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."
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
Saints fans were to gather, make merry, eat/drink compliments of a new Downtown group and watch the Saints beat Carolina and claim 1st place in the NFC South. But...
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing off one last time with her two main Republican challengers before next week's election.
He’s pulling for Knezek and Hidalgo on his end of the parish but issued endorsements in three other districts as well.