Lycée board vote sets the stage for sweeping leadership change

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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.

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