Justin and Marie Centanni joined Discover Lafayette to share their journey together and how they work as a team to support each other. Independently successful in their own fields, you’ll hear in this interview how their loving bond makes each of them stronger to tackle the myriad of family, work, and political issues that come their way.
The couple met while in college at a Kappa Alpha Rush party, and Marie jokingly added, “I’m 5’10”. I looked over and saw a boy taller than me! He was well-dressed and smart,” and Marie was impressed. They were friends for years and were married after she graduated with a Master in Legislative Affairs at the George Washington University in 2004.
Marie’s interest in politics stems back to her early college days as a Page in the Louisiana House of Representatives where when she met Cavan Bordelon who was a general assignments reporter for KLFY. He showed her how a full day of news could be broken down into “one piece of paper” that could be shared easily on the evening news. For the first time in her life, “I became so interested in state government and civic life, which had been so foreign to me in my own upbringing” in a family immersed in the medical field. She was hooked and went on to work at KLFY in Lafayette for two years and eventually at WAFB in Baton Rouge as a Capitol Correspondent.
Marie had met Gov. Kathleen Blanco while she was at UL-Lafayette and had the honor of serving as her Press Secretary following the double-hit of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She spoke of Blanco’s kindness and strength as well as how she cared for her staff members. Blanco’s decision not to run for a second term as governor was a poignant one, as Marie stated, “She was the last bi-partisan governor that we’ll see. The national party politics that focused on Louisiana (post-Katrina) divided our state and I don’t know that we’ll ever see that division come back together.”
With Blanco’s retirement, Marie started Centanni Communications in 2009, where she helps people and organizations achieve their goals through targeted messaging and legislative strategy. Additionally, she serves as Director of Public Affairs at Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (“LABI”), where she calls upon her news skills to relay what’s going on at the State Capitol in a precise, memorable, easily understand, and impactful way to its members. Marie also serves as Program Facilitator for the Council for a Better Louisiana’s Leadership Louisiana.
Justin Centanni is a graduate of Nicholls State University in Computer Information Systems, and the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches. He has worked with IBERIABANK since 2010 when he and Marie moved back to Lafayette, where they had always wanted to live. Working at the downtown branch, Justin is able to walk to work from the couple’s Saints Street area home and he looks forward to doing that post-COVID. His current position is Assistant Vice President – Database Analyst for the bank, which is now a part of First Horizon.
On his 37th birthday, Justin decided to run for Lafayette Parish School Board, and made that decision only one week before candidate qualifying time. It was a time of immense turmoil on the school board during the tenure of Superintendent Pat Cooper and people were ready for change-makers who could bring peace as well as stability to the budget. Justin’s background in finance gave him the tools that were a good fit for the job. He turned to his wife, Marie, for help, and in the first big project they did together, she ran his campaign on a budget of $16,000 (half of which they self-financed with cash on hand).
Justin campaigned door to door and shared the story of his children, then “6, 4 and 2 years of age” and how they would be public school students. Not only did he have a vested interest in the smooth operation of the school system, he also offered the voters of District 6 his work experience in finance and knowledge of the budget process.
District 6 is the only Lafayette Parish School Board district that is totally inside the City of Lafayette; it is truly the “heart of Lafayette.” With 16,000 registered voters in the district, it is a large district in which to campaign. Justin was successful in his efforts and was elected to office in 2014 with the help of his campaign manager, Marie Centanni! Justin is now serving his second term on the school board, and in 2019 he served as Board President.
Justin’s employer, IBERIABANK (now a part of First Horizon) has been supportive of his service on the school board and the time he must dedicate to it. “IBERIABANK has been committed to community and walks the walk.” He explained that as School Board President, “you are effectively the school system and are the person responsible for signing checks and contracts. He would make the weekly trek to the Central Office and the bank was then and has remained accommodative of the demands of public service upon his time.
The challenges that the COVID shutdown brought upon the public school system of 32,000 students cannot be overstated. Overnight in March 2020, Superintendent Irma Trosclair and staff had to figure out how to effectively teach classes online. Justin and Marie jokingly remembered the raucous Zoom calls their kids enjoyed once they could finally see their friends again after weeks of lockdown.
Superintendent Irma Trosclair and staff presented a plan to reopen schools in person for the 2020 school year, which began in September. Passions were high on all sides as the decision was made by the school board to approve the reopening, and the vote was 5 to 4 in support of this decision. But each family could choose what worked best for their children, and when the schools reopened, about 8,000 students exercised the option to attend the Lafayette Online Academy which is run virtually. (The Academy had previously had only about 200 students enrolled.)
The Lafayette Parish School System has never had to quarantine an entire school, at times only a classroom in accordance with quarantine guidelines. Justin attributes the successes the Lafayette’s schools experienced to the capable leadership of Irma Trosclair and the administrative staff at the Central Office, as well as the teachers. An additional plus is that the School Board, for the most part, is a hands-off board that holds the administration accountable but gives them the space to do their job. “The Lafayette Parish School Board is very different from other school boards. In St. Landry Parish, the school board was presented a plan by their superintendent to open schools and the board voted it down. A virtual plan had to be put together and St. Landry Parish doesn’t have the infrastructure to successfully implement virtual learning.”
The Lafayette Parish Public School System is set to receive $36 million from the American Rescue Plan, which is approximately 10 of its yearly budget. It must be spent to make schools safer and on improving educational outcomes. Justin said the school system is working to make wi-fi available for each and every student, “to ensure that all Chromebooks have wi-fi access.”
The Centannis are up each day at least by 5:30 a.m., and at 4:30 a.m. on the days they walk together. The kids are up at 6, with one on the bus by 6:45 a.m. and the others off to their schools which are within a four block radius of their home. They “live and breathe by their Google Calendar and if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening!”
Married 17 years this fall, Justin and Marie Centanni lead a full and blessed life with family, friends, and rewarding careers.
For more information or to contact District 6 School Board Representative Justin Centanni, please visit https://www.justincentanni.com/. To contact Marie Centanni email firstname.lastname@example.org.