation in communicating with people from many backgrounds, problem solving and project initiating," Pittman said. 

Mitchell and Pittman both praised gains for the parish's schools but said the district could do better. Letter grades released in November show the St. John district earned a B from the Louisiana Department of Education in 2016, the same grade as in 2015. The district ranks in the middle of Louisiana's 72 public school systems.

The parish, however, earned 10 progress points, the maximum number possible, for improving the scores of students who previously struggled academically.

To further improve the system, Mitchell said she would work on integrating technology into the classroom by giving students access to digital textbooks and programs such as Google Classroom.

She said the 85 percent of the parish's students who are economically disadvantaged deserve the "exact same quality of education, same resources, and same academic and social exposure" as students in private schools.

Pittman said officials need a better strategy for providing support to students outside the classroom, especially to those who face challenges at home, if the district is going to achieve higher scores.

"We are so close to being at the top, and I plan on being a plug that will assist in getting us to the next level," Pittman said. "Many of our students have issues beyond the classroom, and as a district we need to spring into mentoring our children as a whole."

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