Dr John Bertrand
The right man
After Jimmie Domengeaux’s death in 1988, the future of CODOFIL did not seem secure. Its founder himself had expressed some doubts about the survival of the organization he had carried on his shoulders since its inception in 1968. The initial momentum had run out of steam, the state was coming out of a devastating economic recession and education was evolving. In order for this unique agency to be sustainable and forge an identity separate from that of its founder, it was necessary to appoint a successor capable of combining the expertise of a seasoned educator, the know-how of a respected administrator and the vision of a statesman. Had it been necessary to construct this hypothetical replacement from these elements, we would have nonetheless ended up finding Dr. John Avery Bertrand.
Born in Texas, his mother soon returned to live in Louisiana where the young widow taught her family the meaning of work. Bertrand quickly distinguished himself academically, graduating from high school with honors at the age of 16. Shortly thereafter, he enlisted in the Coast Guard during World War II. In 1946, returning to civilian life, he married his sweetheart, Ella Mae Simar. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he enrolled at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now UL-Lafayette) from where he graduated with honors. Then, he received a master's degree from LSU and finally a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. While pursuing these degrees, he made himself a reputation as a fair and innovative teacher, contributing to his rise in the world of education.
After 20 years of career, he was appointed Superintendent of Acadia Parish. During his 19-year tenure, he built new schools, renovated others and adopted the most progressive educational approaches. He even achieved an incredible feat for the time: under his tutelage, the Acadia Parish achieved racial integration without incident. He even enrolled his own daughter in an integrated school, demonstrating his commitment. When he retired in 1984, his impact was immense and is still felt today.
The year before, he had been elected to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, BESE, where he served for 16 years. He reformed teacher qualifications and graduation requirements for students, among many other improvements. From this position, he was able to pursue French-language policies that greatly contributed to its expansion in the schools, including the creation of immersion programs, the oldest of which at Prien Lake Elementary still exists. His mandate as President of CODOFIL, which lasted until December 1993, was the natural extension of a life dedicated to the respect and progress of others. It took a man of the caliber of Dr. Bertrand, who passed away in 2013, to pilot the CODOFIL boat through the uncertain waters of the post-Domengeaux era, a man who knew how to maneuver between the worlds of education and politics.