Former Lafayette Schools Superintendent Dr. James Easton Dies
Dr. James Easton, the man who led the Lafayette Parish School System out of its desegregation lawsuit and away from federal oversight, has died.
According to a preliminary obituary posted by Journet & Bolden Funeral Home, Easton died on Tuesday, May 3, at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center. He was 86 years old.
Easton was a native of South Bend, Indiana, and a graduate of Manchester College, the University of Tennessee, and Pennsylvania State University. Prior to becoming superintendent of Lafayette Parish Schools, Dr. Easton held a variety of positions across the country. His biography on the Lafayette Parish School Board's website describes his experience as such:
Dr. Easton is a competent leader with a track record of good powers of observation, curriculum design and delivery, a team player (leads by example), enthusiastic, careful in meeting deadlines and calm during a crisis. He has a progressive career path with positions of increasing responsibility, such as, Teacher, College Supervisor of Student Teachers, High School Principal, Executive Director for Community Education, Regional Director of Transportation and Director of Secondary Education.
He has worked with executive boards in planning budgets, establishing standards in operational policy and opening lines of communication between system leader and community organization.
The Lafayette Parish School Board voted to hire Dr. Easton as the district's superintendent on December 14, 2000. Easton, who at the time was the superintendent of schools in Moss Point, Mississippi, was not the district's first choice. The board initially selected Jerry Roy, of Baytown, Texas, for the job. Roy turned down the board's salary offer, opening the door for the board to select Easton. He signed his contract with the school system one week later and formally succeeded Michael Zolkoski as superintendent on January 16, 2001.
At the time, the Lafayette Parish School System was mired in a decades-old desegregation lawsuit. During his first press conference, Easton, Lafayette Parish's first Black schools superintendent, said he not only wanted to desegregate schools in the district but also integrate them--bringing together students of different backgrounds in more meaningful ways.
Dr. Easton achieved that goal.
On April 24, 2006, United States District Judge Richard Haik granted unitary status. Easton, who himself attended segregated schools and had worked on desegregation cases in the 1970s and 1980s, pushed the Lafayette Parish School System over the finish line by implementing programs that, in the eyes of the court, ended discrimination in student, teacher, and principal assignment; transportation; facilities; and extracurricular activities.
Later that year, a new school board was elected. Some of those new members led the charge to oust Easton. At one point, the board removed Easton from the superintendent's traditional spot on the board dais and forced him to sit at a separate desk on the school board meeting room floor. In June 2007, the board voted to buy out the remainder of Easton's contract.
Just 14 months after leading the Lafayette Parish School System to what was arguably its greatest achievement of the 2000s, Easton was out of a job.
Easton was rumored to be a candidate for the Lafayette superintendent's job when the positions was vacated in 2012. Easton shot down those rumors and did not seek the post.
Easton remained a resident of the Lafayette area after leaving office. He worked as an independent education consultant and at one time considered writing his autobiography.
Funeral arrangements for Dr. James Easton are pending.