It is the dawning of a new day for the Webster Parish School Board.
With Webster-Parish school-system veteran Johnny Rowland Jr. shedding his interim title in favor of a permanent role as Webster Superintendent of Schools, there is hope for improved relations between the School Board, their employees, parents and students.
When former Superintendent Dan Rawls suddenly retired at the start of June, it left many wondering who would rise to challenge. Rowland, who has spent 21 years in the Webster Parish school system serving as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and, most recently, personnel and middle school director, appears the perfect fit.
“The whole experience has been humbling,” Rowland said. “I think because I’m from here in Webster Parish, a 1986 graduate of Sibley High School, and because I’ve spent the majority of my professional career in this school system, it makes this more than just a job. It’s a very personal endeavor.”
A number of challenges have been laid at Rowland’s feet, but with his time on the job still being measured in days, Rowland is focusing on overlying issues such as employee morale.
“The supervisory staff and I have talked a good bit in recent days about morale,” Rowland said. “We’re mindful of that, and we’re brainstorming ways and thinking of things that we can do. As we move along, and as it becomes more appropriate, we’ll be able to share more details about some things we have in mind.”
Rowland said his vision for Webster Parish schools can be summarized with three main points:
1) Working closely with Finance Director Crevonne Odom to be fiscally responsible
2) Pursuing gains in student achievement
3) Improving the climate and culture within schools
“In my conversations with many parents, they want two main things,” Rowland said. “They want to know that their child is going to school in a safe learning environment; that their child is protected while they’re going to school. Second, you might say 1a, they want to know their child is being educated in things that matter, the core subject areas. It sounds simple, but when that’s done, all the other things fall into place like electives and extracurricular activities and the many great programs we have.”
The balancing act between employee morale and fiscal responsibility has proven tricky, with district employees going on seven-straight years of frozen pay. With the local economy still facing hard times from a depleted oil and gas industry, the school board has done well to stay afloat for the past eight years.
“We are not in the same situation as some districts in the state,” Rowland said. “We are able to meet payroll, pay our bills, contribute to the retirement system and our part of health insurance benefits; we run and sustain our system without depending on any money from the state, other than MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) dollars that go to all districts. We are a totally-independent district when it comes to our finances, and we’re proud of that fact.”
However, it is imperative to Rowland to keep the parish’s current and hardworking employees satisfied and prideful of the work they do.
“We’re still well-ahead of the state average for certified teachers,” Rowland said. “And we’re working hard on our teachers who aren’t certified to get them their certification. We’re having a good summer of replacing teachers who have left us, whether it be through retirement or resignation… certainly, economic indicators show right now that our economy has taken a downturn, but we’re all very hopeful that in the coming near future our economy will see an upward swing; we are looking at many different avenues to let our employees know how important and valuable they are to us.”