School Board candidates share platforms at public forum

Published 10:03 am Saturday, October 8, 2022

RESERVE — A majority of candidates for the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board were present at last week’s public forum hosted by Cory Batiste, one of the Concerned Citizens of St. John.

Akeem Burl has the same passion for helping the youth as his mother, the late Irene Snyder Burl, who was a longtime educator in St. John the Baptist Parish. A 2008 graduate of East St. John High, Burl is currently pursuing his master’s in strategic communication at Southeastern Louisiana University. In recent years, he has enjoyed serving as an advocate supervisor for Child Advocacy Services before stepping into his current position as a juvenile compliance officer for the St. Charles Parish 29th Judicial District Court.

Burl believes that School Board members should be good listeners, visible and present, with great communication skills.

Renita Graber served as a schoolteacher for more than 30 years, and she has never stopped working with the kids since her retirement in 2017. She has expertise in both the business realm and community involvement, having founded Fusion Youth Outreach in 2012 and Victorious Life Family Worship Center in 2015. A natural builder and visionary, she instituted a tutoring program to help bridge educational gaps following Hurricane Ida.

“I decided to run for School Board because the kids were coming to my program with their academic levels falling short,” Graber said.

She believes the school system is in desperate need of stability, which can only be achieved once a competent superintendent is in place.

Ali Burl has represented District 2 on the School Board for the past 15 years and is now seeking re-election. While the main job of a school board is to hire a superintendent, Burl said school board members are also responsible for equally-important decisions involving maintenance of the buildings where learning takes place each day. Since 2015, he has served as chairman of the land and facilities committee. According to Burl, stability of the School Board will be essential to ensuring accountability of all parties as several capital projects get underway as part of the bond issue St. John Parish voters approved in April 2022.

Burl isn’t afraid to hold the new superintendent, or anyone else, accountable to make decisions that are in the best interest of St. John Parish students.

Keith Jones of LaPlace has served as the District Six representative on the St. John Parish School Board since he was first elected in 2003. He is a 1984 graduate of the St. John Public School System and the father of four children who all graduated from East St. John. His No. 1 priority on the School Board has been putting children first. He currently serves on the School Board’s Executive Committee. While it is not a school board member’s job to micromanage, Jones said board members are responsible for ensuring a balanced budget and should maintain positive relationships with all stakeholders to ensure transparency, accountability and open communication.

Clarence Triche has devoted his entire life to education. He realized from the time he attended Southeastern Louisiana University that he did not have the strongest educational foundation, and he made it his mission to encourage children to be invested in learning. For the past 31 years, Triche has overseen the Gold & Silver program, which incentivizes children to excel in the classroom by offering freebies at local businesses in exchange for making the honor roll. Triche additionally serves on the School Board’s Finance Committee, where he applies his decades of experience in business to allocate money for teacher raises.

“I don’t believe teachers should need a second job to feed their families,” Triche said.

Samuel Mamou, a 2007 alumni of East St. John High School, has had an active role in education at both the district and the state level. He taught for seven years at Garyville Magnet, where he was named the 2018 Middle School Teacher of the Year, and went on to become a LOSFA coordinator to help students pursue higher education. Mamou has also served as a BETA sponsor, special education chairperson, coach, and moral committee member, His community involvement has included serving as a youth minister and co-director of New Wine’s Kids on the Move Summer Camp. He also founded a mentorship program called Grow 180.

Mamou believes the incoming School Board needs to hire a superintendent that is not only qualified, but is also a member of the community with a vested interest in the future success of St. John the Baptist Parish.

Tim Keller grew up in St. John Parish and journeyed through the country for 20 years before returning home in 2012. Disappointed in how the parish had not advanced, Keller made it his mission to add value by participating in a mentoring program, coaching through the St. John Recreation Department, serving as chairperson of the Recreation Advisory Board, and organizing various community events such as block parties and a Fourth of July gala. Noticing that St. John Parish schools have lost a lot of teachers and administration over the last three years, Keller wants to delve deeper into the reasons for the turnover to increase staff retention.

Rob Taylor Jr. is a product of East St. John and a businessman in the community. He believes in doing what’s needed to keep the kids first. While the job of a School Board is not to micromanage, Taylor believes that the Board members should take responsibility and not allow all of the weight of decisions to fall upon the superintendent.

Raydell Morris sees several areas for improvement within St. John Parish Schools. He believes the superintendent needs to be a resident of St. John Parish, and there should be provisions that limit the amount of money an exiting superintendent can take upon leaving the district. According to Morris, there is no stability, morale is low, and the district has failed families by not utilizing available technology to track buses and enhance school safety.

“When I was a council member, I always spoke my mind,” Morris said. “I’m going to have a target on my back, but I have a big back, and I can take it.”

Shondrell Perrilloux, endorsed by the Republican Party in St. John Parish, is notoriously known to deliver results. She is the owner of several businesses and nonprofit organizations with more than 25 years of legal experience pro se. If elected, she plans to raise the standards of the school system, reduce the school to prison pipeline, and add programs to assist with underprivileged students. Perrilloux has dedicated herself to become a voice of truth, fighting tirelessly for accountability and transparency.

“I have made past mistakes in judgement which have taught me valuable lessons to assist others. It turned me into the courageous warrior that you see on today,” Perrilloux said.

Georgia Keller moved to St. John Parish 22 years ago and has raised three children in the St. John the Baptist Parish School System. She has been involved in the community as a cheer coach, organizer of voter registration drives, and a helping hand for elderly residents who needed assistance with contents lists following Hurricane Ida. She has been appointed chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Keller sees that St. John Parish Schools are in a literacy crisis and are being severely outperformed on standardized testing by neighboring parishes. She said the St. John School Board must more effectively use resources available and be willing to go before BESE in the fight for quality education.

Jennifer Frizzell is the mother of a special education student at East St. John and for many years has served as an advocate for inclusion. A resident of LaPlace for 25 years, Frizzell is a healthcare executive certified in strategic planning and team building, giving her experience needed to improve outcomes and eliminate waste. She has volunteered on the Finance Committee for 11 years, but without a vote, has only been able to make recommendations.

“I’ve seen wasteful spending,” Frizzell said. “I want to know, why do Board members not have a limit on what they can spend?”

Jonae Tassin Alexander learned the value of education after her son was born with brain damage, and it took the special touch of a dedicated teacher to help him rise to his full potential. Tassin Alexander worked in special education in St. John Parish for nearly 24 years, served on several committees and served as an active member of the teacher union. Over the years, Tassin Alexander has seen a shift in family dynamics, and she feels the community should have a role in restoring the village mindset by showing up for children.

Lindsey Vicknair has eight years of experience teaching in St. John Parish, focusing on early childhood education. She is not a politician, but rather an educator, wife, mother and community member who wants the best for local children. Her time in the classroom showed her that strong schools build strong communities, and she is willing to fight for transparency in School Board operations. According to Vicknair, this can start with something as simple as having the School Board meetings livestreamed.

Patricia Triche is rested and rejuvenated from retirement, and she’s ready to get back into the school system to address why the biggest employer in the parish has yet to enact a strategic plan to address academics, truancy, food and nutrition, technology and other factors. She has seen poor decision-making skills stifle funding for pay raises, libraries and student field trips in favor of School Board travel and retreats, and she’s ready to make a difference.

“We must mandate policy that includes checks and balances for growth and sustainability for all systems that drive a successful school district,” Triche said. “It’s time we had a board that focuses on policy and not politics. Bring your broom, your 409 and your Fabuloso to the polls.”

LaTunya Dykes Creecy, a resident of St. John Parish since 2003, started attending School Board meetings roughly 10 years ago when her child was displaced from her home base school after Hurricane Isaac. What she saw made her interested in the operations of  the public school system. She has served as a sub at all of the schools in St. John Parish and has noticed a major culture difference compared to her experiences subbing at St. Charles Parish schools. Creecy believes the School Board needs a true open door policy, professionalism, respect and a willingness to work together in order to be successful.

Greg Gathers became the first in his family to graduate from college, an accomplishment that brought education very close to his heart. He has served as a coach, a substitute teacher and a mild-to-moderate special education teacher, and he is currently working on his doctorate. Gathers’ platform centers around being an advocate for students, parents and teachers. He aims to change the perception of St. John Parish Schools by showing the district has and will continue to shape successful community members.