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File photo shows Cade Brumley on March 2, 2018 when he was DeSoto Parish School Superintendent. He became superintendent of Jefferson Parish schools and in January 2020 is being talked about as serious candidate to be state superintendent of education. 

There’ve been times in recent years when following Jefferson Parish public school politics felt like attending a sporting event; the sides were clearly defined, the atmosphere was tense, and everyone was keeping score.

Not so lately, though, and for that a good deal of the credit goes to Superintendent Cade Brumley, who was chosen by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week to be Louisiana’s next state superintendent of education.

Brumley has a talent for bringing people together, and a wealth of relevant experience. He’s been a teacher, a coach and a principal. Before moving to Jefferson, the state’s largest system with 50,000 students at 84 schools, he led public schools in DeSoto Parish, where 5,000 students attend 10 sites. So he has an understanding of issues facing systems large and small, rural and suburban, north and south.

Brumley’s two-year tenure in Jefferson Parish has earned him praise from traditionalists and disrupters alike.

Three of his eight votes came from the BESE members appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is close to teacher unions and school administrators and was sometimes as odds with former superintendent John White. Edwards said he was pleased with the choice.

“What I know and appreciate about Cade is that as a leader he has a record of being inclusive. He has a seat at the table for everyone as he seeks and listens to input from all stakeholders,” Edwards said in a statement.

The other five votes came from members of BESE’s business-backed elected majority, a camp that tends to support more accountability, greater school choice and less rigid tenure. That’s not a big surprise, since he’d won over members of that group during his time in Jefferson.

“Cade Brumley is the Drew Brees of Education and he will bring that same spirit of high standards, accountability, and communication to the State Department of Education,” said Jefferson Chamber President Todd Murphy.

We’ve been impressed as well. On Brumley’s watch, the district’s performance scores and graduation rate improved. More students got college credits through Advance Placement and Dual Enrollment. And Brumley convinced the parish’s generally tax-averse electorate to approve a well-designed, targeted millage increase, backed by both union and business leaders, to pay teachers competitive wages so they wouldn’t depart for other districts and to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools.

State education politics are often divisive too, although things have calmed down since the Common Core wars. As superintendent, Brumley will have to navigate strong feelings on longstanding issues as well as daunting challenges created by the mass shutdown of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will take a leader with strong people skills, a strategic world view and a willingness to shake things up. We believe Brumley is up to the challenge.