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Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- John White, Louisiana Superintendent of Education, delivers the opening remarks at the September Supervisor Collaboration event at Bayou Church.

Amid continuing controversy, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday he hopes to begin talks this week to hire a new superintendent for the district that oversees the Louisiana School for the Deaf and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.

Three candidates are under consideration, including a top official of the department.

"I believe that we have a very good pool and that a qualified candidate will come out of this pool and we will make a hire as the school year starts," White told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The hunt for a new superintendent has gone on for months and marks the second round of interviews.

The first one ended after the top candidate for the post withdrew from consideration.

Pat Cooper, who previously served as interim superintendent of the district, has left the department.

The current list of candidates includes Jamie Wong, special education director for the state Department of Education; Janet Armelin Harris, director of human resources for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system and Ernest E. Garrett III, former executive director and CEO of Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation, Inc.

All three appeared at a town hall meeting last month on the joint campuses of the LSD and LSVI.

Parents, former officials and others have directed a steady stream of criticism over leadership at the schools for months, including Tuesday.

Karen Harris, who lives in Zachary and whose son attends LSVI, said she was hopeful things would improve after Cooper left.

"It appears to me things are worsening and it leads me to believe that part of the problem is with John White, Jamie Wong and the BESE board," Harris told BESE.

She said department officials have lied to parents, Individual Education Programs for students are violated and more security is needed to keep LSVI students safe.

"I need you all to open your eyes and your ears and your hearts," Harris said. 

She also said LSD has no principal.

White said LSD Principal Ryan Gollner has opted to return to his native Wisconsin.

He said the state would have immediately launched a search for a new principal but was in the middle of finding a new superintendent.

In the meantime, White said, two assistant principals can run the operations and academic sides of the school.

Others disputed parental concerns about the proximity of a state boarding school -- Thrive Academy -- to LSD and LSVI and the use of a new SSD center for Thrive students.

Thrive is at 2585 Brightside Dr. 

LSD and LSVI are at 2888 Brightside.

Thrive has about 160 students in grades 6-11 and became a legislatively-authorized school in 2016.

Mike Gaudet, a founding board member for Thrive, said the students are not troubled youngsters.

"These are good kids," Gaudet told BESE.

"I have been there since day one," he said. "Discipline has not really been a problem. It is a great school for kids that really need help."

Thrive, which was founded in 2011, was initially a charter school.

Gaudet is president of the East Baton Parish School Board.

Said White, "These are kids who for whatever reason are in a boarding setting."

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.