Aguillard would follow SMSB path in Lafayette

By: JEAN L. KAESS

Dr. Donald Aguillard stressed that his work is “data driven and results oriented” during his interview for the position of Lafayette superintendent today.

The 57-year-old father of three has 36 years’ experience in education and has been the top educator in St. Mary Parish since 2004.

“My family is deeply rooted in the Lafayette Parish School System,” he told the board and assembled interested parties in Lafayette this morning. His wife, Karen, was a teacher in the school system as well as at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and all three of his sons are graduates of Lafayette Parish schools.

Of Aguillard’s 36 years as an educator, 29 were spent in Lafayette Parish schools. Some 17 of those years were spent in administrative positions as the director of management information systems, the area director for the Carencro-Northside geographical area of Lafayette Parish, assistant principal for Acadiana High School and principal at Carencro High School.

It was as a classroom science teacher that Aguillard first made a name for himself nationwide by becoming the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against former Gov. Edwin Edwards, which challenged a Louisiana law requiring “balanced treatment” for the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools. The case, which is now known as Edwards v. Aguillard, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 and they ruled that the “Creationism Act” was unconstitutional.

Aguillard has survived an initial culling via resume of candidates from the original field of 26 to the 10 being interviewed this week. The format of this round of interviews is 10 minutes for a Power Point presentation regarding his qualifications and addressing the challenges facing the Lafayette Parish school system, a 50-minute interview that includes 10 questions and 20 minutes for follow-up questions.

Aguillard’s action plan for the Lafayette Parish school system is multi-faceted:

—High academic goals gained by transforming the LPSS into a “world-class education system” through reliable data, transparent budgeting and high quality human resources management.

—Early learning programs including committing all available resources to building universal access to pre-kindergarten and ensuring that all children have access to high quality and developmentally appropriate early learning programs.

—Remediating academic deficiencies for at-risk students.

—Proposing strategies to increase graduation rates. This is done, he said, by reducing retention. Statistics indicate that if a child is held back two years, there’s better than an 80 percent chance a drop out has been created. We’re not socially promoting, he said, but St. Mary does utilize programs to aid the student through programs like credit recovery. They’re held back if they don’t go and learn the work.

—Engage in information transparency as an operational practice among all stakeholders.

—Act in a pre-emptive manner to protect the safety and security of all students.

—Attract, develop and retain highly effective teachers and provide them with continuing opportunities to acquire knowledge to teach challenging subject matter while utilizing emerging technologies.

—Engage all stakeholders in determining the quality of school facilities that will serve children for the next 40 years.

Aguillard said his ultimate goal is to “transform the Lafayette Parish Public School System into a data-driven, results-oriented, premier educational community.”

He highlighted his ability to do this through his successes in the St. Mary school system.

During his tenure as superintendent, St. Mary schools have seen a 17.6-point increase in the district’s performance score.

In 2004, St. Mary’s district performance score was 79.1, ranking it 44th out of 66 districts in the state, at the top of the bottom third in the state, Aguillard explained. The district got focused in 2006, dramatically raising achievement and it has climbed steadily since.

In 2011, the DPS was 96.7, nearing the top one-third of districts in the state.

“St. Mary Parish’s 17.6 points’ growth was fifth best in the State of Louisiana,” Aguillard said.

In addition, “We have closed dramatically the achievement gap (between the races). In 2004, the achievement gap was nearly 20 points. In 2011, the achievement gap is 11 points.”

St. Mary has been through a dramatic decline in special education students of about 13 percent. He told the board this is because the system chooses not to test until the student has been through several reading intervention programs.

“What can I bring to Lafayette Parish? An unbelievable focus on addressing the needs of students in Lafayette Parish … we will use data to drive and identify the opportunities and address the opportunities.”

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