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Lycée board unanimously OKs new member

Most Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans parents probably remember the contentious meeting four months ago when the charter school’s board broke apart a slate of recommended candidates and nixed applicant Mary Jacobs Jones in a 2-3 vote.

On Monday night, the embattled charter school’s entirely new board voted Jones on as their newest board member. Unanimously.

Jones’ appointment brings Lycée into compliance with the state’s requirement for charter schools to have seven board members.

Now entering its third year, Lycée has charted a new course after a tumultuous school year that included the resignation of the school’s second CEO in just months. The Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools funded a management consultant to help guide the school in the wake of the resignation and the questionable hiring process used to hire the interim CEO.

Consultant Jeremy Hunnewell’s January report recommending a new board and CEO may have seemed like a lofty charge at the time, but an entirely new board sat at the head table Monday night alongside newly hired CEO Keith Bartlett.

After a relatively smooth meeting, in which board members and parents brainstormed goals together for the upcoming school year and Bartlett announced several new hires, the crowd grew tense when the subject of new board members was addressed.

The agenda item “motion to approve new board member(s)” did not list Jones’ name, or any name for that matter.

In April, the board veered from the nominating committee’s recommendation and approved only five of six recommended candidates, pulling Jones from the slate. Many parents felt the board was overstepping its boundaries by picking apart the work of the independently formed committee. But others felt the board was doing its job: ultimate oversight of the school.

Nominating committee head Jeff Teague said he hadn’t received any new resumes as of July 19, the original deadline for new applications.

At that point, Teague said, they decided to revisit the possibility of adding Jones.

Jones was recommended unanimously by the nominating committee in April, alongside Erin Greenwald, Tim Gray and Alysson Mills — current members of the board.

“We’re going to re-recommend Mary Jacob Jones,” Teague said to the board and parents Monday.

Teague reviewed Jones’ credentials, which include previous teaching experience at the Lycée in San Francisco, and her current work as a Project Director at TNTP (The New Teacher Project).

“I think having someone who has taught at a Lycée brings in real value,” said Gray, who was recently elected board president.

Gray said he had a letter from the state department of education requesting the school to reach the state-required minimum of seven board members by the end of August. The board had six members going into Monday’s meeting.

Mills offered a motion to add Jones to the board of directors.

A parent, Mary Wanda Fandino, told the board she was concerned by the board’s failure to include Jones’ name on the agenda. She also said she felt the move violated the spirit of the open meetings law because the nominating committee did not meet to reconsider the candidate.

“There needs to be an open meeting of the nominating committee,” she said.

Gray said he felt the nomination had never been withdrawn and Teague agreed. Teague added that he asked all nominating committee members individually whether they felt the committee should meet again, and they did not feel it was necessary, he said.

In April, some parents said they were concerned by Jones’ relationship with former CEO Jean-Jacques Grandiere. The two worked together at the Lycée in San Francisco, which Jones acknowledged in her interview, but that’s not what bothered some parents. At the meeting in April they accused Jones of being deceitful by not offering up the fact that she had rented a room in her home to Grandiere when he moved to New Orleans.

Former board member and parent Paige Saleun said in April she was concerned that Jones did not disclose the fact that her child was in the same class as Saleun’s child at Audubon Charter School.  Gray said he felt the past relationship was an “absurd” reason to have voted against Jones.

Saleun, no longer a board member, was not present Monday night.

Fandino said she was still concerned, saying she was not denigrating Jones qualifications, “it’s the relationships that she has.”

Darren Beltz, whose son attends Lycée, disagreed. “I think her qualifications speak for themselves.”

The board also adopted a new policy, outlining the role of a committee member and appropriate relationships with school staff members, that all committee members must agree to in order to serve. The board also approved the school’s 2013-2014 operating budget.

Newly hired Academic Director Marina Schoen said she is hard at work as she introduced herself to the crowd. The undertones in the open introduction may resonate with parents who remember when Gisele Schexnider, the former academic director and interim CEO, was cut off from introducing herself by former chairman Jean Montes in a December meeting.

When Gray asked for board input as to whether parents should be allowed to serve on the board he got mixed reactions. But the conversation evolved to potentially allowing one parent on the board and considering parents on a case by case basis.

Then Gray asked for public comment.

There was an overwhelming outcry not to allow parents on the board.

Last year three parents served on the school’s board. At Monday’s meeting parents said they still needed time to heal and thought parents should be kept off the board for now.

“I just think right now is not the time to have parents on the board for the reasons everybody stated,” said former board member and parent Catherine MacPhaille.  “I think right now there needs to be that separation.”

Gray said he thought it was ironic that the board was leaning toward allowing parents until hearing public input.

“If that’s not democracy in action, I don’t know what is.”

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  • pischuette

    No matter how long you stay away, when you come back you find out that it’s still the same thing with differrent charactors.

  • Lee Barrios

    How is Ms. Jones’ position as Project director at TNTP not a conflict of interest? What is the LDE policy for charter board members?

  • nickelndime

    Sure, it is a conflict of interest just as Kira Orange Jones’ position with TFA is also conflictual, but what the hey! The state is in control. Right?!! I really don’t know what a democracy in action looks like, but I am pretty sure, this is NOT it. This is a corrupt state, a corrupt city, and gawd knows, a corrupt country. We been sold out by the likes of elected and appointed officials. Only individuals can fix this mess – one starfish at a time. Hey pischuette and lee. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you. U look like hot babes to me.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    I am not sure that Mary Jones’ board position is a conflict of interest and borders on an ethics violation. Perhaps you are right. Kira Orange Jones’ organization, TFA, does receive state appropriated funds in which she is in control, and she makes state decisions that impact her organization. I thought Mary Jones’ appointment was a good one, given her education experience. I am curious. How could this appointment be a conflict of interest? Would she be making decisions at
    Lycee Francais that would impact her position as an employee? Would she be bringing additional funds to Lycee that other charters would not receive due to her position? Would her employee status enable her to loosen regulations for the school and obscure questionable practices should such happen with board decisions? Help me out here Lee and nickeindime.

  • Michael Pinkerton

    Right, it’s not a conflict of interest for her unless TNTP, which focuses on providing quality teachers to poor and minority students, solicits business from Lycée, an unlikely customer. We’re lucky to have her on (B)oard.