Search on for Zachary schools chief
By James Minton
September 21, 2012
Zachary Community School Board members left a committee meeting Sept. 5 with an important homework assignment: reading a thick bundle of applications and supporting documents submitted by 11 people seeking to become Zachary’s next superintendent.
Superintendent Warren Drake had departed with a round of goodbyes the day before, officially retiring but also taking a job with the state Education Department.
“This is probably going to be one of the toughest jobs we’re going to have to do: put a superintendent in Mr. Drake’s place,” Human Resources Director Yolanda Williams told the board members.
Drake’s pending retirement, announced June 18, gave the Zachary board time to map plans for finding his successor, but because the reopening of school fast was approaching, the timing may have discouraged some prospective candidates from applying.
Some board members said the ideal time to hire a superintendent is in the first six months of a year, rather than in the last six months when most school system staffing has been settled.
The board apparently did not want to leave anything to chance in the search, however, as it first appointed three committees, each having board members and other people in the community representing businesses, city government, school employees, parents and other groups.
Two committees were charged with developing a contract and compensation package for the board’s eventual choice and setting qualification standards above the state’s minimum.
The third and largest panel, whose members called it a “steering committee,” developed an elaborate process for applying, screening and interviewing the applicants, how votes would be taken, a second interview round and the final vote.
Hurricane Isaac upset the timetable somewhat, as the board waited until Sept. 5 to open the applications in the event that an application was delayed in the mail.
Meanwhile, parents and community members were asked to participate in an online survey to let board members know what they feel are the most important qualifications, experience and outlook the next superintendent should have.
After a week of heavy reading, and perhaps some Internet search sessions, the board voted Sept. 13 to interview five of the 11 applicants in two sessions, Sept. 25 and Sept. 26.
Two of the five, Scott Devillier and Patrick Jenkins, are Zachary school administrators; a third, Michelle Clayton, was an employee until a few months ago; and the other two, Phil Burchfield and Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, are superintendents in Clinton, Miss., and St. James Parish, respectively.
Devillier is Zachary’s director of operations, while Jenkins is principal of Port Hudson Career Academy. Clayton served as director of academic accountability until earlier this year. Luce has been superintendent in St. James since 2007. Burchfield is superintendent of the Clinton district near Jackson, Miss., that recently was named one of three A-rated districts in the state.
Putting extra eyes and ears in the interview room, the steering committee is assigning a group of lay “observers” to sit in on the interviews and share their written impressions of the candidates with board members, who are expected on Oct. 4 to pick two finalists for a second round of interviews.
James Minton is chief of the Baker-Zachary bureau. His email address is jminton@the