Lafayette Parish District School Board candidates compete at forum

Photo credit: AOC Community Media
Left to right: District 2 candidates Tommy Angelle, Wendy Baudoin, Breyone Carter. Stasia Herbert-McZeal, District 4 candidates Tehmi Chassion, Erica Williams, District 7 candidates Eva Green, Kate Bailey Labue, District 8 candidates Diana Lennon, Hannah Smith Mason, District 9 candidates Donald Aguillard, Herbert Gauthier, Diogo Tavares

Charles Long

The Acadiana Center for the Arts hosted a public forum featuring 13 candidates running for district representation in the Lafayette Parish School Board on Monday, Sept. 23.

Each of the 13 candidates introduced themselves and then answered a question posed to their specific district.

The first question asked to the four candidates of District 2 opened by mentioning that high school students that register and complete dual enrollment courses are 17% more likely to attend college and pursue higher education. The candidates for District 2 were asked if they would ensure access to dual enrollment courses for students in the Lafayette Parish.

Current District 2 representative Tommy Angelle gave his support for both dual enrollment and the teachers of his district.

“Dual enrollment is a great thing,” Angelle said. “It is imperative that we give our teachers time to execute their responsibilities.”

Angelle’s three competitors all said they agreed with his support of dual enrollment, but each gave alternate suggestions for funding the program.

“The school system, while recognizing it is important to give every student the opportunity to go to college if they choose to, particularly in District 2, I live in a predominantly blue-collar community where approximately 40% of students pursue post-secondary education,” Wendy Baudoin, District 2 candidate said. “I’m also interested on the school board in pursuing opportunities for both tech and more career-based opportunities for our students.”

District 2 candidate Breyone Carter argued that even though funding dual enrollment is in her interests, the school board needs to think about expanding the funding to other children who are not getting those opportunities.

“I do agree with dual enrollment,” Carter said. “However, I have a concern about who gets this funding. The children getting the dual enrollment funding are typically the children who already have a lot of educational opportunities. I wouldn’t want to overlook the children who want to go into the technical field and want to go an alternate route than post-secondary education.”

The final candidate for District 2, Stasia Herbert-McZeal echoed the sentiments of her competitors, saying dual enrollment was a great opportunity for students, but differed by arguing that the Lafayette community colleges should be promoted more for high school students.

The second question was for the candidates from Districts 4 and 7, asking how the candidates would build community support and understanding for the needs of schools.

“I think we do have the support of the community, but we have to understand where we live,” said District 4 representative Tehmi Chassion. “If you’re going to link a tax to whether we have support, I don’t think that’s a good notion. But to say we don’t have the support, I think we actually do.”

Chassion’s competitor in District 4, Erica Williams, said she believes the way to get support from the community comes through the establishment of trust between the school board and the public.

“We need a buy in from our teachers and from our staff,” Williams said. “We have to restore trust. When I was out talking to people about the tax, there was no trust that the funds were going to be used in the proper manner. We have to do what we say we are going to do.”

District 7 candidate Eva Green agreed with Williams’ sentiments.

“I do agree that we need to build trust,” Green said.  “I don’t think the community has a lot of faith in the board at this time. We have to make our budget more visible to the community so that they know exactly where the money is going.”

The other candidate for District 7, Kate Bailey Labue, said understanding within the community is pivotal for the establishment of a trusting relationship.

“We hear about the needs a lot, but I think what the community fails to hear is about the successes,” Labue said. “The school system and school board needs to step up because there are so many successes but the narrative is not getting out there. The needs are something we need to communicate, but we need to communicate the successes if we want to find support for taxes or anything else to increase our budget from the public.”

The final question was for the candidates of districts 8 and 9, asking them about what strategies, resources and support they would provide to the LPSS administration to address urgent priorities such as the third grade reading achievement gap.

District 8 candidate Diana Lennon said she wants to put a focus on early childhood education and that educating children more effectively will eventually lead to a more educated workforce.

“If children are not ready before they go to kindergarten, they are going to fail eventually in school,” Lennon said. “I think we need a mechanism for our teachers, our administrators and our parents to give feedback to the board. I think we need to listen to them.”

Her competitor, Hannah Smith Mason, said strategies are being put in place to help close the reading achievement gap.

“There has been great improvement with smaller class sizes, with master teachers aiding their current teachers” Mason said. “Those strategies have helped close those gaps. There is a huge community effort underway to improve our schools.”

District 9 candidate Donald Aguillard argued that changes will take time, but that actions to make that change are already underway.

“We embedded master teachers, we embedded a tier one curriculum that the teachers really struggled with their first year, but they’re beginning to understand what needs to be done with that curriculum material,” Aguillard said. “We have to not be discouraged that this will take some time. We are making improvements, but we have to not let up on trying to address the academic deficiencies in the transformation zone.”

Hubert Gauthier, the second candidate for District 9 to speak said that believing in building a culture is a way these issues get fixed.

“The statistics are a little skewed,” Gauthier said. “You can’t judge by a poverty level whether or not third graders are learning. You have to be able to isolate what the problem is. I think it goes back into buying into a culture. If you have teachers and everyone that supports teachers, that’s the culture we need to have.”

The final candidate for District 9, Diogo Tavares, said that fixing education issues starts at home.

“It’s all about educating parents,” Tavares said. “It’s so important to develop our children to have a love for learning and a love for reading. We should encourage parents to be involved in their children’s lives. We have an amazing community with so many untapped resources.”

You can watch the forum here, courtesy of Acadiana Open Channel

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