West Baton Rouge teacher, Iberville principal surprised with Milken Educator Awards — and $25,000 each _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- A happy Plaquemine High School principal Chandler Smith poses for some photos, after being named as a recipient of the Milken Educator Award, Wednesday during an assembly at the school.

A week after he was named West Baton Rouge Parish’s next superintendent, Chandler Smith said he’s ready to listen.

“My first priority is to meet people, hear their ideas, what successes they’ve had that we can build on, where there might be some challenges we can take on,” he said. “I know I’m going to have to do a lot of listening, and that’s good.”

Smith, 41, is a Baton Rouge native and currently assistant superintendent at Central Community Schools. Previously, he was a the chief academic officer at Central Community Schools, the secondary supervisor in Iberville Parish Schools and a principal at Plaquemine High School for four and a half years.

He started out teaching, first at the Boys and Girls Club and then as a Christian education director and as a social studies teacher. It was his own education that got him into teaching in the first place.

“I had a youth minister growing up that made an impact on me and was a big positive in my life, and I wanted to be that for other kids,” he said. “I just wanted to help kids. I know it sounds corny, but it was impactful for me when I was in high school just to have somebody I could talk to and get me involved in school and built a great relationship with me and helped me, and I wanted to do the same.”

Smith is certified to become a superintendent and told himself that, as soon as he finished his doctorate this May he would start looking for a job. He defends his dissertation this month at University of Lafayette.

“God’s timing I guess,” he said.

While Smith and the school district are still in contract negotiations, he hopes to start in early summer so he can experience the summer programs and start before the new fiscal year.

The West Baton Rouge Parish School board voted 7-3 to elect Smith during a meeting on March 1. Troy Bell, the executive director of federal programs and academics for the Franklin Parish School District, was the other finalist for the position out of eight initial applicants.

School board member Teri Bergeron said Smith's belief in "creating the whole child through academics, sports, clubs, arts and music" were part of what prompted her to vote for him. 

"Chandler brought a wealth of academic knowledge to the table," she said. "I'm excited to see what the future holds for West Baton Rouge!"

Superintendent Wes Watts stepped down from the role in July 2022, surprising many. Former superintendent David Corona, who worked with the district from 2004-2014, has been serving as interim superintendent for the past eight months.

“I will do everything I can to make the transition from me to him as smooth as can be,” said Corona. “When I came back for these 10 months I was glad to do that, and I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s time for me to get back to my retirement life and time for this district to continue to move forward.”

During his first tenure, Corona helped bring the district’s “D’ grade up to a “B,” where it stands today. This time around, he said he’s proud of a new eight-room classroom building under construction in Brusly, and a career and technical education facility in Port Allen out for bid now.

Smith said the state is raising the bar for school performance scores, so it will be a challenge for schools across Louisiana to keep or increase their scores.

“We’ll need to increase our district performance and school performance scores, while knowing the state is increasing what that cutoff is,” Smith said. “It’s a moving target and for sure going to be a challenge, but doable.”

For now, he’s excited to get started.

“I’m humbled and I’m excited about this opportunity. I have big shoes to fill. Mr Watts was an amazing superintendent, and David Corona has been awesome as an interim this past year. The foundation is there. It’s a great school system and I’m looking forward to it.”

Email Rebecca Holland at Rebecca.Holland@TheAdvocate.com or follow her on Twitter, @_rebeccaholland.