Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We have great leaders in key positions throughout our community. It’s time for the school board to do its part. By Cherry Fisher May

The phalanx of leadership in this community is collectively as highly effective at this moment as it has been at any time in my 30-plus years covering local news. From those in the public sector, including city-parish government, the university, tourism and economic development executives, to leaders among non-profits, arts organizations, banking, medical and other key business sectors, the roster of drivers in Lafayette today is chock full of A-listers. And we as a community now have the opportunity to further improve our game in two ways — by selecting a new leader for Lafayette Parish public schools and by developing a comprehensive strategic plan for how we want our community to grow.

Lafayette Consolidated Government had the courage to fund and embark upon a real planning initiative for the first time in parish history. Although the contract with the nationally respected firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd is a few weeks away from being finalized, WRT principals have jumped-started the community input phase with the assistance of local partners Sides & Associates. Once commenced, the full process will be all-encompassing, soliciting input from all ages (yes, children too!), races and socio-economic groups; from city dwellers, suburbanites, small town and parish folk. So far team leaders have been invited to give a sneak peak to 300 members of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce at its spring conference and to an audience of 200 at the recent INDesign Awards luncheon hosted by The Independent Weekly. The No. 1 desired outcome from both groups was the same: to develop a world-class, diverse, innovative public education system in Lafayette Parish. 

As community meetings occur more broadly throughout the parish, it will be interesting to see if the goal of creating a world-class school system remains at or near the top of the list. I hope so. I also hope that the Lafayette Parish School Board will take advantage of the incredible opportunity the strategic planning process represents. WRT, Sides, et al have a place for them at the table. Clearly with school excellence already top-of-mind in the early stages, school board members should engage now. They might even find it helpful as they search for a new superintendent of schools. Do they share the vision? Will they be looking for a leader who can help us build a world-class system in Lafayette Parish?

Even before Superintendent Burnell Lemoine confirmed his retirement this year, school system stakeholders were becoming more and more engaged. The United Way of Acadiana has played a key role in this, in part by serving as the nucleus for the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council (LaPESC). UWA has already facilitated dozens of community conversations in homes, offices and neighborhoods across the parish, conversations that are being compiled, compared and analyzed. It is evident that there is latent support for increasing resources for parish public schools. But leadership is key.

The school board is lucky to have a go-to group already in place with LaPESC. The coalition could serve as a Blue Ribbon Panel as the hunt for a new leader begins. Interest and expectations are running high, and the community seems ready to make a meaningful investment in our schools for the first time in a decade. Hopefully, the school board is ready to bring in bold new leadership — the type that exists throughout our community — to lead the way. It’s the one cylinder in the engine driving success in Lafayette Parish that needs a little work.

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