Coburn new school head

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2001


RESERVE – After weeks of anticipation, the St. John the Baptist School Board has named a new superintendent to take over the parish school system in June when the current position holder leaves. Michael Coburn of LaPlace, principal of Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School, will be superintendent of schools after the current school year ends. One of six accepted applicants, Coburn received all but one vote at a school board meeting Thursday night. Nominated by Dowie Gendron, Coburn was one of four of the five applicants, who were nominated for the position. Felix LeBoeuf nominated Alfred Donaldson of Reserve, director of human resources for the St. John School System. Patrick Sanders nominated Dr. Donaldo Batiste of New Orleans, executive director of instruction and professional development for the Orleans Parish School System. James Madere nominated Dr. Juanita Haydel of Luling, administrative assistant to the superintendent for the St. Charles Parish School System. Charles Watkins nominated Stephenie Watkins of Vacherie, a national literacy coach for McGraw Hill Publishing Co. and former St. John Parish School System Director. In a vote by the board, Donaldson and Coburn each received three votes, and Batiste and Haydel received two each. Watkins received one. Between Donaldson and Coburn, Donaldson received four votes and Coburn five. Board members Leroy Mitchell Sr. and Madere abstained from voting in the final round at first. After the votes were announced, Mitchell and Madere each voted for Coburn, which made the vote 7-4 in Coburn’s favor. Then Matthew Ory, board president Gerald Keller and Sanders switched their votes to Coburn, which made the final vote 10-1, with LeBoeuf the sole holdout. “I’d like to give thanks to God almighty,” said Coburn to the board. He also thanked his wife, Karen, for standing by him throughout his career in education. “I dedicate myself to you. I’ll give you every ounce of energy I have in my body,” he said. “I guarantee you that we will lead this system forward together.” After eight applications were received for the position, six met the requirements and stayed in the running. Interviews were conducted on three different occasions in the first half of April in closed sessions. Each applicant was given 20 minutes for a presentation, then the board questioned each applicant for 30 minutes. The school board wanted to have the new superintendent in place by May, before current Superintendent Chris Donaldson retires in June. Early Friday morning, Coburn was in his office at Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School, though the school was closed for spring break, already making preparations for the next move in his education career. Coburn planned to meet with Donaldson that afternoon to begin the transition period and get all priorities in order, he said. He added that someone qualified will soon have to take over as principal at his school. “We’ve made great strides in the past four years,” he said. “We want someone who will continue that success.” He is not sure if he will be able to finish the year out. A lot of decisions have to be made immediately, he said. As friends stopped by to congratulate him and the phone in his office rang off the hook with well-wishers’ encouragement, Coburn joked with them that he had started from nothing and will now be superintendent. Coburn began his career in 1977 at Holy Cross High School for boys in New Orleans. In 1981, he joined East St. John High School in Reserve as assistant football coach and head wrestling coach. In 1987, he became principal there, where he stayed until 1993 when he became the school board’s Chief Administrative Officer. He has been at Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School since 1997. “I’ve truly worked hard for this,” said Coburn. “This is my second go-around to apply for the position. I was hoping I would get it. I truly know that I can lead this parish.” He added that there were five other great candidates who were all very capable of handling the job. Coburn said that when his name was announced, he borrowed someone’s phone to call his wife. “She just started screaming,” he said. “We’re both community-involved. Our kids have gone through the public school system. I do believe in the system.” Coburn said he is thankful for the community support he has received throughout the process. “I can’t thank the community enough. I’ve received hundreds of calls from community members, dignitaries all the way down. I’ve had the community’s support from the beginning.” He added that he is really excited about the opportunity. “There is never going to be a day that I won’t give 110 percent,” he said.