Q&A: Superintending a School District 

Our Q&A Column is a way for us to highlight the interesting people within our community.

This week we talked with Natchitoches Parish School Superintendent Dr. Grant Eloi.

Why Were You Interested In Your Current Role in the Beginning?

When I saw the opening, I was working for the Special School District providing education for students who were incarcerated or in behavioral/mental health hospitals. While rewarding, the job had begun to wear on me, and I was looking to get back into traditional education. Superintendency was always my goal, and I was near the end of my doctoral journey so it all just felt right.

What Are The Roles Of Your Position?

I guess I wear many hats. I am the face of the district so when things go bad, I get blamed and when things go well I sometimes unfairly get the credit. I work with board members to set the monthly agenda for our meetings. I am also the last arbiter for all things dealing with personnel, student discipline, and parent concerns.  Most days I have several appointments with parents or employees after they have gone through all the proper channels and still have a concern. I also run our directors meeting and collectively create the direction/vision of the district.  I am the big picture guy and then try to support the folks who must carry that big picture out. I also feel like it is part of my role to be the chief motivation in the building, by making sure everyone feels valued and heard. Another big part of my job is to set the culture but also to be seen and heard throughout the district. I try to make it to every school as often as possible and pop into instructional leadership meetings and clusters whenever possible. I also work with community leaders on different initiatives that concern the district and extend outside the district, such as the recent push for broadband. I also work with fellow superintendents to advocate for public education at the legislature and BESE.

What Major Challenges Have You Faced So Far In Office?

Covid was obviously an insane challenge for anyone, but especially for someone in their first week on the job. The good news is I have never known a day in this job without it, so now everything seems like a smaller challenge compared to it. It seemed throughout the pandemic that no matter what we did, we upset a segment of our population. We tried to be as consistent as possible but the CDC and LDH were constantly changing their guidance. Also the entire pandemic became so politicized, if you wore a mask or didn’t wear one that somehow indicated your political affiliation. My entire desire throughout the pandemic was to keep schools open and later to keep kids in schools. I had no agenda throughout. Besides the hospital, I can’t think of another organization that is happier that we are on the better side of the pandemic. The other major challenge has probably been the mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it.” That is a hard mindset to break and it’s also hard for people to not think you are attacking their hard work. There has been so much good work in Natchitoches, and it took a while to make people understand that I love growth and change and that can be done while still honoring the past.

What Kind of Strategies And Mindset Is Required For This Role?

You can’t take things personally and you must have a tough skin. It’s not always fun to be attacked but that is just part of being a public servant. You also must persevere because some days it doesn’t feel like you’re making any headway but if you let one bad day or a bad week pull you down then you’ll never create any change.  I don’t get mad easily and I try to empathize with others and walk a day in their shoes before I get frustrated at their position.  I think you also can’t take yourself too seriously. I know I have a big job but at the end of the day I’m just Grant and Dad.  I have a great wife who never lets me get out of line and helps me to remember who I am and what my goal is, to improve outcomes for kids.

How Do You Stay Motivated In Your Work?

I love my job, but like any job it can be weighty at times. When it does, I remember our short term and long-term goals and I look at how far we have already come. I am also hugely competitive so that helps as well. When I get down about progress I like to talk to students and teachers and that always reminds me of my purpose.  I also have an excellent network of superintendent friends. We talk every day. It helps to realize that the struggles in one district are like those in another.  My goal is to be an A district and thinking about the day we hit that mark and how rewarding that will be for everyone is a big motivator.

Describe A Time When You Failed In This Role And The Lesson You Learned?

I think in general I tried to move very fast in my first year. There were numerous times where others had to slow me down because I just wanted to address everything I saw. I soon realized that timing is everything and patience is a virtue. I feel like I have hit my stride in year 3 but it took a lot of bumps in bruises to teach me the lessons I needed to be successful today.

Tell me something fun that not many people may know about you.

Most people don’t know that I am a huge reality tv junky. My kids and I love Survivor and it is our tradition that every year I apply for the show. Unfortunately, I have yet to get a call from CBS.

If You Could Time Travel, When Would You Go?

I’m a huge history buff, it was my major in college so it is hard to decide on just one era but I think I would have to choose the Roman empire or the late middle ages in Europe.

What’s Your Best Natchitoches Memory?

My wife laughs at me about how much I romanticize the city but it really is so unique. I love driving over the bridge as the sun is setting. It’s almost like something picked off a postcard.  I also love all of the festivals, especially the car show in the fall. My favorite memories are fall Saturdays when there is a chill in the air and my family and I wake up early and go to Lasyone’s for a big breakfast, watch college football all day and then have a fire in our firepit to end the night.

What Is The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Received?

It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it appears. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the positive or negative but this piece of advice helps me to stay grounded in the middle.

What Accomplishment Are You Most Proud Of?

In this job I am most proud of our pay increases for staff and the number one district proficiency growth we saw this year.  Overall, I am most proud of raising 3 wonderful children with my amazing wife, Lauren.