LIVINGSTON – Livingston Parish schools are spread among diverse communities from rural areas to cities, according to Bruce Chaffin, supervisor of personnel.
And a successful superintendent must understand the differences to develop educational plans to benefit all students, said one of the five applicants for Livingston Parish school superintendent.
Chaffin is scheduled to be interviewed at 4 p.m. Monday, April 15, at the Central Office in Livingston.
He worked at six campuses across Livingston Parish as a teacher, coach and administrator as well at the Central Office.
His job as personnel director has prepared him for the superintendent’s job, Chaffin said, handling payroll, insurance, retirement and personnel issues.
“The chance to serve as a teacher/coach at a 7-12 setting, teacher/coach in a K-12 setting along with Administrator at a Freshman School, a K-8 setting, and a 9-12 setting has given me insights at many different levels,” he said in his cover letter.
The goal of a school system is to “educate all of our kids,” according to Chaffin, and communication is key to having that successful system.
This includes “conversations with the stake holders – anybody with an interest in the system – teachers, parents, every classified worker in the trenches. Find out their recommendations,” he said.
“The best administrators I ever saw were great communicators; they had the gift,” Chaffin said “It was a two-way street. They could have conversation and receive conversation,” listening to what others said as well as speaking.
“Every great principal, great administrator I saw knew how to pay attention to others.”
Chaffin holds a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education from Louisiana Tech and master’s degree in education supervision and administration from Southeastern Louisiana University.
Chaffin said his time in the school system has included being a teacher at Doyle, Holden and French Settlement high schools, assistant principal at Denham Springs Freshman High and French Settlement, principal at Frost School, then Albany High principal.
“I got a good understanding of what it was like to work in rural areas of the parish and what a community thinks and feels,” Chaffin said.
He also coached sports at French Settlement, Holden and Doyle.
“You get a good perspective,” of a community, he added. “I feel it is very important for the superintendent to understand how unique and special each of our communities are.”
“A public educational system has to educate every child,” Chaffin said, and that means not just preparing them to go on to a four-year university.
“Businesses come to us, and they want to hire every welder the system produces. Drone operators, ‘We will hire every one you can give me,’’’ he said, voicing an eager recruiter.
Because of this, the STEM program is not just for college-bound students, Chaffin said.
The coming STEM program at Denham Springs High School that will be located on its own campus will offer career-based courses, he said. Other schools in Livingston Parish are looking at starting their own STEM courses on a smaller scale.
“Technology is anything that allows the best opportunity to learn,” Chaffin said, from computers and walls to hand-held devices to answering questions that give immediate feedback.
“Mobility is another factor,” Chaffin said. “Rather than having a computer lab to go to, the computers can be brought to a class.”
Like every other school system, Livingston Parish has to work to get teachers.
‘We don’t have a huge problem with elementary majors; the availability is there,” Chaffin said. “Middle school is off a little, but really today we’re short on high school math, science and engineering (teachers).”
On Thursday, April 4, Chaffin and his staff went to a job fair at Southeastern Louisiana University.
“We interviewed 70 and not one high school science or math teacher,” he said. “That scares me.”
“When I started in HR (human resources) seven years ago, for a job fair at SLU, we would take five to six people with us to interview everyone from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Chaffin said.
This year they took four people. By noon they were done.
“We have to think hard to fill those positions,” he said. “The numbers are declining, so we have to get more creative.”
Alternative certification programs that would qualify non-education majors to teach have to be considered.
Any discussion about teachers eventually comes to pay.
In 2007, the Livingston Parish school system ranked eighth in the state in teacher pay, Chaffin said. Twelve years later, it ranks 33rd.
Without a large retail base of businesses, which would generate sales tax, Chaffin said, the system depended on the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding from the state that had a built-in 2.75-percent annual increase.
But nine of the past 10 years, there has been no increase, and school systems have had to make up the difference as their costs rose.
Pay levels were frozen without that increase, Chaffin said, and “unless it returns, it is difficult to give a pay raise every year.”
The School Board approved a 13th check last week, but both the board and school system have to be fiscally responsible, he added.
In the 33 years of his educational career, Chaffin has spent 31 in Livingston Parish. Two years outside of the district in Bossier Parish gave Chaffin another perspective, he said.
“I couldn’t get back fast enough,” he said. “There is no better school district that Livingston Parish.”