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John White, Louisiana Superintendent of Education on Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Louisiana has to devise ways to get more women into leadership positions in education, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday morning.

"If we are to elevate, we must recruit more men into our profession," White said. "And we must see more women at the highest ranks of our profession."

He added, "A profession that is 75 percent women cannot be run largely and exclusively by men," White said. "We must make that change."

White was the keynote speaker at the 6th annual Teacher Leader Summit at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Nearly 7,000 teachers from around the state are holding and taking part in professional development training.

Not long after White's comments the state announced the nine finalists for state Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year.

Seven of the nine teacher finalists are women. Eight of the nine finalists for Louisiana's top principal are women.

White made his comments at a time when teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia and other states have walked off the jobs to protest what they call low pay.

Leaders of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers announced earlier month that, according to an online survey of about 4,000 teachers, more than 60 percent favor a statewide walkout or strike to land what they called a significant pay hike.

What that is was not spelled out.

White got the biggest reaction of his speech when he said the state has to find ways to be competitive in teacher pay.

"Nobody in teaching got into it to be rich," he said. "But they certainly didn't get into it to work a second job."

The state's roughly 50,000 teachers are paid an average of $49,244 per year.

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Louisiana's average teacher pay has slipped below the regional average set by the Southern Regional Education Board, which is $50,949.

The national average is $58,064.

The state's high school graduation rate is 78.1 percent for the Class of 2017, the latest figures available.

White noted that figure means more than 20 percent of students failed to earn a diploma.

Also, Louisiana remains near the top nationally in the number of adults 16-24 who are neither in school nor working.

"We also know that that group, that group of kids, they are disproportionately with disability," he said. "They are disproportionately those that do not speak English at home."

White said the state has shown notable gains since less than 1,000 teachers gathered for the first teacher summit held five years ago in Lafayette.

Louisiana's high school graduating class is about 4,000 students larger, he said, and 3,000 more students have qualified for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, known as TOPS, than did so in 2012.

"You see what you do, what we do as a community, it matters," White said. "We are helping more Louisiana kids achieve their fullest potential, to go out and live out their dreams."

"Our job, at its essence, is not about test scores and not just about guide books and not just about SPS," White said, a reference to annual School Performance Scores that determine annual letter grades for public schools.

"It is not ultimately about any of that," he said. "It is about getting Louisiana children, all of them, to a point where they have experienced and manifested their full potential given to them by God."


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.