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BESE to appear on ballot

LAPLACE — The Oct. 12 election will include an important decision that could impact policies and budgeting in St. John the Baptist Parish schools for the next four years.

Residents will vote for a district representative to sit on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE for short.

With the power to create and enact policies governing statewide operations of public and non-public schools, BESE is often a point of contact for the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board.

Approving certification requirements and administering a budget for educational programs and services are among BESE’s many responsibilities. BESE also conducts administrative hearings to resolve conflicts concerning its policies or actions.

BESE is comprised of 11 members, eight of whom are elected from Louisiana’s eight BESE districts at the same time the governor is elected. Three members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Louisiana Senate to represent the state at-large.

Shawon Bernard, Kira Orange Jones and Ashonta Wyatt are running for BESE District 2, which represents the vast majority of St. John Parish voters.

A small number of residents in the southernmost portion of the West Bank are grouped into BESE District 3 and will choose between “Sandy” LeBlanc Holloway and Janice Perea in the upcoming election.

L’OBSERVATEUR has compiled some information on each candidate to help voters make an informed decision.

Kira Orange Jones

Incumbent Kira Orange Jones has seen significant improvements to statewide student outcomes during the past eight years serving as the District 2 representative for BESE.

According to Jones, more students and African American students in particular are scoring at least a 21 on the ACT, earning TOPS scholarships, enrolling in college and graduating from high school with college credit or industry credentials.

Jones has worked with government officials to secure teacher pay raises, funding increases for early childhood education and increased career preparation for high schools students. She believes in securing more resources and support for teachers and schools and making investments to prepare children for the jobs of the future.

Jones was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and she’s received numerous recognitions in the New Orleans region.

Shawon Bernard

As an experienced educator and school administrator, Shawon Bernard said she has what it takes to move District 2 forward. She holds a bachelor of science degree and a master of education degree in educational administration from the University of New Orleans. She also completed a post-baccalaureate mathematics education program and received a Master of Science degree in computer information systems from Southern University at New Orleans, in addition to a Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center.

Bernard has nearly 25 years of experience working for the Orleans Parish School Board, the Recovery School District and as a teacher/school administrator for Jefferson Parish Schools.

As a Louisiana licensed attorney, Bernard also focuses in family and education law.

She and attorney Willie Zanders Sr. previously sued the Recovery School District, BESE and the state Department of Education to enforce compliance with open meetings law.

Ashonta Wyatt

Dr. Ashonta Wyatt is a parent, native New Orleanian and an educator with nearly 18 years of experience serving as a teacher, an instructional coach, a dean, an interventionist, and assistant principal and a principal.

She’s a graduate from Xavier University, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in educational leadership. She is the founder and executive director of a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to ending gun violence in her community.

Wyatt is concerned about the state of Louisiana public education, noting the state ranks among the lowest in the nation. The teacher retention rate in Louisiana is only 57 percent, and local teachers are paid approximately $2,200 below the average teaching salary.

If elected, Wyatt wants to work to strengthen teacher unions and ensure school accountability. She also wants to repeal ACT 91, which permits the all-charter school system in New Orleans.

BESE District 3

“Sandy” LeBlanc Holloway and Janice Perea will appear on the ballot for a small number of West Bank residents.

Holloway, the incumbent, is an educational administrator from Thibodaux with more than 40 years of experience. She joined BESE in 2016 and has advocated for increasing salaries and workforce training opportunities.

Perea is an elementary school teacher in Terrebonne Parish. If elected to BESE, she plans to remove common core standards, develop a new evaluation system for teachers and reduce standardized testing.