2012 will be eventful year

A new year provides a fresh start and holds new promise. I hope it will be a prosperous year for you and one in which you have decided “to get in the arena” and make a difference. (See “Publisher’s View,” Dec. 27, 2011, for the challenge.) If not now, when?

The new year has begun with a bang. As this column goes to press the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans has an incredible lineup for the next three days with the Saints opening their playoff bid on Saturday night, followed by the biggest college football game of the year on Monday: the BCS National Championship Game featuring a rematch of our No. 1 LSU Tigers versus No. 2 Alabama. What great national exposure for Louisiana.

This proves the point that sports can be a significant economic driver and powerful marketing tool for our city, state and flagship university, plus a pretty big booster for morale among citizens, students and alums.

Coach Les Miles and the Tigers have had a historic season and made us all proud to wear the purple and gold. Kudos to all the coaches and staff, as well as Athletic Director Joe Alleva, Chancellor Mike Martin and all of the faithful fans.

Now that the game is over, we can look to more good times with Mardi Gras, Bayou Country Superfest in Baton Rouge and Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

But there is a heavy dose of politics ahead—local, state and national. A mayor-president and Metro Council will be elected. Gov. Bobby Jindal has big plans for education reform in the upcoming session of the Legislature. And, of course, 2012 will see elections for president and Congress. (I am sure you will hear about it every day until November.)

Meanwhile, all of us here at Business Report will be getting ready to celebrate our 30th anniversary. (Thanks, Baton Rouge. We are grateful for your support for three decades and have a special anniversary issue coming to you in September.)

2012 is sure to be an eventful year filled with opportunities and good times. Let’s make the best of it and ensure it is one to remember.

Our local school board members will soon make the most important decision of their four-year terms. They have begun the interview process that will lead to choosing the next superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish schools.

The past few hires have not gone well. Charlotte Placide wasn’t among the three finalists interviewed by the board, but after the three were rejected board members called her from the audience and voted her in as the new superintendent in 2004.

The most recent hiring process resulted in the board blowing it again and choosing John Dilworth, which could be described as a lackluster choice at best. Truth is, he was weak, wimpy and certainly no change agent, but rather, like Placide, just more of the same.

Very little changed and more of our schools failed and were taken over.

So the new board gets its shot now to choose a leader. The pressure is on, and business and public support hang in the balance. If they choose another status quo candidate, then they can turn out the lights because the party’s over.

But if they are bold enough to hire the best—which may mean hiring someone they can’t “control”—then we have a chance.

The word “thrive” means “to prosper; be fortunate or successful. To grow or develop vigorously; flourish.” It is also the name of a new charter school group and concept for Baton Rouge headed up by Sarah Broome, a passionate and dedicated woman who is a former Teach For America teacher. She was impacted by the death of one of her students in a street fight—and decided to do something more.

THRIVE’s mission is “to create a residential boarding school that will take at-risk 6th graders and help them transform themselves into self-sufficient college graduates.”

Recently, THRIVE placed among the top three in the LEAD Pitch contest sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. It competed against eight other concepts, some from as far away as New York. The top three were awarded $1,000 and startup support from LAPCS.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director for LAPCS, said, “We love her idea, which is modeled after one of the most inspiring, high-performing charters in the country, SEED in Washington, D.C. THRIVE is a perfect example of what charter schools are about: Recognition that all students don’t have the same needs, nor do they learn the same way. We need to think outside the box and meet students where they are in their educational needs to ensure they can be successful. THRIVE can do that.”

THRIVE has received grants from local foundations and letters of support from LSU’s School of Social Work and the Truancy Assessment Service Center. They just submitted their charter last month for consideration by the East Baton Rouge Parish school board. I hope the local board will embrace this bold and innovative idea—or at least give THRIVE a quick answer so it can proceed to BESE for a type 2 charter. I am confident the new BESE board will support it.

We all hear the talk about how we want young people to get involved. Well, I applaud Broome and all those young people (see their photo at ThriveBR.org) who helped develop this idea, as well as its supporters. These folks are “in the arena” and making a difference in children’s lives. Join them.

I’m hoping the new year brings better communication and cooperation between the mayor and Metro Council. Relationships were rough in 2011, and it was not pleasant to watch. I wonder if this election year will bring performance or posturing. (I will call it like I see it.)

I was glad to see the Metro Council override Mayor Kip Holden’s veto of the proposal by Councilman Bones Addison to end the monopoly by city police on escorts for large vehicles that haul. This was a sham, and businesses should be able to choose among qualified competitors to allow a free market. Certainly the sheriff’s department, State Police, and even private escort services are capable of providing such services—and for a lot less. I was disappointed in City Police Chief Dewayne White for trying to defend this long-running racket and in Holden for his veto to try and save it.

Speaking of the mayor and the new year, I am hoping he will proceed on his commitment to establish a committee to request proposals from interested parties or developers for the city dock and surrounding seven acres located on the Mississippi River downtown. It has great potential and just sits there as a rusting eyesore at the entrance to our city for all coming over the bridge headed east.

This space is long overdue for a makeover—much like the old abandoned Swaggart building on Bluebonnet Boulevard, which recently opened as the beautiful Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel. The city dock has that same potential. Mayor Holden, we know developer Mike Wampold fixed the eyesore on Bluebonnet. The city dock is your opportunity to shine, and 2012 is the year to make it happen. We’ve waited long enough.

On Jan. 9, Gov. Bobby Jindal and all statewide elected officials took their oath of office for the next four years.

We have high expectations for strong leadership and bold reforms by this team of Republicans. Get ‘er done.

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