School & District Management

Pastorek Leaves Legacy of Change, Controversy in Louisiana

By Sean Cavanagh — May 16, 2011 3 min read
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Louisiana state schools Superintendent Paul G. Pastorek resigned last week after a four-year tenure marked by aggressive efforts to raise academic expectations and rebuild New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged schools.

Mr. Pastorek, 57, championed a number of sweeping policy changes as superintendent of schools in the traditionally low-performing state, including efforts to link teacher evaluations to student performance, assign individual schools letter grades, and expand charter schools.

Along the way, he angered teachers’ unions and local school board officials, some of whom saw his leadership style as imperious and thought he placed too much emphasis on testing without regard for districts’ concerns.

He chose to resign, effective May 15, to become the chief counsel and corporate secretary for EADS North America, an aerospace and defense corporation with headquarters in Arlington, Va. Mr. Pastorek, who worked as a lawyer in private practice in Louisiana for much of his professional career, previously served as general counsel for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“I feel like I’ve more than done what I set out to do,” Mr. Pastorek said in an interview last week. “I feel like I’m leaving the situation in good shape. ... We’ve created a platform that can really provide districts with the support they need to improve.”

Mr. Pastorek, a New Orleans native, served on the state board of elementary and secondary education from 1996 to 2004. The board appointed him state superintendent in 2007, and reappointed him in 2008.

One of his immediate tasks was to oversee the Recovery School District, a state-run system designed to manage a majority of schools in New Orleans, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mr. Pastorek and other state officials supported efforts to transform the district’s traditionally low-performing schools through a series of changes, including welcoming charters and creating school choice. The district’s tests scores have risen, as have overall scores on statewide assessments.

In 2007, state officials worried that “the whole thing would come crashing down on top of us,” Mr. Pastorek said of the recovery district, which he describes now as a “beacon of hope for urban districts.”

But Joyce Haynes, the president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, a 20,000-member teachers’ union, said Mr. Pastorek’s strategies for New Orleans also angered many parents. She said the superintendent made only token efforts to listen to teachers’ concerns, particularly about new state policies on teacher evaluation.

“I’d like to see someone who will collaborate with the union, not just invite us to the table and tell us what they’re going to do,” she said.

The state board of education will likely name an interim appointee for the next seven months, then vote on a permanent appointment after that, said Penny Dastugue, the president of the board.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, appoints three of the board’s 11 members—the other eight are elected—and there is precedent for the governor having influence over the board’s choice, Ms. Dastugue said. Mr. Jindal’s office told the Associated Press last week that the governor favors having John White, who was recently named by Mr. Pastorek to lead the recovery district, serve as interim state superintendent. Mr. White replaced Paul G. Vallas, who resigned as recovery district superintendent this year.

Many of the disagreements between Mr. Pastorek and various education groups stemmed from his determination to set tougher expectations for schools and teachers—and local district officials’ desire for more time to implement them, the board president said. Mr. Pastorek was sometimes too “dismissive of pleas to go slower,” Ms. Dastugue said.

But she praised Mr. Pastorek’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to improve student achievement. She also said the state department of education, under his leadership, became more innovative and focused on helping districts.

“He has really put us on the right track,” Ms. Dastugue said. “He operated with a sense of urgency.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 2011 edition of Education Week as Pastorek Leaves Legacy of Change, Controversy in Louisiana

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