Black leaders claim northern Tangipahoa Parish ignored by school leaders

Tangipahoa Parish black community leaders on Tuesday questioned the parish School Board’s commitment to schools in the northern end of the parish and criticized the work of Superintendent Mark Kolwe.

Irma Gordon, president of the newly formed North Tangipahoa Community School Improvement Committee, said at Tuesday’s board meeting that the parish only serves the interests of schools at the southern end of the parish, near cities such as Hammond and Ponchatoula.

Gordon listed the committee’s expectations for the School Board, including building three new elementary schools as required by the parish’s 2010 federal desegregation order. The committee also wants to see a new high school near Kentwood.

“The elected voice for northern Tangipahoa seems to be mute, in that we are hearing all of the great things that are being planned for southern Tangipahoa Parish and very little for the north,” Gordon said.

The president of the Greater Tangipahoa Parish Branch chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Patricia Morris, questioned Kolwe’s qualifications as superintendent.

Morris has been a critic of Kolwe, the school system’s former business manager, for his lack of certification as a teacher or education administrator.

The School Board had to seek a waiver from the state in 2007 for Kolwe to be named superintendent.

Morris said Kolwe is putting the parish in a deepening hole in its ongoing desegregation lawsuit and has no plan to turn around the school system’s performance scores. The school system scored a C for 2013.

“The parish cannot afford to keep the current superintendent in charge and had better gets its local education house in order before it is too late,” Morris said.

Kolwe declined comment after Tuesday’s meeting.

Board member Ann Smith, who represents Kentwood in the parish’s northern end, said Kolwe and the board have been supportive of her district.

Smith pointed to large construction projects at Kentwood’s schools, including a new facility for O.W. Dillon Elementary School that opened this year.

“It has been said many times that the north end is left out, but believe me, it has not,” Smith said.

Board member Brett Duncan, a Hammond representative, noted massive renovations being undertaken at Kentwood High School.

Duncan also said Kolwe is doing the best he can after the school system was “handcuffed” years ago by the desegregation order that Morris supported.

“To put the handcuffs on us and then to say that the superintendent is the one responsible for putting the cuffs on, it’s just illogical,” Duncan said.