desks school stock classroom

Advocate file photo of school desks.

The former executive director of a foundation for the deaf was named Friday to be superintendent of the school district that includes the Louisiana School for the Deaf and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.

Ernest E. Garrett III,  former CEO of Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation Inc. in the St. Louis area was picked by state Superintendent of Education John White, who made the announcement.

Garrett, a Missouri native, won out over Jamie Wong, special education director of the state Department of Education and Janet Armelin Harris, director of human resources for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, both finalists.

Garrett, 38, will be paid $150,000 per year.

He said he will bring encouragement, passion and a vision to the job.

"I am truly honored to serve," Garrett said during a gathering on the campus of both schools.

The school system oversees about 1,800 students and is called the Special School District, or SSD.

Garrett was previously the first deaf and black superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf.

He was also executive director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and worked as a licensed social worker in both school and clinical settings.

"Ernest is a strong leader and passionate advocate whose extensive experience as a school administrator, as an advocate of students with low-incidence disabilities and as a social worker in both the school and clinical settings will bring a unique perspective to the SSD and to the state education department's executive team," White said.

"We look forward to watching the SSD redefine itself as a statewide model of excellence under his guidance," he said.

Garrett is a doctoral candidate at Walden University.

He is also the founder and owner of a consulting firm in Jefferson City, Mo, the state capital.

The district has been embroiled in controversy for months.

Earlier this year the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a three-year plan to improve schools governed by the SSD, which included a recommendation for new leadership at the district.

The action followed a report in 2018 that identified widespread problems, including low morale at the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

One of Garrett's first jobs is to find a new principal for LSD since former principal Ryan Gollner left to return to his native Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, some parents of students have complained that White and BESE have failed to ensure quality programs at the schools.

The announcement Friday ends the second hunt for a superintendent.

Louisiana, Kansas educators named as finalists for superintendent of Special School District

The previous one ended when the top pick for the post withdrew from the search.

Former Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper served as interim superintendent earlier this year but left the department when his appointment expired.

The last permanent superintendent was Monte Burke, who left his post in mid-2018 amid controversy.

The choice of Garrett was praised by two officials who keep close tabs on the schools – state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and BESE member Kathy Edmonston, who lives in Gonzales.

Smith, who is running for the state Senate, encouraged faculty members on hand for the announcement to rally behind Garrett.

"The only people who suffer from non-solutions are the children who come here to school," Smith said.

Edmonston said the aim is to build a district that has national distinction.

"We searched long and hard to fill this role," Edmonston said after the announcement.

"And the process has led us to the right person, a leader capable of guiding the district and more importantly the students that it serves."

Aside from the two schools the SSD manages educational programs for students in the Office of Youth Development, Office of Behavioral Health, Office of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Public Safety and private facilities statewide.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.