By Senator Mary Landrieu
Last week, Paul Pastorek left his position as State Superintendent of Education to embark on a new chapter in his impressive career. I received the news of Paul's departure with deep gratitude for the four years he gave to leading Louisiana's education reform movement, one of the most influential in the country.
In 2007, I joined Governor Blanco and BESE in calling upon Paul to take the helm of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). The hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast left schools across the region struggling to rebound and bold leadership was more important than ever. We needed a State Superintendent of Education who could make the tough decisions necessary to bring sweeping change to our public schools. Paul, the reform-minded BESE President, fit the bill.
Throughout his tenure, Paul proved himself to be fearless. Earning both admirers and sharp critics along the way, he has always sought to do what is right for the children of Louisiana. And the results have been dramatic.
With Paul leading the LDOE, Louisiana passed groundbreaking laws to reform its public schools. In 2009, Louisiana lifted its cap on charter schools. Today, there are 90 charter schools in Louisiana -- and 70 percent of the students in New Orleans attend charters. Last year, Louisiana passed legislation requiring educators to be formally evaluated every year, with 50 percent of every educator's evaluation based on student growth.
Under Paul's leadership, Louisiana's nearly 700,000 public school students made unprecedented academic gains. The number of students dropping out of school each year has plummeted. In 2008-2009, 6.3 percent of students dropped out. In 2009-2010, that figure dipped to 4.6 percent, marking the largest decrease since Louisiana began tracking dropouts in 2001. In New Orleans, the number of students attending failing schools plunged from 62 percent in 2004-2005 to 18 percent in 2009-2010.
Despite all of these gains, there are still students in Louisiana's public schools who are not receiving a high-quality education. As Paul has said many times before, there is still so much work to be done. Soon, there will be new State Superintendent of Education -- hopefully one as determined and visionary as Paul -- and the hard work of ensuring an excellent education for every child will persist.
At his farewell press conference, Paul firmly stated that Louisiana will not go backward or give up. This is a conviction that I share, and a promise to our children we all should embrace. I will continue to do what I can from Washington, but this next Superintendant is one of the most important choices our state will make. Let's choose wisely.