Eight candidates vying for four seats on the Livingston Parish School Board formally introduced themselves to voters during a forum held less than two months before their names will appear on the ballot.
Candidates for District 4, District 7, District 8, and District 9 discussed their backgrounds and their positions on a range of topics in an event sponsored by the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Their appearances came less than eight weeks before the Nov. 8 election. Early voting runs Oct. 25 - Nov. 1, excluding Sunday.
During the forum, each candidate was given two minutes to introduce themselves and discuss their educational, career, and family backgrounds.
Following the introductions, candidates were given one minute each to respond to four questions pertaining to what’s important to parents, attracting businesses to support schools, solving the teacher shortage, and what they plan to accomplish if elected.
Below are comments the candidates made when introducing themselves in the forum. Next week, The News will publish their answers to the four questions posed by the Chamber of Commerce.
Schools: Denham Springs Freshman High, Denham Springs High, Denham Springs Junior High, Northside Elementary, Southside Elementary, Southside Junior High
At the grand opening for Denham Springs Elementary, one of the schools hit hardest during the historic August 2016 flood, a parent made a comment that has stuck with Bradley Harris ever since.
“A kid’s parent came up to me and said, ‘This is the first time my kid has been in a permanent school,’” Harris recalled. “Those kids who went through the flood hadn’t been in a permanent school for that long. It wasn’t real until that point, but it really hit me hard.”
A lifelong resident of Livingston Parish, Harris is the current school board member for District 4. He graduated from Denham Springs High, where his sons also graduated. He has been married for 35 years.
Harris was involved in the parish’s rebuilding of Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary, and Southside Junior High, the three schools most affected by the Great Flood of 2016.
As a school board member, Harris said his priorities are putting the kids “first” and taking care of teachers.
“Kids are first — period, across the board,” he said. “We try to take care of the teachers and give them as much raises as possible, what we can and what we can sustain. Teachers are short. We have to get them.”
Jeff Pendergrass said he has spent the majority of his life in law enforcement, and he said his top priority on the school board would be to enhance school security, a national point of emphasis amid multiple school shootings in recent years.
“One of the things I want to see is increased security in our schools,” Pendergrass said. “For me, that is one of the most important things we can do as a school board.”
Another priority for Pendergrass is to make sure teachers “are represented the way they’re supposed to be.”
“I want them to have raises and retain them and recruit the best,” he said. “I think we have the ability to do that if we buckle down and move forward in the same manner.”
A U.S. Navy veteran, Pendergrass has lived most of his life in Livingston Parish, except for his years of active duty. He has been married for 33 years and has two children and four grandchildren. His educational background includes a master’s degree in construction management and a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business.
Pendergrass said his bid for the District 4 seat came after he was asked to run by “people I respect” due to his previous interactions with children throughout his career.
“I’m extremely passionate about our children and extremely passionate about the education they receive, and I’m extremely passionate about Livingston Parish,” Pendergrass said.
Schools: North Corbin Elementary, North Corbin Junior High, South Fork Elementary, South Walker Elementary, Walker Elementary, Walker Freshman High, Walker High, Westside Junior High
Katelyn Lockhart Cockerham
Born and raised in Walker, Katelyn Lockhart Cockerham has seen it grow much.
If elected to the District 7 seat, that growth is something she plans to address.
“[It’s] not [about] just reacting to growth, but forecasting and planning for the rapid growth our parish is seeing,” Cockerham said.
Cockerham also said she’ll work to acquire the best teachers — “it’s no secret we’re in a teacher shortage crisis” — and retain experienced teachers “that we rely on to foster education.”
A mother of three, Cockerham said she studied business and marketing at LSU before entering the corporate world for CB&I. She said she currently serves as vice president for Livingston Parish Work Release, where she handles payroll, bills, budgeting, staffing, and maintaining compliance with state and federal agencies.
Cockerham has also volunteered much for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, having served on the board for the Baton Rouge St. Jude Walk/Run and the Denham Springs-based Chippin’ in for St. Jude Golf Tournament, which has raised more than $1.2 million in seven years.
Cockerham is a recent graduate of Leadership Livingston, a leadership program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.
Before entering the private sector, Ryan Pope worked alongside those he hopes to represent — teachers.
After obtaining a degree in education, Pope in 2002 became a teacher and coach at Southside Junior High, where he served “12 proud years.”
Pope said he has spent the last seven years working in sales in the oil and gas industry, but he still serves as a volunteer coach for North Corbin Junior High.
“This parish is very near and dear to me,” Pope said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about as well. I decided to run for school board because of that passion.”
Pope has lived in Walker for nearly all of his life and said he has a “family lineage” of educators. The “value of education” was instilled in him at an early age, and he said he plans to carry that with him if elected to serve.
“Being involved heavily in this parish is something that means a lot to me,” he said. “As a school board member, I’ll continue to work hard to fight for those students and those kids.”
Schools: French Settlement Elementary, French Settlement High, Frost, Maurepas, Springfield Elementary, Springfield High, Springfield Middle
Ron McMorris said his bid for the District 8 seat began after he saw a concerning post on Facebook.
In the post, a parent complained that Frost School students had “gutters being held up with duct tape” while kids in other districts “are playing in multi-million dollar facilities.”
McMorris said that post inspired him to run to bring lower Livingston “what we deserve.”
“I want to be the person to bring that to lower Livingston and make sure our kids are getting what they deserve,” he said. “Our teachers deserve to wake up in the morning and be happy and proud to go do something they absolutely love and know that someone in the administration has their back and will support them throughout their journey.”
McMorris said his roots in District 8 go deep, dating back to his grandparents. He has a 7-year-old with 11 years left in the school system, and he said that everything in lower Livingston has “personal meaning” for him.
“District 8 needs a strong voice, strong leadership, and a visionary who’s not only gonna look at today what we need, but… years down the road,” McMorris said.
Though he acknowledged not having a teaching background, McMorris stressed to teachers that he is “here to help.”
“Teachers, I didn’t walk in your shoes, but I’m a blank canvas for you,” he said. “Talk to me. I’m here to help.”
A retired educator, Monica Sullivan spent nearly three decades working at all levels in the Livingston Parish school system.
Sullivan served 17 years in the classroom in Springfield and Maurepas before spending another 10 years in the central office. She said she supervised 47 schools and worked with “every principal and every school.”
“I’m a voice for the teachers,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been there. I hear them. All of my friends are teachers, so it’s like a 24/7 news report. I’m here to support our teachers.”
Sullivan, who attended Springfield High, said she had three daughters who went through the school system, meaning she also views the problems District 8 faces through a parent’s perspective.
“I’m easy to work with and I listen to what the people want,” she said.
Sullivan said the communities of Springfield, Maurepas, and French Settlement “are dear to my heart” and that she wants to improve the schools for all of District 8.
“That’s where I grew up and live,” she said. “That community does deserve better. Our schools are in bad condition. District 8 has really been neglected for a long time, and it’s time that that changes.”
Schools: Albany High, Albany Middle, Albany Lower Elementary, Albany Upper Elementary
The current board member for District 9, Devin Gregoire said he has an educational background with “diversity like no other,” having worked with both adult education and child education.
As a school board member, Gregoire touted his leadership helping pass a sales tax in Albany to renovate the district’s schools and bring them “up to date.” One of those projects, Gregoire said, is improvements to the cafeteria shared by Albany Upper and Albany Lower.
Gregoire also spoke about the Hornet Academy, which he helped launch in 2021 to serve as “a COVID catch-up program.”
“Because of all the inconsistencies in our education over the past few years, I created a program called the Hornet Academy… a two-week program that allows [students] to get caught up with any deficiencies they had in the previous grade and also get ahead on the new grades,” Gregoire said.
Gregoire said he comes from an extensive educational background. His wife, mother, and brother all work in education, and he noted his time as an educational director for Associated Builders and Contractors in two different states.
“I have an educational background that has diversity like no other,” Gregoire said.
Gregoire added that he is the only current school board member that has been a certified board member by the Louisiana School Board Association for the past four years.
“I hope to continue to serve in every aspect that I can,” Gregoire said.
Steve Link spent three decades in education, working as both a teacher and administrator.
Originally from Tangipahoa Parish, Link said he moved to Livingston Parish 25 years ago with his wife and started his teaching career at Albany Middle. He later served in the administration for schools in Holden and Walker.
His time in education spanned 30 years.
Like others, Link said he comes from a family that “eats and breathes education” and that his background helped shape the career he chose to pursue. He added that having a father serve multiple school board terms inspired him to follow suit.
“My father was a four-term school board member in Tangipahoa Parish,” Link said. “While watching his career and [seeing him] being able to give back, it piqued my interest and allowed me to go to the next level in my career here.”