POSITION: Ascension Parish superintendent of schools.
Patrice Pujol took over as superintendent of Ascension Parish schools — overseeing more than 20,000 students in 28 schools — in July 2010. A lifelong resident of the parish, she served as a teacher, principal, system director of school improvement and assistant superintendent. Last month, Pujol, who is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at Southeastern Louisiana University, received a four-year contract extension. Board President A.J. Nickens said board members were in “pretty unanimous agreement” about the job Pujol has done leading the school system.
What are some of the biggest goals you hope to accomplish over the next four years?
My No. 1 priority is closing the achievement gap: ensuring that every child in this district, no matter where he or she goes to school, has an opportunity for educational excellence.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the district?
There’s always fiscal challenges. More is expected, and we seem to have less that we can work with as we do it, so that is indeed a challenge but one that we’ve been able to manage pretty well. The other challenge is really moving into the high level of skills that students need in order to be competitive in the 21st century.
In regards to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, is the district trying to keep its students from leaving low-performing schools?
In our west side schools, we have created a magnet program. Each student will have a laptop in the third through 12th grade. In our K-through-second grade programs, students will have a very technology-rich program in the classroom. All of these students will do a lot of project learning, a lot of opportunities for honing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. We really want to raise the bar for our magnet program in our lower-performing schools. The data shows we can push harder than we have in the past. We are also increasing our virtual school options throughout the district.
How will the district do in its performance scores?
I anticipate we will have an increase in district performance scores based on our preliminary data. We have looked really hard at our lowest-performing schools and expect some of those schools to grow. Across the district, we have seen more students score at the mastery level, and a decreasing number of students testing unsatisfactory.
What is the Ascension system doing that other districts could emulate?
We have focused our work around four questions: What do we want our students to know and be able to do? How will we know they have mastered the material? What do we do for the kids who don’t get it the first time or even second time? Finally, what do we for the kids who already know the material and master it quickly?
What have you learned about running a district over the past two years?
Everybody in the entire organization brings gifts to the table, and a strong leader is one who can figure out the best way to tap the strength of every single person and get them to work as a team towards a common vision.
When you started teaching, did you ever think you eventually would become superintendent?
I had no idea when I started teaching, when I was 20 years old. It certainly has been a phenomenal career. I’ve spent all 35 years here in Ascension Parish. So it has been quite a career, and one that I continue to enjoy.
Advocate staff writer
Bret H. McCormick