When faced with the choice between an insider and an outsider to serve as superintendent, the Livingston Parish School Board has, for the past four decades at least, always chosen the insider.
Superintendent Bill Spear and his three immediate predecessors — Randy Pope, Warren Curtis and Pope’s brother J. Rogers Pope — were not only longtime district employees but also served as assistant superintendent before taking the helm.
Spear was appointed in 2008 after the board deadlocked between him and John Watson, at the time both assistant superintendents for the district.
Watson’s brother James Watson, who serves on the board, abstained in that vote. The board tied 4-4. Before the board could take another vote, however, John Watson withdrew his application.
With Spear scheduled to retire in February, board President Malcolm Sibley indicated the internal hiring pattern may continue, saying during an interview, “I think the board and myself would prefer an internal candidate. We have some very good people in our school system that can step up to this position.”
The search, meanwhile, turned up four applicants, including John Watson.
The School Board interviewed three of them Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. The fourth, Shreveport teacher Afreda Hygh, showed up for her appointment but declined to interview. She has since declined to explain her refusal.
With only one insider among the pool, the result may be a foregone conclusion.
Sibley asked each candidate whether it is an advantage or disadvantage to have worked within a single school district during the course of a career.
Donna Alleman, outreach director for the Louisiana Schools for the Deaf and Visually Impaired, said the two decades she spent with Assumption Parish schools were an advantage because that enabled her to learn that system from multiple levels.
She did not mention, however, how that service may be an asset in Livingston Parish.
Charles Michel, special education supervisor for Lafourche Parish schools, said returning to Lafourche after 15 years in Texas and New Orleans taught him that changing districts means having to learn, rather than remember, what has happened in a community.
But it also means bringing a fresh perspective, he said.
“The advantage to moving is working not only under different people with different styles, but also under different district philosophies,” Michel said. “Moving has made me more versatile.”
Watson, the Livingston insider whose brother still serves on the board, said the answer depends on the goal.
“If you want to be state superintendent or move to another state, then it’s probably a good thing to see different methods and methodologies,” John Watson said. “But I think for this system, having someone who has ‘been there and done that’ through all the ups and downs, it’s probably best to have intimate knowledge of what goes on in Livingston Parish.”
The School Board, sitting as a committee of the whole, will recommend a candidate for approval Thursday, followed by a decision of the full board Nov. 8.
One board member may have already tipped his hand.
“I think the biggest job we’ll have is filling your job as assistant superintendent,” board member Keith Martin told Watson. “I think you could step into that corner office, but to have somebody step into yours, they’re going to have big shoes to fill.”
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Heidi Kinchen covers the Livingston Parish school system for The Advocate. She can be reached at email@example.com.