Election day is less than 40 days away and four candidates are running for the Lafayette Parish School Board District 2 seat come Oct. 12.
District 2 covers the northern swath of Lafayette Parish, from the parish border on the north, east and west sides to parts of Butcher Switch, Gloria Switch and East Pont des Mouton roads in the south. The district includes Acadian Middle, Carencro Heights Elementary, Carencro Middle, Carencro High and Evangeline Elementary.
The District 2 race has the most crowded candidate field of the five contested school board seats. The four candidates include incumbent Tommy Angelle, former Lafayette Parish School System data specialist Wendy Baudoin, former LPSS teacher Breyone Carter and current LPSS parent Stasia Herbert-McZeal.
Incumbent Tommy Angelle, 73, hopes to be re-elected to his third and final term on the school board. Angelle believes his experience on the board, as well as his background as a former middle school teacher and assistant principal, offers needed insight. Unlike his challengers, Angelle said he has a voting record that constituents can reference to gain further confidence in his positions.
Angelle said he remains passionate about children’s education and would like to see the school board’s improved climate of trust, efficiency and communication continue.
“I’m running again for the very same reason I ran in the first place: to continue, and I stress the word continue, improving our schools,” he said.
Angelle said challenges facing District 2 and the school system include aging facilities, the struggle to retain educators, especially math and science teachers, and access to pre-kindergarten and supplemental education services.
The incumbent said there’s been progress in these areas during his tenure, citing new wing additions at Evangeline Elementary and Acadian Middle, and teacher leadership training, pay increases and stipends to attract and retain key teachers, but more progress is required.
One difference in Angelle’s current run is his party affiliation. In previous races, Angelle registered as a Democrat and this year he’s the only Republican running in District 2. Angelle attributed the change to the Republican party better representing his values, including fiscal conservativism and patriotism, after shifts within the Democratic party.
Wendy Baudoin, 35, wants to use her experience as a data specialist and education researcher to improve the school system’s efficiency and overall performance. Baudoin previously worked for LPSS and the Louisiana Department of Education, and currently runs an education consultancy firm while completing her third year of law school.
Baudoin said as an LPSS employee she was frustrated by the numerous assessment and software programs the school system uses and wants increased vetting of the programs’ success to ensure duplications are avoided and to guarantee responsible spending.
Baudoin said communication both within the system and with outside stakeholders also needs to improve. Coupled with this is the need for greater transparency about school system proposals and more explanation behind school board actions at meetings.
She’s interested in exploring new methods of surveying the community and wants to establish a student advisory council to increase stakeholder buy-in.
“How do we come up with solutions unless we ask the people impacted the most?” Baudoin questioned.
In District 2, she cited aging facilities and the need for increased vocational training opportunities as critical needs. Baudoin said the district’s facilities have not kept pace with business and residential growth and it’s making LPSS schools unappealing to parents. The system needs a long-term facilities improvement and maintenance plan that addresses all schools.
Breyone Carter, 29, finished her sixth year teaching in the Lafayette Parish School System this spring and now works as an instructor in the College of Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Carter believes her recent classroom experience, collaborative leadership style and problem-solving skills make her a strong candidate for the District 2 seat.
Her central campaign issue is the need for greater teacher input in policy and management decisions, and increased teacher autonomy in the classroom. Policy changes in the past five years have drastically reduced teachers’ ability to stray from scripted lesson plans to meet students’ needs, Carter said. She wants to reassess policy implementation to ensure the approach is beneficial to all parties.
Carter said she plans to be proactive in soliciting feedback from teachers and all stakeholders to ensure all voices are equally involved in the decision-making process.
“I think we’re not sharing a vision right now and that’s one of the major issues. I think it’s one vision but not every stakeholder is coming in so we’re not really working together or seeing the big picture,” she said.
Aside from her focus on teachers, Carter said facilities improvements, greater equity in school offerings and addressing the needs of student subgroups, specifically special needs students and students with disciplinary issues, are crucial needs in District 2.
Regarding equity, Carter wants to see more desirable programs introduced to schools in the district, so parents won’t seek out magnet academies in other districts or private schools for their child’s educational needs.
Stasia Herbert-McZeal, 53, is the mother of a current Lafayette High junior and wants to help guide District 2 families through the school system. She is the current director of distance education at South Louisiana Community College and thinks her research background, collaborative work approach, penchant for listening and mediation experience are strengths she could bring to the school board.
Herbert-McZeal said she thinks there’s a disconnect between the school board and the families they serve when it comes to strategic planning.
“I realized there are a lot of people in our community who through no fault of their own don’t have the ability to understand and comprehend, and they may not question. I want to be the voice that can help people navigate,” Herbert-McZeal said.
If elected to the school board, she said she’d work to improve communication and increase transparency. She said while the board’s open checkbook practices are good, members need to be more proactive about presenting detailed plans, timelines and proposals for spending to constituents outside the board meeting environment, especially when it comes to facility improvements.
Other key issues Herbert-McZeal cited include better educating families and students on the opportunities and programs available in LPSS schools, increasing academic support for students and adapting best practices and programs at successful LPSS schools to other campuses.
Herbert-McZeal said she wants education to become a more community-oriented enterprise again. Too many students still lack access to reliable internet and parental support at home, making it difficult for them to receive assistance with homework and advance outside the classroom. One recommendation she had was looking into grants to train more students to be peer-to-peer mentors or tutors.
It’s also important to acknowledge these challenges when establishing school performance goals, she said. Not every school can be an ‘A’ school with students’ outside struggles impacting their ability to learn, but it’s still important to strive for growth and celebrate progress, Herbert-McZeal said.