By April, the East Baton Rouge public school board plans to have selected the next superintendent to take the reins from the retiring Warren Drake. The search firm now has 23 applicants, including names from across the country, some locals and two currently working within the EBR system. The board will pare that list on March 5, having 10 Group A candidates and five in Group B. Interviews will then be scheduled with a final selection expected in April.
In the past, EBR has had superintendents who were male and others who were female. Some were black, some were white; some were young, others were older. None of that demographic data is important. What’s critical is someone being up to the challenge.
Many were not. Their tenures and success—or lack thereof—varied greatly. Boards of the past 20-plus years have made some big mistakes by hiring some superintendents lacking in leadership skills, innovation and a vision—and our children and community have paid the price.
This selection should simply be about finding “the best” … period. The decision is about the future and each of us has a stake in it—even if you don’t have children or grandchildren in the EBR public school system. As Board President Michael Gaudet told WAFB-TV, “This is more than just about students who attend public schools, this is also about the city as a whole and how we can help impact the image and performance of Baton Rouge for the entire city and parish.”
As he points out, the EBR superintendent is CEO of an operation that has 6,000 employees and serves 41,000 students. Gaudet went on to say the system has a key role in our economic growth, workforce and quality of life. And while he is pleased with recent scores and progress, improvement must continue with the next leader—something he believes to be the primary role of the board.
I agree, and let’s be clear: Finding “the best leader” should be the board’s only objective.
There are a variety of candidates with different experiences and talents. What is their vision? What is their record of leadership? We know EBR has its own set of challenges; who is best equipped to tackle those issues and show the nation we are serious about education in our community?
Disruption in the world is real and K-12 education is not exempt. Who can best innovate, communicate and lead our system through the many changes ahead? That leader would be the “best choice.”
The lakes project and City Park
Quality of life—including education and recreation—is important to a community and economic development if you want to attract companies and the young talent they need to thrive.
The LSU and City Park lakes are an asset in the center of our community and adjacent to the LSU campus. It is the top local destination for walkers and runners. But we all see the green slime the hot summers create and know well the smell that comes with fish kills. It is a problem that has persisted in what ought to be a great asset.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation has paid to produce a master plan for the lakes, bringing numerous parties together to develop a solution and make “lemonade out of lemons.” Kudos to them.
Bill Balhoff, chairman of the BRAF board, recently wrote in the foundation’s Currents magazine thanking all parties and saying, “Reviving and preserving the lakes—a crowning jewel among Baton Rouge’s public places—must happen now. Public officials signed a memorandum of understanding that dedicates $50 million to the project.”
If you have not seen renderings of the project you should check them out (braf.org/br-lakes). They are quite impressive and once a reality will transform this old asset into something spectacular.
Imagine a company CEO tour- ing Baton Rouge and seeing this or a recent college graduate here in town deciding if they move away. This could make a difference.
Some may disagree, but I think this is an important project that makes something great out of something that currently is merely good.
One thing Balhoff wrote, however, I must challenge. He said, “Residents, runners and picnicking park-goers were revolted by the sickly, stinking bloom and complained that no one was taking action.” I don’t think this was the case with “picnicking park-goers” because few exist in that park. (He could have said dog park-goers because of the popular and nearby Raising Cane’s Dog Park.)
Like the lakes, City Park also needs to change, evolving into a higher use and a true Central Park. As I have championed for years, BREC should remove the old 9-hole golf course—where over the past 10 years its use continues to decline while the financial losses mount—and create a plan for a beautiful City Park adjacent to the new lakes project. Together, this spacious, rolling land with the beautiful lakes would be something extraordinary that every community would envy.
So, let’s not stop at “great” with the lakes. Instead let’s go for “the greatest potential” for our community.
Amazon is a force
There is a site in Baton Rouge that is a monument to disruption and could be a glimpse into the future. I am referring to the intersection of Airline Highway and Florida Boulevard where a nearly empty Cortana Mall sits. I was told this mall when built was the highest grossing mall in sales-per-square-foot in the country. Today, it sits empty and Business Report is being told by sources that it could soon be torn down and replaced with an Amazon distribution center. Wow. That is telling.
Amazon is becoming a beast in the retail world. I read the other day that Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric vans to use for delivery. And founder Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, says Amazon has moved from two-day delivery to next-day delivery—and in some places now offers same-day delivery.
But Amazon isn’t just retail goods. You may be aware that it got into the grocery business and bought Whole Foods. But it didn’t stop there. Half of Whole Foods’ expenses are labor costs. So, last week, USA Today reported that Amazon has launched a full-size grocery store in Seattle. The Amazon Go Grocery offers pretty much everything you’d see at a local supermarket but to use it, shoppers have to download the Amazon Go app and scan their phone at a kiosk when they enter the store. Every item shoppers pick up and bag is monitored by overhead cameras, which note if something is returned to the shelf. When done, shoppers walk out of the store and receive an email receipt of their purchase.
“Amazon’s goal: bring the ‘just walk out’ concept not just to Whole Foods, but unleash a wave of Amazon food stores nationally to compete with the likes of Kroger and Walmart,” USA Today reports. “Amazon believes with cameras and sensors and, eventually, robots to fulfill orders, they will be selling more groceries than Kroger by 2027 and surpass Walmart by 2035.”
By the way, Bezos sold his first book on Amazon.com from his Seattle garage in July 1995. I wonder if he even imagined his empire just a short 25 years later and a personal net worth of $127 billion. And many counted him out. So, what does his next 25 years hold—and what does it look like for traditional retail?