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Schools Superintendent Cade Brumley presents the award. 

Louisiana's newly-named state superintendent of education Cade Brumley said he wanted to be a school leader since he was in the first grade.

"I saw education very early as my opportunity in life," Brumley said in his job interview with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Last week he far exceeded that long ago job target – school principal – when BESE picked him to lead public schools statewide after five votes to fill the post.

The outcome culminated a meteoric rise for a 39-year-old educator, who is leaving his job as superintendent of the Jefferson Parish public school system after two years amid effusive praise from business leaders, teacher leaders and key members of the Jefferson Parish school board.

Todd Murphy, president of the Jefferson Chamber, calls Brumley the Drew Brees of education.

"He listens and then he puts together a very methodical plan that includes all the stakeholders," Murphy said. "He has had immense success here in a very short period of time."

Larry Dale, a member of the Jefferson Parish school board, said accusations that Brumley will roll back school accountability measures as state superintendent are off target.

"This guy comes in, it is not business as usual," Dale said. "You are going to see some innovations."

The teacher pay raise in tax-averse Jefferson Parish tops the list of major changes during his 26-month tenure in Jefferson Parish.

Brumley had hardly been in the job for a year when he helped lead the campaign for a 10-year property tax hike of $29 million to fund pay hikes for teachers and other school employees.

It passed with an astounding 72% of the vote in 2019.

"Cade definitely knows how to bring everybody to the table," said Kesler Camese-Jones, president of the 3,000-member Jefferson Federation of Teachers, which was part of the unlikely winning coalition.

Bringing diverse interests to the table is a recurring theme, according to Brumley's allies.

Just two years before the 2019 tax hike won approval a similar one was rejected by voters.

At the time Jefferson Parish was losing teachers to neighboring parishes amid pay that ranked next to last in the region.

The school system was being forced to hire uncertified teachers, only to see them earn their certification, then flee elsewhere for pay raises of $6,000 or more.

Murphy said Brumley analyzed the problem and targeted the money at a wide range of problems, including incentives for getting teachers into low-performing schools.

"So the plan was not just across-the-board pay raises but 'Let's put this money where we need it and then we can stop this terrible retention issue we have for teachers,'" he said.

"That just gave people a lot of confidence that this was the right thing to do."

The superintendent attended 60 town hall and community meetings to pitch the idea.

"He was able to explain it to where all different groups, even people who did not have school age kids in public schools, were able to appreciate the necessity of giving our teachers a raise," said Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, a member of the Jefferson Parish school board.

Dale was even more blunt.

"He was the reason we got it passed," he said.

Jerry Bologna, president of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, said Brumley "possesses an uncanny ability" to navigate the politics of education issues.

Tony Ligi, former executive director of the Jefferson Parish Business Council, made a similar point. "He brings groups together," said Ligi, now executive counsel for state Treasurer John Schroder.

The tax hike boosted starting pay for teachers from about $41,000 per year to about $46,000 – second highest in the region.

The state's incoming superintendent is from the tiny village of Converse, which is in Sabine Parish in northwest Louisiana.

He said he came from "humble beginnings," with his father serving as a police officer and his mother as a school cafeteria worker.

"We were in the country and we didn't have a lot of stuff," said Kathy Noel, who grew up in nearby Natchitoches Parish and has known Brumley for years.

"I had a very humble start myself," said Noel, director of student learning for the DeSoto Parish school system. "That was one thing I had in common with Cade from the very beginning."

Brumley earned his undergraduate degree from Northwestern State University, his master's in education administration from LSU-Shreveport and his Ph.D in educational leadership from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

His wife Toni is a counselor at a charter school, and the couple has two teenage sons.

Brumley is a runner – he has competed in six marathons – and calls himself a "man of faith" who is active in the Baptist church.

His initial jobs included time as a sixth-grade teacher at a struggling school in Shreveport, social studies teacher and girl's basketball coach at Converse High School -- where his team snapped a 54-game losing streak.

Jordan Thomas was a sixth-grade English teacher in the DeSoto Parish school system when Brumley arrived, first as an assistant superintendent in 2010 and then as superintendent in 2012.

"We could tell when he came to us it was not going to be a permanent position," said Thomas.

Colleagues said Brumley had a short learning curve when he left the rural district in northwest Louisiana with about 5,000 students to become superintendent of the Jefferson Parish district, which is the largest in the state at 51,000 students and 82 schools.

His current pay is $269,000 per year.

District performance scores rose after four years of decline.

The graduation rate moved up, career and technical education credentials increased by 62% and high school students earning college credit rose by 51%, according to figures compiled by the Jefferson Chamber.

Brumley expanded the parish's Spanish-language offerings, overhauled some traditional middle schools and reorganized the central office.

Earlier this year he announced a major schools reorganization plan.

Brumley's bid for state superintendent was backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards three appointees and five others -- garnering the minimum eight of 11 votes needed to land the job.

He finished ahead of Assistant State Superintendent of Education Jessica Baghian and former St. James Parish schools superintendent Lonnie Luce.

BESE leaders hope he will win Senate confirmation before the Legislature adjourns on June 1.

Before the panel's vote for superintendent charter school advocates were concerned when Brumley said he favors charter schools authorized by local school boards rather than BESE.

Critics saw the comment as a telltale signal that he is aligned with traditional school groups, including teacher unions and others who have long criticized charter schools and other school overhaul moves.

But Patty Glaser, head of school for the Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy, a charter school, said Brumley is the best superintendent she has worked with in her 40-year career as an educator.

"He and I may not agree on everything but he will hear my side of it and he will sit and work toward solutions," Glaser said. 

Brumley said his views on school choice, education accountability and other issues were distorted in the four-month run-up to BESE's vote last week.

"I really don't think the analysis of my candidacy was accurate," he said.

Brumley noted that, like his state predecessor John White, he is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy for reform-minded educators.

Noel said those who think Brumley wants to roll back public school changes do not know him.

"In Louisiana the accountability system is built to reward schools for doing great things for kids," she said. "That is what Cade is about."

Advocate staff writer Faimon Roberts contributed to this report


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.