Why the search for superintendent should matter to more than parents, students

EBR Parish Schools holds discussion on superintendent candidates

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As the search for candidates to replace outgoing East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) Superintendent Warren Drake continues, EBR School Board President Michael Gaudet is reminding residents in the parish that conversations about the search should include everyone, not just parents of students who attend schools managed by the system.

“This is more than just about students who attend public schools, this is also about the city as a whole and how we can help impact the image and performance of Baton Rouge for the entire city and parish,” said Gaudet.

JG Consulting is also hosting an online survey where community members can rank the importance of the candidate having experience managing finances, education and teaching, and previous experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent.

Access the survey by clicking the link here.

“What we’re asking for is what kind of characteristics and traits does someone want to see in a superintendent based upon where they want the schools to go and where they want the school system to grow,” said Gaudet.

However, as Gaudet explains, the decisions of the superintendent have the potential to impact more than just performance at parish schools.

“It is very important. I view the selection of the superintendent as the most primary function of the school board. Everyone in the parish needs to recognize how important the superintendent and how important the school district is. We have over 6,000 employees, so we’re a major economic force. But more importantly than that, we represent a part of the city that’s vital for the city to continue to grow and prosper," said Gaudet. “We’ve made very very good gains. You know, we have a long way to go in improving our academic performance, but we’ve made some very significant gains if you look at the scores that recently came out. There is some really good progress being made and we need to make sure we continue that because that is critical for the success of the city. This city needs well-trained, well-educated people to supply the workforce we need to go forward, but also in order to get people to come into the city from the outside for job opportunities. Because they want to come where they know they can raise their families and their children can get a great education.”

Beyond attracting and retaining residents, developing a strong workforce, and clear economic benefits that come from maintaining a productive school system, Gaudet says the new superintendent will have a key role in organizing public spending and future construction plans that could impact traffic, property values, and other factors that directly relate to the quality of life for residents around the parish.

"Obviously we have a tax plan going forward. Our school system had many of the schools built in the 40s, 50s, and 60s where those schools are outliving their useful life. And so, through the graciousness of the taxpayers, we’ve been granted money to start rebuilding those schools and we’re seeing those schools be rebuilt,” said Gaudet.

HOW THE PROCESS WORKS / EXPECTED DEADLINES :

December of 2019:

  • JG Consulting will continue to hosts community open forums where parish residents and local groups will be able to workshop their ideas with consultants and provide feedback and input.
  • Around Christmas, JG Consulting will begin organizing all feedback collected at the forums and will end the online survey to put together a draft job description to be presented to the school board.

January of 2020:

  • Around mid-January, all provided responses are expected to be consolidated into a job description. The board hopes to adopt that job description at its January regular meeting.
  • After a job description is adopted, the school board will be able to publish a job description and begin the application process

February of 2020:

  • Around mid-February, the school expects to close the application process.
  • JG Consulting will vet candidates and give their recommended list to the board. The board as a whole will look at the entire list and the recommendations. The entire board will participate in narrowing down the list since members declined to form a search committee within the board.

March of 2020:

  • The school board will conduct interviews. The in-person interviews generally take place during two rounds. The second and final round will typically include the candidates’ spouse and/or significant other.
  • The school board will be making selections for finalists.
  • By the end of March, the school board hopes to have a new superintendent selected.

June of 2020:

  • Superintendent Drake’s contract will end and he will retire from the position.

Gaudet says the above timeline of events is a rough estimate based on a bid proposal submitted by JG Consulting. JG Consulting President and CEO James Guerra says the actual process hasn’t deviated from the proposal which can be reviewed by clicking the link here.

WHY THE SCHOOL BOARD CHOSE JG CONSULTING:

Gaudet says the school board chose to return to hiring outside executive search firms this time because organizing a search the scale of which members of the board desired would exhaust a massive amount of resources the board could not provide.

“Doing these kinds of searches takes some expertise and some capabilities that we don’t have within the board. [The procedure] has typically been to go outside. The last time they did it, where Mr. Drake was hired, they did that internally and had a very good candidate, Mr. Drake was a very good choice, but this time we wanted to do a broader, national search," said Gaudet. "We’re in a bit of a different place and we just thought it would be better to bring in people who do this for a living and have the expertise to go out and capture a wider audience, but also to guide us through the process because I think one of the key things we’re trying to do is to have a very community-based process where people can get input into the process as we go forward. We’re trying to be very open and transparent and thought an outside group would help us achieve that.”

JG Consulting was one of two firms that presented bids to the school board. JG Consulting’s bid offered more services than the competitor, SSA Consultants, for a cheaper price.

Gaudet says JG consulting’s previous experience in education was also attractive to members of the school board.

“We had two groups that presented their qualifications and their thoughts about it and we chose this group I think mainly because of their experience within the educational arena. We’ve done a lot of checking and they’re widely respected within the education community and have very good contacts nationwide, so we just thought they would bring us a level of expertise," said Gaudet. "The other group is a very good group. We would have been fine going with either one. We just felt this group was a better fit for us based upon their background in the educational workplace.”

WHAT IMPACT WILL ST. GEORGE HAVE ON SCHOOL DISTRICTS?

East Baton Rouge school leaders have previously been relatively quiet on St. George, however, Gaudet took a moment to clarify why that has been the case. He says this early on in the incorporation process, which is likely to be further stalled by pending litigation, there isn’t enough clarity on the impacts St. George will have to start discussions or create plans.

“St. George is something that I have in the back of my mind, but it’s kind of an enigma right now because I don’t know what it is. People need to understand that there’s not only the issue of the incorporation of the City of St. George, but there’s nothing in law or anything that says the school district, if they would choose to form a school district, has to follow any of the outline of the City of St. George. The Zachary School District does not follow the Zachary city limits. A St. George school district does not have to follow the St. George city limits," said Gaudet. “When people say, ‘Gee, are you planning around St. George?’ I say, ‘I don’t know what to plan around.’ And so my view is that’s several years away. And yes, do I think about it? Yes. But are we taking concrete actions for that? Not particularly. We have children to educate, we have things to do, we have schools to improve, we have schools to build, and we need to keep on with doing that because to address something that is an unknown is very difficult to do.”

View coverage of a previous forum hosted by JG Consulting by clicking the link here.

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