Charter Schools Related schools coverage »

Lycée board vote sets the stage for sweeping leadership change

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans’ board of directors solidified sweeping changes to board governance at a meeting Monday night.

Members unanimously approved a new system of governance, potentially ushering in a clean slate of board members come July.

But as they moved toward opening a new chapter of leadership, a consultant for the school said a search committee could be conducting interviews for Lycée’s next chief executive behind closed doors.

“Because we are discussing individuals and their competencies, we will go into executive session, which is appropriate for matters of personnel,” said Jeremy Hunnewell, a management consultant from EMH Strategies who now serves on the committee that recommended the changes to Lycée’s board.

lycee_francis-560x338Hunnewell was hired by the Louisiana Association for Public Charter Schools to review problems at the 340-student school at the suggestion of state Superintendent John White, who said the school needed help finding a permanent leader.

With the bulk of Lycée’s French exchange teachers threatening to leave amid leadership turmoil at the school, White last week promised the concerned instructors that change is coming.

On Monday, Lycée’s gave the go-ahead to the first of many steps Hunnewell first outlined in a February report that called for a new CEO and new board members.

About 20 people listened intently, along with board members, as Lycée’s attorney Lee Reid of Adam and Reese law firm presented changes to the board’s bylaws affecting board member terms and more.

“The terms of these directors will expire on June 30 this year,” Reid said of the five board members present.

The atmosphere was much calmer and more orderly than many other board meetings this year, when closer to 100 parents attended, many firing questions at the board in no particular order. By contrast on Monday, those who wanted to address the board were asked to fill out comment cards and speak to specific items as they came up for a board vote.

Outlining a few other bylaw changes discussed at a committee meeting last week, Reid said Monday that the board would now operate under the state’s code of governmental ethics. Board members will have clear term limits and members would be voted on with staggered terms, he said. The board also will have six committees: executive, finance, governance, nominating, academic and development.

With a motion to approve the changes on the table, parent Amy George-Hirons asked if the committees had defined objectives. Reid said that would be left to the committees.

As board chairman Jean Montes looked across the table member Dan Henderson chimed in.

“I think maybe the only way to mitigate and minimize the turmoil is to have a new board,” he said.

Henderson said it’s important new board members know how to work with a culturally diverse school.

Another parent, who declined to give her name to The Lens, told the board that she was concerned about board continuity. She said she thought full board turnover was “a bit dangerous” and could challenge the school with a loss of institutional memory. She said she thought the board needed to have voting members who are parents at Lycée.

The board unanimously approved the bylaw changes without making any changes to the original proposal.

Also on the table from Thursday’s meeting was a new board member nominating process.

The board approved forming a committee of five that will bring recommendations for prospective board members to the full board. Under the plan, Catherine MacPhaille would be the only board member sitting on that committee.

The board approved appointing Jeff Teague, Nancy Shoemaker, Robert Bell, Maggie Runyan-Shefa, and MacPhaille to nominate potential board members to the full board.

Reid said the group will work with the Top Shelf program, an effort let by the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools that aims to educate and place interested candidates on public charter school boards. Reid said anyone interested in applying should go through the charter schools organization.

The nominating committee will interview candidates between March 21 and April 5. Reid said the committee will bring recommendations to the April board meeting.

“This nominating committee will adhere to all practices of the open meetings laws,” said Reid.

“They will be able to conduct their interviews with potential applicants and discuss their role and responsibility and competency with them,” said Reid.

The promise of a new board prompted one parent to ask how much influence the current board will have on the school’s search for a new chief executive officer.

Parent Charles Varley said he was concerned that the CEO would be hired by an outgoing board, and not the board they would be working with.

Hunnewell said that, as things are now, at least two new board members will help select the school’s leader.  Reid said the hope is to bring on at least two board members at the April meeting to come into compliance with state requirements.

The board’s bylaws allow for up to 11 members, Reid said, so it is possible for the board to have a majority of new members when the CEO is hired. Reid also clarified that with the CEO search process, the search committee will be vetting candidates prior to the board conducting interviews.

While the search for a new CEO continues, Hunnewell said he’s received just over a dozen applications for the position.

“We need more,” he said, asking the audience to reach out to people they know for recommendations on prospective applicants.

“We are going to comply with all open meeting laws,” said Hunnewell.

Explaining the process, he said the search committee meetings would be posted 24 hours in advance, but that a majority of those meetings would likely be held in executive session.

“We’ll come back from executive session, having discussed what we’ve needed to discuss,” said Hunnewell, “If there’s a vote to be taken we’ll take that in a public setting.”

Hunnewell set a tentative date of May 8 for a public meeting with the final two or three CEO candidates.

“That’s an opportunity for you all to ask questions of the candidates,” said Hunnewell, adding teachers would also be invited.

“By the middle of May we’ll have an offer out,” he said.

Asked after the meeting why potential CEOs would be interviewed in private, Reid said he hoped the public meeting with potential CEOs would allow the public ample interaction with the candidates. Hunnewell said he felt it was the appropriate thing to take out of the public eye.

New Beginnings, a large charter network in the city recently hired its CEO after conducting interviews in public.

Julianne Ruocco, Lycée’s director of finance and operations, did not present a monthly financial statement as she has in the past. That presentation will be moved to monthly finance committee meetings.

Ruocco did note that the school’s March 10 fundraiser raised about $60,000, with the net total to be determined in the coming weeks.

Members Jacqueline Simon, Paige Saleun, Montes, MacPhaille and Henderson were present. The meeting began at 6:36 p.m. and adjourned at 7:21 p.m.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • nickelndime

    The fox(es) is/are in control of the henhouse now, folks. It will be orderly and apparently legal, but it will be anything but “open” – Adams and Reese LLP (Lee C. Reid); Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (Caroline Roemer Shirley); Hunnewell; New Schools for New Orleans – NSNO (Maggie Runyan-Shefa), White, LDOE, BESE. Whatever happens now at Lycee will be strictly controlled and not in a good way! As a matter of fact, there will be a deafening silence! Go for it, CODOFIL! White has ensured separate money for you. The feds should hit Louisiana with the RICO Act.

  • I had a dream ! The director of codifil will resign. The teachers will leave, and codifil will send new teachers next year.

  • Yoy Lord

    WHY ‘O WHY would a member of the board say that Lycee is
    culturally diverse?

    Does a predominantly French faculty, teaching the French curriculum
    to a student body which has approximately 20 minority students out of 320 make
    it culturally diverse?

    Will the new board actually be diverse or will it be “culturally
    diverse” according to the Lycee definition?

    Open your eyes and experience the cultural and ethnic
    diversity of New Orleans.

    WHY ‘O WHY are some so blind and think that everyone cannot

  • frenchfriend

    Just a new word coined to hide the true “color” of Lycee. This new board has a chance to right this wrong and the parents should demand that the new CEO evaluate Mary Carstens and her outreach tactics. Advertising on the Lycee Facebook and LFNO website is not good enough. It is a crime. Our city deserves better and the image of French education deserves better. The kids of Lycee deserve a school that mirrors the population and is not toxic anymore. They deserve this most of all.

  • Nola

    Sounds more like a nightmare… why would you hope another resignation would occur in the wake of this experiment? That comment is very telling. Get rid of whoever stands in your way. The new teachers will also leave if the environment remains the same..more people suffering in the wake of the NIGHTMARE LFNO has been for many employees and others associated with it’s toxicity.

  • frenchfriend

    If this new group forces Joseph Dunn to resign because he stands up for teachers then this will not be a good re start for lycee. Hoping this is not true.

  • nickelndime

    The LDOE is in violation of the RICO Act (no kidding – there is a case), particularly as it relates to power structures, massive corruption, and strong arm tactics [Pastorek and his inner team, i.e., Paul G. Vallas, Patrick Dobard (now RSD Superintendent), Kenneth Campbell, and LDOE “legal,” now White and BESE, school takeovers and State/RSD retention of schools that are returnable to local control (I am not saying that the OPSB is good, folks); (focus in on former Senator Ann Duplessis – now a Deputy Mayor of New Orleans); State RSD in collusion with New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) and the awarding of federal grants, legal maneuvering and backroom deals, particularly what the public has seen, is seeing, and will see in Lycee, among others. It’s there, it’s documentable, and it is ongoing!

  • Wait and see, wait and see, sometimes dreams do come true.

  • Dolots

    Agree! Unfortunately, we were sent a group of arrogant, uncooperative people. Bon débarras! I’m sure we’ll find many great certified French teachers who don’t think public disorder in a school and traumatizing children is ever ok. And Codofil, here’s a newsflash: It’s about the CHILDREN…not protecting misbehaving adults.

  • Just a word of caution keep you eyes open and be on gaurd with the board member that’s now the darling of the state reformers. My mother used to say , ? is quiet as a mouse don’t trust them. Mice grow up to be rats. Their’re lots of rats running around.

  • French Cliché

    Harmony amongst adults is overrated when there are children about.

    Many people do not know this.

  • frenchfriend

    And that rat is Catherine mcphaille. She has been in the thick of all firings (david, jill, jj) and hired Gisele. She has two kids at the school and is not quiet about assuring parents it’s demographic will not change. I have said time and time again that the problem is THREE. Board members not two. She is quiet but sly. Who got all the non public bid contracts for painting and construction for the school. Her husband has a development company. Hmmmm

  • Is this a joke of some sort? Joseph Dunn is the one person who would not cowtow to “forces taking place behind the scenes”. Thanks to his drawing the line with the administration on the issue of faculty retention the state has properly taken notice of the administrative chaos at LFNO and brought a plan for order. You’d prefer the board carry on with their ways and sabotage the potential of this school? Are you really so drunk on the power of your “behind the scenes” friends that you think CODOFIL is the root of LFNO’s administrative meltdown? Your money would be better spent on LFNO’s annual giving than contributions to your “behind the scenes” friends.

  • frenchfriend

    do think the curent LFNO board really cares about Joseph Dunn? Do you think the state cares about Joseph Dunn? This is just another example, if true, of this school, now with the help of the state, destoying good people to get what they want. The state needs to save this charter white school full of prominant politician’s kids.
    The school needs teachers. Joseph Dunn cannot justify putting 14/15 new teachers at LFNO. What if he can’t get them? The French Government and ministry of education at this time are not happy with LFNO. The damage this school has already done to so many people, schools and the reputaion of the french school system is too great. CODIFIL had funds cut. John White was thanked at the last BESE meeting for adding extra MFP funding for foreign language teachers, specifically CODIFIL. This is not a coincidence. It is a hidden bribe. CODIFIL will get money for every teacher they recruit. LFNO needs 14/15 teachers, CODIFIL needs money, Joseph Dunn has morals, so they may need him gone to get their money. Again these are just rumblings, but they are getting very loud. I don’t know how an LFNO parent can stand by and watch these things keep going down.

  • French Cliché

    I think “premonition” might be a better description than “dream” which may be interpreted as “desired outcome.” Nightmares are a subset of dreams as well.

    That is my interpretation of Bernie’s posting.

  • frenchfriend

    I hope this is not true, but BESE has a history or covering things up and sweeping good people under the rug ( as does the LFNO board). Joseph Dunn is a great man and a great leader of CODIFIL.

  • NonDramaMama

    WOW. Finally someone saying the truth. I had to look it up, but yes, good riddance!

  • NonDramaMama

    I stand up for my child, and I hope LFNO will too. That means most of the teachers should be replaced. LFNO (like any other school) needs to make the decision on who teaches in its school, not Joseph Dunn and Codofil.

  • I’m not drunk on anyone’s power. I don’t drink and have no behind the scene friends. I was born here and know La. and it politics. I may not have a PHD, but I can read and NO ONE feeds me information or tells me what to say. I form my own conclusions based on what I read. Not once did I say that ” Codifil was the root of LFNO’s problem ” those sir were YOUR words. Furthermore, you are really having nightmares if you think I make contributions in kind or otherwise to any “behind the scenes” friends. I will make a contribution to LFNO when this current board is gone.

  • It’s very telling that you refer to LFNO’s problems and the solutions by the State as an “experiment”. That’s exactly what this looks like to someone looking in, everyone running around like a chicken with their head cut off. Yes chickens still jump once their heads are gone. It would be a nightmare if the head of codifil were to resign. I would be sad. I have met him and I like him. But, I’ve been dealing with politicians since Comiskey was in office so I know how things work behind the scene.

  • Yoy Lord

    WHY ‘O WHY have we not seen a budget recently and why will
    the regular presentation of the financial statement be moved to the monthly
    finance meeting? Will there be fewer people attending that meeting, and thus fewer questions be asked?
    Is it a ploy to hide the truth? Is this just another attempt to cover up the
    school’s true financial status? Is it a way to buy more time in hopes that they can find a WHITE Knight on a handsome
    WHITE steed to ride in and drop a bag of gold to save the day?

    It is amazing that a financially troubled school, that recently had to cut staff and vital programs to make up for financial
    shortfalls, is able to employe an expensive law firm to oversee its everyday operations and is able to find money to conduct an extensive search and hire a new CEO. Supposedly the consultant who has told us what we already know and who is spending so much time attempting to make everyone feel good, is being paid for by another source. Will we ever know how many tax payers’ dollars are being spent to keep this school afloat?

    If the truth is ever told, will the Federal bailout of the Finance and Auto indusrties look cheap in comparison?

    Why ‘O Why is there no transparency in the spending of our tax dollars?

  • ET

    Three must go asap, in order of “most damaging” to least: Catherine, Jean, Paige.

  • I am positive that when the french teachers arrived they were very cooperative and not in the least could be refferred to as arrogant.They became uncooperative because of the boards actions and their work environment . How would you like to witness a co-worker being arrested doing the school day. That disorder was caused b the chair, not by the teacher ( dismissed in court) . So, if the kids were traumatized, Jean led that charge by calling or having someoe call the cops also, I don’t think Codifil has any control over the teacher’s desire to return to France and sanity.

  • Clearly Bernie, I misread your post. We seem to be on mostly the same page, though I think my statements above do apply to some of the “power players” at LFNO. Glad I misread it and you are not in that number.