Voters deciding District 10 School Board special election March 25

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish voters will have to choose between two mothers who are passionate about the school district’s goals and performance when they go to the polls to elect a new School Board member.

Nia Mitchell and Lisa Johnson Pittman, both of LaPlace, are vying for the seat left open when Rodney B. Nicholas left to work as chief deputy of the St. John the Baptist Parish Assessor’s Office.

Mitchell has served as interim board member since December.

The primary election will be held on March 25. Early voting continues through Saturday at the Registrar of Voters Offices in Edgard and LaPlace. Voting hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Saturday.

Pittman, who is originally from Reserve, has been a regular volunteer at East St. John and said it was those efforts which spurred her to run for the vacant seat.

She believes the district has set some “awesome goals,” but needs to develop better strategies to achieve those goals.

“We have administrations and faculties that are diligent in aiding in student success,” Pittman said. “What is the strategy to achieving those goals? I believe we are capable of becoming an A District with the right practices and procedures in place. Right now our district is (a) B.”

Pittman said the biggest obstacle the district faces is trying to cater to all the students in the district.

“Our district is very diverse and I believe that we should holistically meet students where they are,” she said. “This would take strategic planning and involving stakeholders, but I believe it is doable. So many of our children have obstacles beyond (the) classroom and, as a district, we need to hone into mentoring our children. Healthier teacher-parent relationships produce a conducive environment for learning and we need more of this in our schools.”

Mitchell, an associate executive director with Friendship Education Foundation, believes the district’s strength is its performance

“When compared to neighboring parishes, we are performing very well,” Mitchell said. “We are offering first class preschool programs, there is a greater focus on literacy and numeracy in lower elementary grades, middle school students are able to earn high school credits and, because of great university partnerships, high school students are earning college credits. I believe, and our data substantiates, that we are doing what’s best for our students every day, in every classroom in St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools.”

Mitchell sees the biggest obstacle the district faces is finding qualified teachers.

“We have a large number of teachers eligible to retire in the next five years and more individuals are opting out of the classroom for administrative positions,” she said. “Universities are eliminating teacher education programs because of the enrollment, which makes it harder for districts to attract teachers. As a result, we must be strategic in recruiting talent.”

Both candidates expressed reservations about the voucher system and concern about its expansion.

“The data shows that vouchers are not working in our parish,” Mitchell said. “Our students are out-performing students receiving vouchers on state mandated standardized assessments.”

Pittman said vouchers would be beneficial if the students stay in the parish. Both candidates said they understood the recent attempts to start a charter school in the area.

“We have to educate every child,” Pittman said. “If we can’t they are going to go to another parish. Charter schools may be a solution if we don’t want our kids going to another parish, or if we don’t want to lose them from the system entirely.”

Said Mitchell: “Very simply, charter equals choice. Charters were established because parents did not have quality school options for their children. Charter is the new wave of education.”