Hemelt: School Board can start fresh with next hire

Published 10:00 am Monday, May 13, 2019

Conflicting language in Superintendent Kevin George’s resignation email to St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members has elected board members flummoxed about the best way to proceed with the immediate future of school district leadership.

In an email sent the morning of May 3, George included the following statements:

• If I continue to work, I may resign much sooner than June 30, 2020.

• … (S)everal interested parties asked me to discuss different positions around this state. I have spoken to a few of them and may continue to work in one of those capacities or I may just retire.

• I want to enjoy life while I still can actually enjoy life and before the pressures of the job takes its toll on my health.

Some Board members have expressed uncertainty, including those who are thought to hold the superintendent in high regard, that the communication email includes varying suggestions of resignation, retirement or job moving.

With the superintendent entrenched as the highest paid employee in St. John Public Schools, School Board members must decide if they want to pursue a buyout of George’s contract, which runs for another 12 months.

They must also decide if appointing or hiring an interim superintendent best serves students and the district.

Due to a separate medical leave, St. John Public Schools also does not currently have an active assistant superintendent.

The futures for George and the School Board were further muddled this week after George took a medical break from his office, announcing he would return May 20.

Courtney Joiner, an attorney representing the School Board to make sure the Board follows the letter of the law in handling George’s resignation, said it’s imperative for School Board President Patrick Sanders and George to establish an open line of communication throughout this process.

What’s also essential is establishing an open line of communication with St. John the Baptist Parish residents throughout this process.

“I have been here for two national searches and, personally, I didn’t like the process,” Sanders said. “I think we should do it internally. My personal thing is I think we should do a search within the state.

“If we advertise with a national firm and they go to New York, and we spend all this money in terms of bringing people in, paying for housing and all their travel expenses, we’re wasting their time and our money.”

The School Board’s attorney said national search firm efforts do not guarantee more qualified candidates when compared to Board-led efforts.

What School Board members should do now is define exactly what they want in the next superintendent, making an extra effort to define measurable benchmarks and evaluation tools to score on-the-job performance. School Board members have complained for months, if not longer, about absentee leadership, the loss of quality employees, a lack of cohesion from the top down and no buy-in when it comes to school leaders living in St. John and educating their children in local public schools.

Now is the time to publicly define the future of local public education and seek out the best candidate to take us there. This is the essence of what School Board members have been elected to do.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.