January 2020 means a new Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Last year, each seat was up for re-election and while most members retained their seat on the board, we have four new faces: Dr. Belinda Davis, Preston Castille, Ashley Ellis, and Ronnie Morris.
The first meeting of the board was a special meeting on January 16th to accept State Superintendent John White’s resignation. This was the first time we saw the new board together and they began the meeting by swearing in, signing their oath of office and electing their new officers. The Board elected Sandy Holloway to be the Board President, Tony Davis the Vice President and Kira Orange Jones to be Secretary-Treasurer. While each BESE members serves a four-year term, these officers retain their position for only a year; next January the board will elect new officers from within their ranks.
Eventually, the conversation turned towards appointing a new State Superintendent. They decided to create a working group with four BESE members that will consider candidates and recommend finalists for the entire Board to interview and review. They agreed that by the next BESE meeting the members of the working group would be finalized and approved by the Board President and an initial hiring process would be presented to the Board for consideration. Two-thirds of the Board would need to vote to approve any new superintendent, so while the working group will put together a list of finalists to interview, the full board will make the ultimate decision.
Overall, BESE’s first meeting of the year was very short – less than 20 minutes from gavel to gavel.
Later in January we saw the first regularly-schedule Board meeting. These meetings usually take place over two days. The first day is when the BESE committees meet and the second day is when the full Board meets. While only certain Board members are officially appointed to each committee, usually all the BESE members attend all of these committee meeting and vote on motions as they come up. On Tuesday, January 28th there were five Committee Meetings: Educator Effectiveness, Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement, School Innovation and Turnaround, Administration and Finance, and Policy Forum.
The bulk of the work is completed at the Committee meetings and the Board often sails through the agenda for the full board meeting the following day. Usually the Board hears reports from the State Superintendent and his staff about the work being done in the Department of Education. They can then offer guidance, issue new policies or change existing ones.
It was interesting to watch the new BESE members make their mark on the Board in these first meetings. Dr. Belinda Davis clearly came ready to work – she asked lots of clarifying questions to make sure everyone understood exactly what was being recommended and voted on. She comes to the board with the perspective of a parent and an educator and her commitment to her responsibilities on the board was clear in these first few meetings. Preston Castille also made a strong impression when he led a discussion between members of the Board and senior members of the Department of Education about their overarching goals for education in Louisiana. In that discussion, Ronnie Morris speculated about what the Board could do to help teachers – an important question, but unfortunately not one that we’ve seen many BESE members ask in recent years. This Board still has nearly four years to work together and we are only beginning to see how they interact. The first real test of their priorities will come when hiring a new State Superintendent.
It was determined that Kira Orange Jones will lead the search committee for John White’s replacement (with the assistance of an outside firm, yet to be announced), and they hope to have a new hire sooner rather than later. While no official timetable was discussed, White will vacate the role in March and many of the Board members hope to fill the position by April or May (if not sooner).
When State Superintendent John White was initially hired in 2012, then-Governor Bobby Jindal recommended him to the Board, but it’s unlikely that Governor Edwards will have as much sway in hiring his replacement. The Governor has said that he will talk to the Board about the hiring process, but he hasn’t endorsed any candidate at this point.
What do you want to see in a new State Superintendent? Should he or she be a seasoned educator with experience in the classroom? Perhaps experience running a school or a whole school system? Do you want to see someone who understands firsthand Louisiana’s unique needs and the differences between rural and urban districts? Let us know what you think BESE should be prioritizing by completing this brief survey…
Every member of the board attended the special meeting on January 16th.
Ms. Boffy was absent from all the committee meetings on January 28th and the full board meeting on January 29th
Ms. Ellis was absent from the three committee meetings on January 28th (the School Innovation and Turnaround Committee, the Administration and Finance Committee, and the Policy Forum Committee meeting) and the full board meeting on January 29th.