AP Interview: Ex-La education chief back in state

By Kevin McGill, Associated Press | Posted - Jun. 16, 2014 at 9:51 a.m.

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Paul Pastorek, who left the Louisiana superintendent of education post in 2011 for a corporate job in Washington, has stepped down as chief administrative officer of Airbus Group Inc. and plans to work again in education policy.

Pastorek told The Associated Press on Friday that he left Airbus effective May 31. He said he is returning to his hometown of New Orleans and has begun work to establish a company that will advise people working in the education field.

As a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in the 1990s, Pastorek was an architect of school accountability measures implemented under then-Gov. Mike Foster.

Those included high-stakes testing with minimum standards for promotions and graduation, report cards for schools and, later, a protocol for state takeovers of failing schools.

He became education superintendent in 2007.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Pastorek said he decided to leave Airbus Group, the U.S. subsidiary of the European manufacturer of aircraft and defense systems , and return to New Orleans about nine months ago — in part to be close to his family, including a new grandson, and in part to involve himself again in education policy.

However, he won't be returning to government.

"What I've decided to do is put together a small company that will provide advice to people who are working in the education space, try and guide them through the objectives that they may have," Pastorek said.

An attorney whose job history includes a stint as general counsel to NASA, Pastorek also foresees involvement in legal causes.

"I saw when I was state superintendent that there were certain things that couldn't be handled either legislatively or through executive action," he said.

He offered as an example a California judge's recent ruling that tenure and other protections for California's public school teachers discriminated against minority and low-income students by placing ineffective teachers in their schools.

Until the court ruling, he said, California officials "couldn't handle the very difficult issues of terminating really bad teachers," Pastorek said.

Pastorek plans to offer expertise to people around the nation from a city with an education landscape he helped reshape. The state's Recovery School District oversees most schools and, come this fall, all the RSD schools in New Orleans will be "charter schools," run by independent organizations granted charters by the state agency.

Critics point to school performance scores indicating many RSD schools continue to struggle. They also complain about the disruption of neighborhood school systems and long travel times some students face to attend the city's best schools. Some call for a return of school control to the elected local school board.

"Academic achievement has risen more dramatically in the city of New Orleans than in any other urban scene in the country," Pastorek said. Schools must continue to "raise the bar" for performance, he said, but he dismisses much of the criticism.

"All of a sudden clamoring for everybody to have an 'A' school is a bit disingenuous, especially when some of those same people are people who supported the old traditional schools in new Orleans, and those schools were horrible."

Pastorek's views on school reform often align with those of Gov. Bobby Jindal. But he disagrees with Jindal over "common core" — learning standards adopted by many states but derided by some conservatives as a federal intrusion. Jindal, once a common core supporter, now seeks to scrap the standards.

Changing course on common core now would be "chaotic" to the state education system, Pastorek said.

"If Gov. Jindal's intent were to be realized." Pastorek adds, "it would destroy our accountability system."

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Kevin McGill


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