Public meets private for a lesson on bridging the digital divide in Lafayette Parish public schools.

Written by Heather Miller
Photo by Robin May

The “best and brightest minds” from the Lafayette business community have come together to help Lafayette Parish public schools reach their full potential in state-of-the-art technology, a goal Superintendent Pat Cooper says is essential for the district’s six-year turnaround plan to be successful.

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Technology Committee, at the request of Cooper, has put together a peer review team of people with technology backgrounds to come in and assess the technology currently in use throughout the Lafayette Parish School System. According to technology co-chair Douglas Menefee, chief information officer for the Shumacher Group, the assessment includes both technology in the classroom and technology at central office.

“We’re here to give recommendations on where there may be greater opportunities for them to leverage their day-to-day interactions,” Menefee says.

Tech Trio: Dr. Steve Landry, Jerry Greig and Doug Menefee,
visiting Alexis Bartlett’s Plantation Elementary class, head the effort to
bring 21st century technology into all Lafayette public schools.

This isn’t the first time the chamber has stepped up to help LPSS assess its technology needs, though Cooper says some of the recommendations offered about a decade ago by the first peer review team have not been completed. One example of the chamber’s work with technology needs in the school system can be seen through the district’s hiring of Chief Information Officer Logan McDaniel. Menefee says the chamber committee suggested in its first assessment that the school system create a full-time chief information officer position, which took two or three years to come to fruition.

McDaniel unexpectedly retired Sept. 17, opening the door for the chamber’s technology panel to play an expanded role in revamping technology throughout the district, Cooper says. Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau will take over temporarily in working with the chamber on its assessment until a replacement is found.

“Now we have an opportunity for them to help us to find out what our new chief information officer should look like. They can help us vet candidates and create a new job description,” Cooper says. “Everything we’re trying to do revolves around state-of-the-art technology, and we don’t have that right now. How do we get it? The first thing we have to do is determine what those things are, and we felt the best thing was to couple our people with the best and brightest minds in Lafayette. Some of the things they have recommended in previous peer reviews the district has done, but many of them they have not. If we don’t get our technology in order, really the rest of our plan is in jeopardy.”

Plantation Elementary Principal Anne Herrmann discusses tech issues
in the school’s computer lab with the chamber’s Doug Menefee,
Jerry Greig and Dr. Steve Landry.

Cooper says the technology issues within LPSS are threefold: programming, equipment and maintenance.
“We’ve got to quit being afraid of cell phones and iPads and use them to our advantage,” Cooper says. “We don’t have enough computers, and the ones we do have aren’t powerful enough to run the software we use. Then once you get the new equipment, you have to keep it running. We don’t have a staff big enough to service them.”

The superintendent notes that the district has one staff technician for roughly every 8,000 computers.

“We haven’t kept up with it over the years,” he says.

Menefee worked with former UL Lafayette Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Landry and Lafayette Chamber Chairman Jerry Greig (see “Executive Spotlight on Page 28) to assemble the new peer review team. Team members held their first meeting in late August, and the process is expected to take about six months.

The chamber and LPSS have both signed off on a formal letter of engagement, with Menefee planning to discuss the initiative with the school board soon and offer frequent updates to the board as the project gets under way.

“This is volunteerism at its core,” Menefee says. “We’re very careful when we select individuals and volunteers coming together. We work as a group, and we have no desire to sell any of our business interests to the school system. It’s not a consulting arrangement so much as an engagement arrangement, exploring how students, faculty members and parents can be engaged with technology and the resources at the school system.”

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