Donaldson leaves leadership gap

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2001


RESERVE – St. John the Baptist Parish public schools Superintendent Chris Donaldson announced his resignation from his position on the board and retirement from the school system Friday. Though he will finish out the school year, remaining until June 30, board members and his staff were surprised at the sudden announcement. Having worked in the St. John Parish school system for 32 years, Donaldson has taught, served in administrative positions and worked hard in his current position. Donaldson said he wanted to make the announcement now to allow for plenty of time to find a new superintendant. He said that he is retiring due to personal reasons and that it has nothing to do with any of the members of the school board or anything connected to the school system. Donaldson announced his decision in an executive session at Thursday night’s school board meeting and told the news to his staff Friday morning. “I prayed over it and discussed it with my family, then made the decision,” said Donaldson, who spent three months trying to make the decision. “I feel good about it,” he added. “I feel that it’s the right time for me to retire.” Donaldson said that he also feels good about the accomplishments that have been made while he was superintendant. “We’ve worked hard at raising test scores and student accountability,” he said. About the current status of the parish schools, Donaldson said, “Finances are in good shape. Parent involvement is a problem, though. Student achievement is up.” Donaldson is also happy about getting a quarter-cent sales tax for teacher salaries passed. “I’m pleased with the response from the community,” he said. Many school board members and school system administrators were shocked at Donaldson’s decision. School Board Member Russ Wise said, “I think the two years he held office were the smoothest in recent years. We will have to find someone to fill his shoes and take us into the future. He served us well as we went from the 20th century into the millennium. Now we have to find someone who can lead us forward and move us to the cutting edge.” Wise, who serves on the executive committee along with President Gerald J. Keller and Board Member Charles J. Watkins, said that the committee will have to get together soon to decide what steps need to be taken in finding someone to fill the position. Wise said that at least three people from inside the system are interested in the job. Wise would like someone to be found by the beginning of May so that the person can spend at least a couple of months with Donaldson learning the ropes. “No matter who comes in,” said Wise, “they have to know enough about the inter workings to put slot A into slot B.” “It came as a great shock,” said Mike Coburn, principal for Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School. “Chris has done an outstanding job. He is really dedicated to education. I have all the respect for him.” Coburn, who applied for the position last time there was an opening, said he will apply again. “Sure, I’ll put my name in the hat,” he said. Principal of Fifth Ward Elementary, Jackie Forest, said, “He served the school system well. He was extremely fair.” Forest worked for Donaldson while she was a teacher and he was principal at John L. Ory years ago. “He was fair then, and he is fair now. I wish him well,” she said. “I enjoyed working with him.” Fifth Ward Elementary is focusing hard on getting its fourth graders ready for LEAP testing. About Donaldson’s role in that, she said, “He has done as much as anyone could do considering all the changes that are constantly being made. He has done as much as anyone could expect.” Though he admitted that superintendant is a very “taxing” position, Donaldson said that he enjoyed his time on the board. He knew most of its members before he joined and said he has very good relationships with all the board members. The only aspect of the position that he did not like was the political side of it. “It’s not one of the high notes of the job,” he said. “It’s removed from education.” Donaldson will give a formal report at the next school board meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1. After he retires, Donaldson hopes to spend a lot more time fishing. As a bass fisherman, he enjoys participating in tournaments. In the meantime, he will continue to “try to improve the schools.” To the other school board members, he said, “I feel that together we have accomplished a great deal to improve public education in St. John Parish. I believe that this board and the new superintendant will continue to improve the education system.”