When the Bossier Parish School Board named a new Superintendent in April 2019, its members unanimously voted to go with someone who was well acquainted with its mission.
Mitch Downey was the obvious choice. Before taking over the role of Superintendent of Bossier Schools, Downey served the previous three years as Assistant Superintendent and Interim Superintendent. In fact, his entire 35-year education career had been devoted to Bossier Schools.
Downey began his career in education as a social studies teacher and coach at Bossier High School, then worked his way up the administrative ladder at several schools. His last stop before moving into a district role was at Benton High School, where he served as principal for four years.
Downey’s focus as Superintendent is on the empowerment of teachers and principals, with the belief that if every decision made is based on what is best for students, then everything else falls into place.
With the start of a new school year approaching, the Journal reached out to Downey to get his answers to some important questions facing administrators in today’s public education field.
SBJ: What do you think your biggest accomplishment has been since taking over this role?
MD: Navigating the pandemic and providing a safe school environment during that difficult time. It was a huge challenge, yet our teachers and staff rose to the occasion and worked each day to not only meet, but to exceed those obstacles head-on. They are the true heroes!
SBJ: What is the biggest challenge you are facing as Superintendent?
MD: Teacher shortages and growth of the parish.
SBJ: What is the biggest challenge facing teachers?
MD: The landscape has drastically changed for educators over the years. They face increased demands put on them, eroding parental support and heightened criticism. They need to be granted a lot more grace.
SBJ: What is the biggest challenge facing students?
MD: In addition to the big decisions students must make about college, career and their future, social media has taken a toll on our young people, placing additional pressures on them that lead to stress and anxiety.
SBJ: What steps are being taken to ensure the students’ safety on the campuses?
MD: Bossier Schools has one of the most comprehensive School Resource Officer (SRO) programs in the state, with 43 fully certified Bossier Parish Sheriff’s deputies assigned to each of our schools, as well as our own K-9 trained in gun powder and narcotics detection. Without jeopardizing internal procedures, our SROs work hand in hand with the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office in continually evaluating and refining protocols and training regularly should the unthinkable happen.
SBJ: Teachers nationwide are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. How is this impacting your school district and what can be done to meet this challenge?
MD: We are not immune to the increased staffing challenges. Bossier is having to compete with other districts to recruit from a shrinking pool of educators while working to retain the highly qualified teachers we have.
One way we are trying to meet this challenge is by growing our own. Examples of that include the parent-to-teacher initiative that Bossier Schools started last year. We had paraprofessionals in classrooms with four-year degrees who we are now tutoring to help them pass the Praxis and become certified teachers. The district is also helping paras with some college work toward getting their alternative certification.
We have also hired a Recruitment/Retainment Specialist who will work year-round to recruit, retain, and support teachers in place now.
And there are two longer-term initiatives being implemented at Bossier Schools. The pre-educator pathway for high school students at Bossier Parish School for Technology and Innovative Learning integrates them in the school setting in hopes they will want to pursue teaching as a career; and new this fall is Educators Rising, which will mirror the Bossier Youth Leadership program. Students in 8th and 10th grades will have the opportunity to learn more about career opportunities when they visit different locations throughout the district several times a year and take a deeper dive into the education arena.
SBJ: High school athletes in Louisiana can now receive NIL (name, image, and likeness) benefits. Do you see this as a positive or negative?
MD: It remains to be seen how NIL will flesh out as we move forward. It is a fantastic opportunity for high school athletes, but it is not without challenges. Certainly, it is in its infancy stage and will have to be monitored correctly to make sure it is not abused and used for recruitment.
SBJ: You had a successful coaching career. How has that experience helped you in your role as superintendent?
MD: It taught and emphasized the value of teamwork and the power of collaboration. There is value in everyone contributing because it allows for ownership and empowerment. Personally, it helped me develop focus and a strong work ethic.