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Meet the Candidates: St. John the Baptist Parish School Board

L’OBSERVATEUR reached out by phone and email to each candidate who qualified for the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board election. 

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.

Local residents can vote in the primary Nov. 6 and possible runoffs Dec. 8.

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 the responses from each candidate in contested elections, presented in District numerical and candidate alphabetical order, 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.

District 2

Albert “Ali” Burl III

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: Sept. 27, 1976

Profession/current employer/retired: Director of the 40th JDC Adult Drug Court

Ali Burl III

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

With the building of the Hurricane Protection Levee and many ongoing projects, I want to provide the students of St. John the Baptist Parish with an excellent educational foundation and to facilitate a plan for the future of public education in our community, by providing a secured atmosphere with state-of-the-art materials, including qualified instructors, which is essential in establishing an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.

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

Change the stigma of the quality of education in our schools and keep up with the State’s imposed unfunded mandates. I witness first-hand the hard work of all staff doing their best to ensure that every child gets a quality education in a secured environment. Our parish currently has seven private or parochial schools, while other parishes are not challenged with that much competition. With so many competitive schools, we encounter a lack of funding, which limits the resources available and decreases the amount of money available to attract and retain highly qualified teachers, administrators and support staff. In addition to funding problems the state mandates that we fund certain initiatives, while Louisiana is, one of only four states in the country with no dedicated monies towards the assistance for the construction of and maintenance of school buildings, which must be paid by the increase of taxes, a problem for most.

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

Our resilience in providing a quality education to all residents of St. John Parish. We began a STEM Academy, which offers a challenging curriculum to our students, which will ultimately train our current students for the 22nd Century. It’s also creating Pathways to LSU and Xavier School of Pharmacy. Our schools continue to grow to meet the 2025 State Requirements of Mastery on test and our magnet schools currently have the highest Mastery scores, and most of our schools continue to grow to meet new standards set by the BESE Board.

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

The funding of the levees will enable building superior schools without threat of major flooding. There are many vacant homes, but levee protection and the affordable housing market can make St. John the Baptist Parish attractive for relocating families. Once homes begin to be sold, it’s imperative that we have state of the art facilities to attract and retain students.

Carl V. Monica

Date of birth: June 10, 1944

Profession/current employer/retired: Commercial real estate broker and businessman

Carl V. Monica

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I firmly believe that I have the qualifications and vision to help improve our public schools in St. John the Baptist Parish. Not only did I attend St. John’s public schools until graduation; but also, I taught in our public schools during my early career. I strongly believe that I can breathe new life into our schools and help them become more appealing to potential students and their parents. My experience in the classroom and in the business world will benefit my efforts to help move our schools forward into the future.

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

Change its negative image into a more positive one.

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

All of the new and restored schools and facilities. There is a lot to work with that can aid our efforts to go into the right direction, educationally. I know that I can help with those efforts.

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

There are many areas of our public school system that need to be improved. Obviously, better scores are super important, but getting the politics out of our school system ranks pretty close to the top of the list.

District 4

Pearl Foreman

Date of birth: Dec. 28, 1982

Profession/Current Employer: Accountant, tax professional, business owner of DEP, 4EVER HELP U

Pearl Foreman

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I believe that public education is intimately tied to the strength of our community. Investing in OUR children means a vibrant future. In order to provide OUR children the education they deserve, the School Board must have a vision, create structures to support that vision, and be ACCOUNTABLE to the PUBLIC. We must advocate for our children at every opportunity.

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

There are many challenges, but we can overcome them. I believe the #1 challenge is Public/Parent communication, which leads to involvement in the school system. We know that involvement by parents is a very critical stage in educating the kids, but the best parents are the informed parents. We’ve created so much negative press, negative vibes, which leads to a lot of finger pointing. We need to have the mentality of “If one school fails, we all fail” and not allow one district to be labeled as “Poverty District.”

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

Our dedicated teachers and administrators who work with our kids on a daily basis. They aren’t there to collect a check, they are there to teach. These dedicated teachers and administrators with their educational background could easily be working and earning six figure salaries but instead they enjoy teaching our kids for the salary they receive. Therefore, we as School Board members, should ensure they have the proper tools to do their jobs and challenge our kids mentally. The kids of today need modern technologies to stay interested not equipment from the Jurassic period.

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

I would like to see our technology upgraded in our schools. I would also like to see at our school board meetings that we involve parents and speak more about what we are doing in the schools, not spend all our time talking about contracts and contractors. Let teachers become more involved in the school board meetings and their voices be heard, they are the ones on the front lines.

Patrick Sanders

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: July 31, 1966

Profession/Current Employer: Funeral Director/Embalmer

Patrick Sanders

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I believe in an educated society and my desire to create a better community that can benefit St. John the Baptist Parish. I have diligently worked on this board to create innovative educational ideas that students and community can benefit, socially and economically. During my tenure, great strides have been made as the process of education continually changes. The district has invested the necessary resources for all of its stakeholders to achieve this goal and I’m proud to be a part of the collective efforts.

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

Parental Involvement. This is an age old adage. If and when parents become involved in their children’s education, especially in the early years, then our district will begin to see progression. The school district offers PD’s (Professional Development) for its teachers, administrators and support workers. This term, if elected by the people, I will continue to work diligently with top school administrators to offer PD’s (Parental Development) to address the constant and aggressive change in which education is evolving. I would like to see parents as the No. 1 “Stakeholder” in their children’s educational process.

*The conversations have begun, in reference to infusing Parental Development into our School District and into our individual schools.

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

High Quality Curriculum. Our School District has adopted the State’s Tier 1 Curriculum in conjunction with aligned assessments and continual professional development for teachers and staff members. When all of these components work together collectively, students are afforded a greater opportunity to reach expectations of the academic standards. Our district has allocated the necessary resources (human and financial resources) to create a greater learning environment, with hopes of greater student achievement. We are working toward creating a global student, whereas, our students will be college/career ready upon completion of high school.    

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

• A collaborative Short Term and Long Term Strategic Plan (Roadmap to continuous improvement of student achievement and facility upgrades.

• Greater Partnering/Fostering alliances with Local Governmental Bodies/Agencies

• Greater Partnering/Fostering alliances with Local Universities and Community Colleges

• Greater Partnering/Fostering alliances with Local Industries (Safer Environment and Local Employment)

District 5

Clarissa “Reesce” Alvis

Date of birth: June 1, 1981

Profession/Current Employer: School Bus Driver, St. John the Baptist Parish

Clarissa “Reesce” Alvis

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I have been a part of the district for as long as I can remember. My kids are students here and I, too, am a product of St. John Parish Public Schools. I see the challenges they are facing as both an employee and a parent. I believe it’s time for change and having this insight, I can bring about the change that we so desperately need.

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

The challenges we face, compared to neighboring parishes is that our schools are not making the grades. Some struggles are a lack of certified teachers, also parental participation has severely declined. Our kids are our future. We are tasked with preparing them to be contributing citizens to our society. We need a solid foundation and more options for our children to be successful. I’m also encouraging parents to become more involved. The kids need you!

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

Our district’s biggest asset is our kids. They matter! They yearn to be successful. They are eager and optimistic. We need to feed off of their energy from the first day of school to the last. There are many staff members who love what they’re doing and want to make a difference in the lives of the children they are servicing. Let’s rally behind them and implement programs that are proven to be successful.

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

Our biggest area of improvement is communication. We tend to think we have it all figured out and we never involve who matters, the kids. Reinstate junior high schools again. Offer all students the same opportunities across the district. We need to implement a successful parent volunteer program that accommodates all parents. Show all staff members they are appreciated. Instill morale, trust and not fear. Alleviate stress on both staff, as well as students.

Sherry DeFrancesch

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: April 12, 1970

Profession/current employer/retired: Incumbent School Board Member District 5

Sherry DeFrancesch

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I have already served eight years on the board and feel that I have a lot more to contribute. One of the stronger aspects of my leadership is that I can make good, common sense decisions, always based on what is best for our students. I want children to go through a strong school system that promotes great values, hard work and have a place to teach them to be lovers of learning. Education is the cornerstone to a great country, a great community and a successful life. I’ve seen both good and bad in the educational world and I know that if done properly, a good school system can make a child’s life great.

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

Over time, educational systems and the communities that they serve have experienced changing social, economic and political landscapes; educators have increasingly been called upon to serve children and communities in a myriad of ways. We must continue to rise to this challenge while we advocate for and ensure student achievement, public school funding and student safety. As we meet legal mandates, we must continue to focus on our community’s values and aspirations for the children that we serve. We do this with sound policy governance, transparent dialogue, collaboration with all stakeholders and proactive long-term planning, all resulting in student engagement and growth. As long as our guiding question is “What is best for our children?”, we should be able to weather most of the imposed educational storms.

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

The arts are an absolutely critical part of our educational system. Just as English, science, social studies and math are important, so are the arts in all the forms they take. The arts carry equal weight to traditional content classes and should be encouraged as such. For many students, the arts are what keep them coming back to school every day. If we are going to teach the whole child, teaching the full inclusion of the arts is absolutely critical. For instance, through this district’s partnership with VH1 Save the Music Foundation, all our students are ensured equitable access to music and the arts.

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

Our teachers are the heart and soul of our district. Great teachers will move this district in the direction of excellence. Unfortunately, we have seen too many of our talented employees leave this district due to frustration for many reasons. Every employee must have clearly defined job descriptions when they are hired or change jobs within the district. They should also have clearly defined and realistic goals that are reviewed annually so they know how to drive results and get the best out of their students. Our district leaders must empower and challenge our teachers to achieve these goals while encouraging innovation and creativity in the classroom. Not only should our district be a destination for students, it should be a destination for teachers. If we hire the best, we should reward the best so we can retain the best.

District 6

Keith Jones

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: Aug. 5, 1966

Profession/Current Employer: Owner/operator of Jones Investments, LLC, which consists of several residential properties and a commercial laundry mat. These properties are in the heart of my district. I provide housing, as well as laundry facilities to residents in my community.

Keith Jones

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

Being the incumbent for the past 16 years, I desire to continue to encourage all students of St. John the Baptist Parish to reach their highest potential of educational excellence to achieve and compete in this global society.

As a former board president and state certified board member, I recognize the challenges presented to children who lack an appropriate education. It is my desire to continue to represent District 6 with integrity and compassion.

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

In my opinion, one of the major challenges faced by our district is parental involvement. When visiting schools in the district, I am often approached to assist with getting parents more involved. As a certified board member, I encourage parents to attend school functions, schedule conferences with their child’s teacher and volunteer at the school as needed.

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

The students. They are the reason we work so hard. We are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children. If we want to change the world, we must educate our children. It is our desire to provide students with an education that will empower them to compete around the nation. In this technological world our students must be prepared to meet and exceed the demands of future employers.

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

As a state certified board member, I would like to see the district attract and maintain more certified teachers. As a current SJBP board member, I recently assisted in adopting a policy to attract more certified teachers. By offering certified teachers pay incentives, this may encourage them to work in one of the best districts in the state.

Raven Warren

Date of birth: Aug. 18, 1982

Profes-sion or current employer: Certified Tax Preparer/Pharmacy Technician In Training

Raven Warren

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

Unhappiness with the current School Board, being a mother of three, a high schooler, a middle schooler and an elementary schooler and also help with securing funding for schools as a “Priority” to ensure funding is at a suitable level to give students what they need.

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

Lack of Funding. We have teachers/principals that are leaving and we have parents that are pulling their kids out of our local schools and putting them in other schools for a better quality education, or is it because the spending is out of control with the school district?

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

Determining if there is a No. 1 asset within our public school districts is complicated when in fact it should be quality of education. The key to achieving that is providing appropriate leadership and playing an important role in keeping our local schools on track and setting policies that affect our children and our schools.

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

What can improve is the education system within our schools district by redirecting the school board’s attention back to student achievement, getting the board together in order in terms of the budget; meaning ironing out budget issues by implementing a plan or program to ensure accountability of the funds and because the role of a school board is to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values and priorities of their communities.

District 7

Corey “Coreal” Hutchinson

Date of birth: Aug. 12, 1975

Profession/current employer/retired: Performance Contractors, Inc.

Corey Hutchinson

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I am running for School Board to give new energy to the work of fostering student achievement in St. John the Baptist Public Schools. I am a community organizer. That is my strength. I believe that I do an awesome job building and reinforcing our parents’ investment in our schools, which means building and reinforcing our investment in the children.

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

Fiscal responsibility and transparency. When the tax issues came up for a vote a couple of years ago, a lot of people were asking what are we doing with, and where is, the money we already have? I was one of those people. I think reports about how money is being spent should be posted to the school district website every time report cards are issued.

Every board member should be able to explain very clearly to the people living in her or his district where the money is and how it is being spent. That is not the case currently.

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

Our kids. We have some of the brightest, most creative children in the entire country! Whether it be in the classroom or through extracurricular activities, our kids shine bright.

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

I think technology use outside of the classroom can and should be enriched. I would like to see my son come home with more assignments that are based off of work he has to do using some form of technology. I think project-based learning is also something that we should see a lot more of.

Phillip Johnson

(Incumbent)

Did not provide responses

Phillip Johnson

District 8

Debra “Debbie” Schum

Date of birth: Nov. 16, 1954

Profession/current employer/retired: Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Principals. I am retired from St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, where I served as a teacher, principal and curriculum supervisor. I also worked with New Orleans Recovery School District and served as a deputy superintendent at the Louisiana State Department of Education.

Debbie Schum

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I am committed to using my professional experience and qualifications to help build a school system that focuses on the needs of the students. We are not living up to our potential, and that needs to change. My family has lived in St. John the Baptist Parish for 41 years, 31 of which I served as a teacher, principal or curriculum supervisor. I recognize that much needs to be done and I want to use strategies that work to help our students.

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

We are challenged to create and maintain a quality program for all of our students. We need to ensure that:

• We have highly qualified educators and support staff.

• Our schools are safe and secure.

• Our students are college and career ready.

• STEM opportunities are available to all students.

• Graduation rates are increased.

• Our classrooms have the materials and resources to allow students to achieve at the highest level.

• There is fiscal accountability for tax dollars.

• We engage families to build quality schools.

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

Our students — they are the future of our parish, and we need to ensure that they get an education that will allow them to have the best opportunities to succeed. Our economy is tied to the success of our schools and we must prepare students to be ready to meet future employment needs.

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

All students must have access to highly qualified educators, appropriate materials and resources, STEM opportunities and school sites that are safe, secure and meet modern building standards.

Russ Wise

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: July 5, 1946

Profession/current employer/retired: investor, retired journalist.

Russ Wise

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

I originally ran for School Board because St. John’s schools were academically poor, expulsions and dropout rates were way too high, and the District’s budget was in terrible shape. Today there is a budget surplus for the 10th year in row, and St. John Public Schools have one of the highest bond ratings in the state. There are fewer dropouts and more graduates. There are programs that help dropouts return to class and graduate. There are music lessons in every school (music has been proven to help students’ performance in STEM subjects) and, of course, there’s the new STEM program itself.

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

The District’s biggest challenge today is financial. Costs for everything from teachers’ salaries to tires for buses go up every year but state funding has been flat ever since Bobby Jindal’s early years. Local revenues are down — sales taxes because industry is spending little to expand or improve their facilities; property taxes suffer from cuts in property assessments that go all the way back to Isaac. Crucial federal funds are in danger because of the political climate in Washington.

If we had not built up a strong seven-figure surplus when times were good, the District would already be in the red. Because of conservative budgeting we still have enough in our “savings account” to pay our bills.

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

Our people. Hurricane Isaac and a major fire forced the relocation of three entire schools. Many elementary kids were in trailer-classrooms for months. The mothballed Leon C. Godchaux was cleaned, restored and reopened for high schoolers just three weeks after Isaac flooded ESJ High. As the new-and-improved ESJH reopened, youngsters from ESJE moved in. But St. John’s test scores showed that teaching and learning weren’t affected.  That simply shouldn’t have happened, but it did.

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

Nothing is ever perfect, but the St. John school system is alive and well. Our buildings and their systems (AC and such) are in good shape AND with enhanced security. The new STEM program is up and running, providing college credits as well as high school graduation credits. (Our high schools already do that in non-STEM classes through dual enrollment and Advanced Placement classes.) What needs to be done now is long-range planning. We should plan for a second high school on the East Bank. We need to plan and prepare for new technologies. Across America, both public and private schools use systems dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Are they suited for 21st Century needs? We’re already 18 years into the 21st Century. It’s time to address those issues.

District 11

Shondrell Perrilloux

Date of birth: Date of Birth: Aug. 12, 1978

Profession/current employer/retired:

• Accountant over 20 years

• Business Administration over 20 years

• License and Ordained Minister for over 17 years

• Community Activist/Organizer for 17 years

• Licensed Residential and Commercial Contractor over 13 years

• Legal Experience for 25 years Pro Se

• Educator of Divinity and Theology for over 10 years

Shondrell Perrilloux

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

To promote inclusion and empowerment and raise the standards of the students of St. John the Baptist Parish School System toward becoming academically competitive within the national standards.

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

Accountability, accessibility, effective results, wasteful spending and cooperative leadership are among some of the challenges faced in St. John the Baptist Public School system. Our Public school system lacks certified teachers and effective communication among the School Board and the parents. Students within our Parish should be provided modern learning resources. Increased compensation is needed for the teachers. Lack of collaboration with higher educational institutions to prepare students for higher learning.

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

The Children. The children are the future of our community. They are the future leaders. Therefore, their education should be compatible to the demands of today’s society of advance technology, science and carpentry. The children are our future doctors, lawyers, political leaders, etc.

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

Policy and Procedures within St. John the Baptist Parish Public School. My child attends Public School in the Parish and I have firsthand experience as a parent. Improvement of the academic curriculum, upgraded resources, accountability, communication among the School Board members and the parents they represent. Representation should be for the best interest of the students and staff members. Better collection enforcement of money owed by industries within our community should be invoked. Reducing the tax burden of hard working residents within our Parish would create relief and avoid wasteful spending.

Clarence Triche

(Incumbent)

Date of birth: May 5, 1940

Profession/current employer/retired: Retired teacher & businessman; owner and operator of Triche Buildings

Clarence Triche

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

Improve test scores by hiring and retaining quality teachers with keeping salaries among the top 10 in the state. Continue to give the students the incentive to make better grades by providing the very effective Gold and Silver Awards Program.

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

At present, continue to operate with a very limited budget caused by decreased sales and property taxes compounded by the minimum foundation funding, which the State basically gives us about 15 percent less of promised legislative money.

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

Our staff of dedicated professionals.

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

The ability to hire all certified teachers.

Lisa Tregre-Wilder

Date of birth: Not provided

Profession/current employer/retired: Retired Employee -Tulane University Police Department, Board of Control Member – St. John the Baptist Parish Library; Member – St. John the Baptist Parish Civil Service Board

Lisa Tregre-Wilder

Why did you choose to run for School Board?

My love of children, academics and my community. As a native of St. John the Baptist Parish and a proud alumna of East St. John, I’m concerned about the state of public education. Failing schools, low test scores and apathy about the success of public education are areas of importance as it relates to where I envision educational opportunities afforded this parish. I believe in accountability.

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

Our school board needs to be competitive by raising test scores and restoring confidence in the public school system. We have to make our schools competitive to entice opponents of public education. Board members need to listen to concerns and comments. We need to ensure that students have books, which should be a mandate not an option. Each student should have the appropriate textbooks in their possession. Schools cannot operate without textbooks.

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

Our facilities. Our schools are attractive. Our facilities are up to date and accommodating with technology accessibility that’s competitive to others in neighboring parishes. We have many assets to offer, but raising our academic standards will only enhance our ability to be successful. Board members should be aware of if there is no advancement of progression, then it’s incumbent to recuse themselves and allow fresh ideas to enable growth and achievement.

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

I’d like to see an improvement in test scores. It is always beneficial to have certified competent teachers in the classrooms. We deserve to participate in state-funded programs that are beneficial to our community. Our kids should be prepared to compete on all levels. I would love to see the restored pride and success exhibited towards the public schools that were prevalent in the 1980s during my time at East St. John High School.