Acadiana native Picard flourished under two different governors, having been appointed in 1996 under Mike Foster. He oversaw sweeping changes to Louisiana's public schools, initiated tougher testing, gave birth to the accountability movement and launched special classes for 4-year-olds that are being copied by other states. Prior to this leadership role, he was a state senator, principal and teacher. Unlike many other bureaucrats, Picard came into the job with hands-on experience.
Knowing there was no treatment or cure for his disease, Picard returned to his Lafayette home late last year following his announcement of a May 1 retirement. To keep abreast of work at the department, Picard calls into Baton Rouge almost daily. However, he is no longer accepting media interviews and considers his current medical condition to be private, says Meg Casper, department spokeswoman.
The 11-member BESE is charged with replacing Picard, but no decision has been made as to how the search should proceed. Furthermore, according to board president Linda Johnson of Plaquemine, no official applications have been submitted for the job. It's a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort right now, mainly carried by whispers and private phone calls. One possible successor is reportedly House Speaker Joe Salter, a term-limited Democrat who formerly served as assistant superintendent for Sabine Parish. Carole Wallin, the department's deputy secretary, is also reportedly in the running.
Johnson says the board will discuss the matter at its meeting this month. Possibilities include a national search or promoting someone from inside the department. Either way, it will be an unprecedented appointment. If a new superintendent is selected in the coming months, that successor may have to go through further interviews next year, because eight new board members will be elected in the fall and take office in January 2008. "They could then decide to go with someone else, or they could keep them in place," Johnson says.
She says the next superintendent should be prepared to continue reforms initiated under the previous administration and be a vocal champion of education accountability. A keen eye should also be given to closing the learning gap between ethnicities. And the board needs to fast-track the selection process. "You want to put your money on something that isn't temporary or an interim," Johnson says. "That can be a hindrance."
The next superintendent will also be faced with addressing the challenge of operating a statewide school system with growing needs even though the number of students is decreasing. If Louisiana's devastating out-migration trend wasn't enough to drive down college enrollment and thin the pipeline of incoming high school grads, the state's top education officials also contend the slow pace of recovery is making a major dent as well.
Federal funding is on the line, along with the state's reputation, and the ongoing problems could cause Louisiana to slip further down the ranks in various lists. Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie says it will be a long haul back up. "Our supply of high school graduates has been steadily declining since about 2000," he says. "That decline was accelerated by the storms, and it looks like it will be several years before graduation numbers recover."
It's anticipated that the end of the next school year will see 3,000 fewer high school graduates in the state. Additionally, more than 58,000 elementary and secondary school students displaced by Katrina and Rita are expected to miss enrollment next year as well. Savoie says his department is working on a number of initiatives, including alterations to current high school curriculums. Dual enrollment for high school students to take college-credit courses is in the works, as are new college prep offerings.
Research indicates, though, that the most efficient way for a state to expand access to postsecondary education is to increase its investment in student financial aid. Savoie says details are still being hammered out by BESE, but a program is in the works that will provide opportunities to the economically disadvantaged and will encourage a shared responsibility for the costs of college among the student, their family, the institution and the state.
A major push will have to be made by the next superintendent to give these initiatives legs. Johnson says BESE knows what kind of leader the state needs; the trick is identifying those candidates and convincing them to take the job. "It would just be great if we could get another Cecil again," Johnson says, "but that's not going to happen."
Corporations spending in state elections; Kenny G and Hong Kong; states resist gay marriage and more national and international news for Thursday, October 23, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.