Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Kolwe announces plan to retire effective June 30, 2018

Kolwe announces plan to retire effective June 30, 2018
Posted: Dec 5, 2017
Categories: Front Page, Headlines
Comments: 0
AMITE—Tangipahoa Parish School Superintendent Mark Kolwe has announced his plans to retire next summer.

The longest-serving School Superintendent in modern Tangipahoa Parish history, Kolwe has served as the CEO of the school system for more than 11 years. He said Tuesday night that he will not seek a contract extension when his current contract expires June 30, 2018.

In comments delivered shortly after an executive session, Kolwe announced that he will retire at the end of his contract and not seek any further contract extensions.

By board policy, the Superintendent or the Board must give the other party at least six months’ notice if either party opts against renewing the contract.

Kolwe thanked his wife and family for their support, and he offered his appreciation for the team he worked with throughout his tenure. Kolwe said that after 43 years of service, 11 of which were spent as Superintendent, he was proud of the "many accomplishments" the district has experienced and he hopes his efforts "made a difference" for the parish.

“You’ve committed a lifetime to this parish, and it’s a better parish because of what you’ve done,” said School Board President-elect

A Tangipahoa Parish native and a graduate of Ponchatoula High School, Kolwe earned his degree from Southeastern Louisiana University before taking a job in the business office with the Tangipahoa Parish School System. Over the next 40-plus years, Kolwe would build a solid career working for the school system and in 2007 he was appointed as the CEO of the parish’s largest employer, regardless of the fact that he was not educator by profession.

During Kolwe’s tenure as Superintendent, he led the district through the 2008 economic bust that impacted impacted Louisiana. Relying heavily on a rainy day fund Kolwe helped establish when he served as the parish’s business manager, the district staved off a series of financial cuts and unfunded mandates delivered by the State. He implemented a series of cost-cutting measures designed to make the system "work smarter with less” and decreased the number of administrative positions at the Central Office.

The single most-easily-identified issue associated with Kolwe's administration was the re-activated Joyce Marie Moore federal desegregation lawsuit, which was re-opened soon into Kolwe's tenure as Superintendent. The case, which originated in the 1960s, went dormant in the late 1980s and 1990s and was virtually unmentioned until 2007 when the board's choice for head football coach at Amite High School was challenged by the Greater Tangipahoa NAACP. That dispute ultimately resulted in the plaintiffs in the Joyce Marie Moore case re-activating their suit, which remains ongoing to this day.

Bogged down in the desegregation litigation, a myriad of financial woes, and changes to the way the state "grades" public schools, Kolwe's administration faced a turbulent start replete with employee turnover and declining public confidence in the school system. In 2010, Kolwe and the Board were summoned to the federal courthouse for a very public scolding by U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle, who reminded them that if the district did not follow the court's orders, he would be forced to take drastic measures. The following year, the Board voted to go forward with a consent order authored by their attorneys to settle the case, and they also proposed a series of tax measures to fund implementation of that plan. The voters overwhelmingly opposed those taxes and the Board went back to the drawing board.

Undeterred by the failure of the tax proposals and under strict orders of the federal court to move toward full desegregation, Kolwe proceeded to begin implementation of the 2010 consent plan by first re-configuring nine of the parish's high-risk schools into high-interest "theme" schools to serve as "magnets" to draw Tangipahoa students back into the public school system. The process included hiring completely new principals and faculty teams to work at each school, which would operate as either a communications magnet, a STEM site, or an International Baccalaureate-themed school. During this same period, Kolwe and the board began a series of meetings with the public to outline financial concerns for the school system. Relying on Kolwe's financial expertise, the Board and the public worked to rededicate the parish’s second one-cent sales tax to alleviate some of the proverbial “bleeding” in the deflated budget.

In recent years, Kolwe has helped the system weather a series of storms—both literal and figuratively. The district recently enacted a new “student assignment plan” as part of their revised plan to reach unitary status in the JMM deseg case. As part of that program, the district reconfigured nine more schools, developing them as K-8 campuses. In addition, the district added more than four dozen portable classroom buildings to their inventory to accommodate growth and student population shifts induced by the new plan. The system also reworked more than 200 bus routes and implemented online registration and transportation information for parents, all in advance of implementation of the Student Assignment Plan.

Then came the weather events—to include hurricanes, rain events, freezing precipitation, and two historic floods, all of which Kolwe led the system and worked around the clock to insure schools could be open and operational after the events.

“Through your leadership, you’ve helped us through all those times,” longtime supporter and Board member Rose Dominguez told Kolwe after his announcement Tuesday night. She noted that through it all, the system improved each year, with test scores rising a little each year.

“You’ve worked diligently through it all,” she said, adding, “We’re a much better system now than we were 10 years ago.”

In addition to the Superintendent’s announcement, the Board approved a one-time salary supplement for all employees. Teachers and certified personnel will receive $600 while non-certified employees will qualify for $300, based on a series of employment requirements that the district has followed over the last two decades in making these so-called “13th checks” available at the holidays.

The Board also voted to table a measure to hire a new Director of Transportation. Applicant Byron Muse was the administration’s nominee; however, several board members questioned if the applicant had enough practical knowledge to take on the position, while Personnel chairman Walter Daniels said the candidate had been selected as the top applicant based on the legal hiring requirements.

The Board also elected Domiano as their 2018 President and Sandra Bailey Simmons as their 2018 vice-President.