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Meet the Candidates: St. John the Baptist Parish School Board (unopposed)

L’OBSERVATEUR reached out by phone and email to each candidate who qualified for the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board election. Local residents can vote in the primary Nov. 6 and possible runoffs Dec. 8.

School Board members are term limited to three terms; however, according to the school district, that election stipulation was instituted in 2014. All sitting Board members were allowed to start at zero in 2014, meaning the 2018 election is only considered each incumbent’s second run for office.

There are 11 geographically based School Board districts in St. John Parish. District 1’s Charo Bossier-Holden, District 3’s Gerald Keller, District 9’s Shawn Wallace and District 10’s Nia Mitchell qualified this summer unopposed.

The following are responses from each unopposed candidate who responded based on the same set of questions.

L’OBSERVATEUR will follow up with a series of stories in September and October about the individual elections based on the concerns raised by those running and feedback from readers seeking to know more about specific topics.

Thank you to the candidates for sharing their thoughts with L’OBSERVATEUR readers.

District 1

Charo Bossier Holden

Charo Bossier-Holden

Date of birth: Nov. 29. 1976

Profession/current employer/retired: Clinical Coordinator

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

As lifelong residents of St. John, my parents have always instilled in us the value of education. I, as well as my other two siblings, all began our educational journey through St. John public schools. This education set the foundation for the successes we (and many others) have today in our professional careers. I chose to run for School Board because I care about education, I care about children and my community, and I believe in the public school system. I would like to be instrumental in keeping this educational foundation strong for my kids, as well as all the kids of the community. I believe that education is the master key that unlocks many doors and I would like to continue to promote this value throughout the St. John Parish community.

What is our public school district’s No. 1 challenge?

We are challenged with attaining as well as retaining certified teachers. We are faced with a shortage of teachers. We have to figure out the best way to attract those entering the profession, develop them and keep them within the district in an effort to improve education for our children.

What is our public school district’s No. 1 asset?

Perseverance. Despite the many challenges and obstacles we encounter, we are able to succeed. We are able to work together for the betterment of the children.

What would you like to see improved or upgraded with our public school district?

I would like to have more community involvement within the schools. We need to do a better job with putting and keeping our children first in all decisions and actions. The children are indeed our future, so let’s do a better job representing them!

District 3

Gerald J. Keller, Ph.D.

Gerald J. Keller

Date of birth: Nov. 20, 1940

Profession/current employer/retired: Semi-retired

Why did you choose to run for school board?

With my educational training and experience, I thought I could contribute to the system and help provide a quality educational system.

What is our public school district’s no. 1 challenge?

The low morale and image throughout our school district and school community.

What is our public school district’s no. 1 asset?

Despite the low morale and image, we do have teachers, site based administrators, support personnel and parents who are working to turn the system around.

What would you like to see improved or upgraded with our public school district?

For academic success, it is crucial that the school district provide each school with certified/well-trained teachers and provide an environment conducive to learning in all schools.

District 10

Nia Mitchell

Nia Mitchell

Date of birth: Jan. 16, 1979

Profession/current employer/retired: Associate Executive Director of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Development at Friendship Education Foundation

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I have had the opportunity to not only work with, but impact the lives of students in several parts of the state, as well as the different areas of the country. As a board member, that territory has expanded but more importantly, it encompasses my community. I taught in St. John the Baptist Parish. Essentially, being a board member provides me the opportunity to hear from and advocate for the students and parents of the community in which I was reared and currently live. (I grew up in District 10 and have maintained my residence in District 10 for my entire life).

What is our public school district’s No. 1 challenge?

The district is faced with a few challenges. I think the first and probably most impactful is trust. Over the years, the district has lost the trust of many parents and students resulting in the exodus of students who have since enrolled in the non public schools located in our district. This trust wasn’t lost over night because of one single incident at one particular school. It’s something that has taken place over decades. It’s imperative that we continue to do great things for our students like Advanced Placement Courses and Dual Enrollment at both high schools. It is critical that we continue to offer all of the perks of a private school education for free to our students, knowing that over 80 percent of our students are considered economically disadvantaged and would otherwise not be able to partake in diverse high school experiences. Our current school district grade is a C. We saw a decline just like many other districts in the state. Although there are some changes to the state’s grading scale, it is imperative that we keep up with the changes made at the state level. Over all, great things are happening in our classrooms everyday and it’s important that the hard work that going forth is recognized and expected from all stakeholders.

What is our public school district’s No. 1 asset?

The district is moving in a great direction. Our data showed that we have some deficiencies but we have taken major steps to address them. We have purchased Tier I curriculum that is being used in all schools and are benchmarking students throughout the year to measure growth and address academic gaps. School culture is shifting, holistically, to a culture of consistent teaching and learning. I am proud to be a part of a system that is addressing academic as well as social emotional needs of the students where we are challenging our students academically and preparing them to be productive citizens both locally and globally.

What would you like to see improved or upgraded with our public school district?

There are a couple of things that I would like to see upgraded in the district. Because most of our curriculum is digital with not many printed text books, I would LOVE to see one to one devices for all students in testing grades. This would ensure that all students had equitable resources. Additionally, the opening of the STEM Magnet program is a great addition for our students who are scoring above average, need to be challenged, and who plan to pursue careers in STEM fields. I am anxiously awaiting the complete roll out of that program which will include all high school grades.  Lastly, I would like to see an administrator-training program, where individuals interested in school leadership could learn principal pedagogy and shadow school leaders to get experience handling day-to-day situations that may arise.