Last Modified: Sunday, July 20, 2014 1:24 PM
The Calcasieu Parish School Board chose a new superintendent, Karl Bruchhaus, last month after a five-month-long and much debated search. With school starting in less than four weeks, the American Press sat down with Bruchhaus to talk about his first month in office and his plans for the school system.
American Press: How have your first four weeks as superintendent been?
Karl Bruchhaus: The first few weeks on the job have been extremely fast paced. My nature is to be high energy, whether I am at work or at home. The superintendent’s job certainly provides the opportunity to multi-task and juggle many topics at once. It has been such a positive experience to meet with the leadership team and collect their thoughts on the direction of our school system.
You worked as the CFO for CPSB for many years. Why did you want to be superintendent? Has it been a tough transition?
Over the last 25 years as a finance officer, I have had the chance to learn the inner details of education from many viewpoints working alongside nine different superintendents in a handful of school systems. It is truly a people oriented endeavor. At this stage of my life and career, I felt I was ready to tackle the most important of leadership roles — to serve as superintendent to our 33,000 students and 5,000 employees. The transition from CFO to superintendent is going well, as we prepare for a new school year.
Have you implemented any immediate changes and/or do you plan to? If so, what are they?
While change is always crucial, effective change is not an overnight occurrence. Many of the changes our system faces are handed down to us from other entities, like the state or federal government. Our challenge is to make change as painless as possible while we continue to make forward progress. For the most part, these first few weeks have been spent informing staff of basic expectations, moving forward to fill the chief financial officer and chief academic officer positions and finalizing plans for the opening of school.
Can you elaborate on what are your basic expectations for employees?
We’ve met with department heads and told them what we expect as far as people being at work, plans we are going to make for the new school year, student learning targets. We’ve had a lot of discussions about that and the teams we’ve been bringing in. We are getting teams of teachers to come write those and get the buy ins.
What is the status of the chief financial officer and chief academic officer positions?
Today they have been filled. We will announce that later today. We had some outstanding applicants for both jobs, and we feel like we have chosen the best candidates that will help the district move forward as quickly as possible and out on into the future. (CPSB announced Wednesday, July 16, that Tommy Campbell, who was previously the supervisor of curriculum and instruction for the Jeff Davis School Board, was appointed as chief academic officer. Wilfred Bourne, who previously worked in finance for the Allen Parish School Board, was appointed as chief financial officer.)
What are your goals for the next year?
The first year of my tenure brings the immediate opportunity for me to inject my positive approach and leadership style throughout our system. Through high-energy teamwork with employees, students and community members, I am working to bring forward campaigns on respect and literacy. Our curriculum staff and teacher teams are developing uniform student learning targets for each subject area. Plans will be brought forward to align and reorganize alternative programs. Focus groups will be formed to interact with teachers, administrators, community groups and business organizations.
What are your long term goals?
In the long term, my goals center around our education team aligning all programs and choosing those that are most beneficial for our system. We need to provide opportunities for parents and communities to be engaged in the education process. Additionally, continuous improvement is always a goal, especially in areas where our students aren’t reaching their potential because of their support network or educational environment. Ultimately, we want to build foundations for our children that will serve them well for the time they spend with us, and most importantly, for life after graduation.
How did you feel about some people saying you weren’t qualified to be superintendent because you never taught?
In every public setting, there will always be criticism in varying degrees. Individuals are always entitled to their own opinions, and in our modern day, social media outlets provide every opportunity for expression. The key is to realize that in education most people really do want what is best for our children. We will be successful as long as our education team and board members keep children as our primary focus.
Some surveys said that our teachers wanted an educator in your position. Have you spoken to any teachers about this? What have you done to alleviate any concerns they may have?
With four influential teachers in my immediate family including my wife, mother and two sisters, I have certainly always understood that the school system leadership must have compassion for students and teachers. There was concern that a person with a business background, even one with 26 years of education experience, might not have a classroom focus. I felt assured that those educators that knew me on a personal level never doubted my concerns for the classroom and my belief that the teachers are the backbone of education. We have already made a great effort this summer to insure that teachers are involved in setting learning targets and developing curriculum for the upcoming school year. I will continue to convey a message that our system can only be effective if our teachers are presented every opportunity to succeed.
What can students, parents and teachers expect from you when school starts this year?
I hope to convey a positive energy that is contagious by being visible and approachable throughout the year in schools and in the community. An effort to promote teamwork within schools and within the district will be evident. Our stakeholders will hear a common message: we are trying to improve opportunities for students, teachers and parents, and we will work hard to follow that message with results.
CPSB recently updated its logo. Have you received any feedback?
As a whole, the reception of the new branding has been positive. The current changes occurring in the educational environment and the forthcoming economic developments in SWLA convinced me that education is the key to building foundations for the future. Whether that foundation is enhanced for a child entering elementary school, strengthened for the middle school student transitioning to the next grade, or polished for our graduating seniors moving forward into a career or additional education, it is our responsibility to create a solid educational foundation for all 33,000 children in our system. The logo and mission statement associated with the brand promote that message.
Right now the dispute between Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over PARCC testing and Common Core is making national news. What are your thoughts on this dispute, and what does this mean for the district?
The disputes over state standards and the associated assessments are not good for education in Calcasieu Parish or in any other school system in the state. Every day seems to bring new confusion rather than a clear message of what education should look like in Louisiana. Our district is working hard to localize our curriculum in Calcasieu based on the BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) adopted standards. We have dedicated educators in our parish that want students to perform at a high level and will continue to make that happen.
Are you concerned that the school year is about to start and there is not an assessment approved?
I am certainly concerned that Louisiana’s student assessment is not set for 2014-15, because it is causing unrest for our school system. We can’t afford unrest and confusion when a teacher’s performance and a school’s rating are dependent on the results of state testing. One positive is that our educators will continue to perform at a high level and demonstrate a concern for children that will give us an opportunity to succeed, no matter how our education leaders in Baton Rouge settle their dispute.
Have teachers contacted you about this? If so, what are you telling your teachers to prepare for?
We will continue to try to shelter our Calcasieu Parish education family from conflicts created by state politics. Our message has consistently been that BESE has set our standards, and we will continue to develop curriculum and resources for Calcasieu Parish that prepare our students to progress. If our educators must start the year without knowing what assessment our state will mandate, we will fight as a district to insure that the corresponding accountability process for both teachers and schools is not punitive.
The American Press recently published an article about the 19 CPSB schools in which all students will receive free breakfast and lunch, with no application required, through the Community Eligibility Program. We have received mixed reactions on our Facebook page, with many people saying this is unfair and that all schools should be included. What is your response to that?
We are following the federal guidelines, which of course with the school lunch program a lot of people don’t realize the majority of the funding from our school lunch program comes from the federal government. We are in strict adherence to what they mandate for us. We would love to not have to do one free and reduce lunch application in this parish. That would be wonderful. But unfortunately right now the regulations aren’t allowing us to do that and not have to pick it up out of local costs, which we can’t afford to do. So we really chose the schools that would receive the maximum benefit from the new ruling. And those are the ones we implemented right off. As things change, the hope is that we get more schools involved. This is the first year and very dependent on files we receive from other entities and people who have filed their information with the state according to their income eligibility and that type of thing. We get a file from the state that certifies who is eligible and who is not. And so that’s how we’re calculating who will get the benefit.
In your contract, you removed the Right to Return clause. With so many years in the system, are you at all concerned about that in case your position as superintendent doesn’t work out?
Not at all. We are going to work hard to make our district succeed. When our district succeeds, then our School Board and administrators succeed. So as CPSB moves forward, I am not concerned about the future as it affects me. That clause is not a common thing in a lot of contracts. There are a few other people in the state that have that clause, and they are even much younger than I am and I think that’s why they put that clause in. But that’s not very common. I think the merits of what we do to make Calcasieu succeed will stand on their on.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think anybody in the district who has been around the last month will tell you that we are going full speed ahead. We are moving at a pretty fast pace. I think the energy is high. Most people are positive who are working right now. We’re going to try to carry that positive energy to everybody when they come back. I’m excited.