Two Republican women are running to replace District 8 board member Erick Knezek on the Lafayette Parish School Board.

Knezek is one of three members stepping down from the board. Diana Lennon and Hannah Smith Mason are running to replace him in the Oct. 12 election.

District 8 includes Broadmoor Elementary, Milton Elementary and Middle, Woodvale Elementary and L.J. Alleman Middle. 

Diana Lennon made Lafayette her chosen home in 1984; since then, she’s graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a degree in communications and put two daughters through the public school system with her husband, Rocky. Lennon said she’s passionate about education because she was exposed to its importance early on; her grandparents were lifelong educators and her father also taught.

Lennon, 59, said her main platform focuses are infrastructure, strengthening the connection between the school system and local economy, and incorporating more diverse ideas into district decision making.

Infrastructure improvements is a cause she’s been fighting in support of for over a decade, Lennon said. She was co-founder of the Community Coalition for Lafayette Schools, which pushed the district to act on infrastructure needs. In 2011, the group advocated for the passage of a new property tax to support facilities upgrades and maintenance, which failed at the polls.

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The recent push to replace portable buildings with wing additions at elementary and middle schools is the right step, but more needs to be done, Lennon said.

“We’ve got to fix our schools. I know people say you can be in a school that’s falling apart and still get a good education — yes, you can, but it’s dangerous and it’s a liability,” she said.

Lennon said the district needs to think creatively to resolve these issues because funding is limited, and every dollar needs to be spent wisely. For her, creative thinking also means looking to public-private partnerships, business interests and other community organizations to solicit feedback.

The school system’s role in the economy is an important issue for the candidate, she said. LPSS is one of the parish’s largest employers and the conduit for the next generation of workers. The district needs to highlight its diverse offerings to best prepare students, including the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center and Early College Academy.

While a fan of new ideas, Lennon said she’s also a proponent of maintaining what works. She said the district needs to analyze what’s working in successful schools and adapt the best practices to each campus, she said.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and we can’t do it all at once. It is going to take some time. But if we make steps toward progress then we’re doing what we need to do,” Lennon said.

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Hannah Smith Mason believes her combination of creative thinking, business savvy and firsthand experience volunteering in District 8 schools gives her a well-rounded outlook needed on the board.

She grew up in the area before leaving for 17 years and returned in 2014 with her family. Her three children attend Woodvale Elementary and L.J. Alleman Middle, and Mason recently served as the vice president of the Woodvale Parent-Teacher Committee.

Mason, 40, said she knows how to manage money and produce results on a tight budget through her family’s business, Smith Mason & Co, and her work founding LASOAR, the Louisiana Association of Sports, Outdoor Adventure, and Recreation. She said as a professional artist she’s also enterprising, hardworking, and knows how to communicate and execute a vision.

“I have a track record of success already and I’m ready to bring those talents, skills and know-how to the board on day one,” she said.

One of Mason’s top issues is communication across the district. She said she’d like to see a chief communication officer or public information officer position established for the district to streamline communication around initiatives while also promoting the benefits of the local public education system.

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She said the need for better communication is connected to the need for improved “school-esteem,” a term Mason coined to describe students, teachers and parents’ pride in their school. Mason said it’s easier to boost the community’s pride in its schools when people are aware of the strides happening and opportunities available.

The need for improved communication is also aligned with another top issue for Mason: efficiency. The candidate said she’s encountered red tape around fundraising and volunteering in her children’s schools and believes there needs to be a streamlined and uniform process adopted at each LPSS school for this and other processes, to have more cohesive practices across the district and make community involvement more accessible.

Mason said she sees community involvement as an important component of the school system’s future success. It’s going to take support from everyone to keep things moving in the right direction.

“There are some great things we’re doing in our schools, but I think there are also some things that we haven’t thought of yet or haven’t been able to implement yet with the right partnerships,” Mason said.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com