Finalists named for superintendent

Successor to Gomez-Walker should be announced March 20

And then there were four.

The St. Charles Parish School Board’s nationwide search for the successor to Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker, who will be retiring following the current school year, has been narrowed down from 22 applicants to four finalists, each bringing a wealth of experience in education.

The candidates include Dr. Ken Oertling, the current executive director of Secondary Schools in St. Charles Parish, Dr. Brian Binggeli of Texas, Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin of North Carolina and Dr. Elizabeth Swinford of New York.

The 22 applications received by the School Board included candidates from 10 states. From those 22 candidates, eight were chosen to participate in the first round of interviews for the position in January.

Stevie Crovetto, St. Charles Parish Public Schools district spokeswoman, said the eventual final decision is expected to be announced at the March 20 meeting of the School Board.

Alex Suffrin, School Board member and District 8 representative, called narrowing the list down a difficult process, citing the overall quality of the candidates who applied across the board.

“And I’m certain it will get even more difficult from here to make the final selection,” Suffrin said. “I am very satisfied with the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge of the candidates.

“The one finalist from within the system is familiar with the unique culture of St. Charles Parish Public Schools while the three finalists from outside the system offer perhaps a different perspective from their previous experience as a superintendent.”

Gomez-Walker announced her intentions to retire in November after 42 years as an educator in St. Charles Parish, citing a desire to move on to spending time with her family. She has served as superintendent since being voted unanimously to the position in 2013. Her retirement will be effective July 1.

Among the candidates to replace her, Oertling is the most familiar name for locals, the former principal of Hahnville High School who has been with the St. Charles school district since 2001. He has served as a teacher, coach and assistant principal over that span.

He is a United States Navy veteran.

Binggeli was superintendent of the Plano Independent School District in Texas from 2015 to 2018 and prior to that served in the same role for Brevard Public Schools in Florida, along the way amassing a total of eight years of experience as a superintendent.

He has been an educator since 1981, when he accepted his first job in the field in Ohio as a high school social studies teacher.

Pitre-Martin is the Chief Academic and Digital Learning Officer/Deputy Superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She began her career in education as a teacher and speech/debate coach in 1989 for Lafayette Parish Schools.

Swinford is the Chief Executive Officer/Consultant for PD Remix of New York and prior to that was schools superintendent for the Tuscaloosa County school system in Alabama from 2013 to 2015. She also served as superintendent for Vicksburg Warren school district in Mississippi from 2010 to 2013.

John Smith, District 5 representative and School Board member, also called the impending decision difficult, and added it will be one made as a team.

“The Board has developed a transparent process which will help us move forward, including receiving input from the community survey and the Community Advisory Committee,” he said.

Suffrin added, “Our stakeholders are significantly involved in the process. We fully understand that this is a monumental decision that will surely impact the district for years to come.”

Crovetto said the Board will take that community input into account in order to evaluate what characteristics are desired in the next superintendent.

The Community Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet with each finalist on Feb. 18 before giving the Board its recommendation of the most qualified candidate. On Feb. 19, the finalists will participate in formal interviews and present to the Board.

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