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15 finalists to interview for new Lycée Français board

The committee charged with finding new board members for Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans selected 15 candidates Monday night to interview.

Board chairman Jean Montes, the only current member to apply, did not make the cut. Neither did any of the seven applicants who said they were parents of Lycée students.

The terms for Lycée’s current board of directors will expire at the end of June. Any board members interested in serving past then had to apply through the nominating committee.

“I would like to remain for a one year term to help transition from the founding board to a long term board,” Montes wrote in his application.

The five-person nominating committee, made up of one board member, two parents and two people outside the school community, discussed potential candidates and the interview process at Monday night’s meeting.

The committee received applications from 29 people, which consultant Jeremy Hunnewell said he forwarded to the members Thursday.

Hunnewell was brought on by the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and state schools Superintendent John White to help Lycée in its pursuit of stable leadership — for the board and the administration. Last fall was marked by the resignation of the second CEO in eight months, controversial staff firings and unexpected budget cuts.

In February the board voted to accept Hunnewell’s recommendations calling for new school and board leadership. A separate nominating committee was formed to vet candidates for the board.

The selection process

Hunnewell said he asked each committee member to pick his or her top candidates, up to 20, and share those lists with him by email or phone.

“I collected that list of up to your top 20,” said Hunnewell. “I’d like to present to you the top 15,” based on how many committee members had recommended each person for a closer look.

“This is an attempt to summarize, to encapsulate, the feedback that Jeremy got from you and to let you decide your next steps,” said attorney Lee Reid, who represents Lycée.

Hunnewell then listed 15 names on a whiteboard. 

“Is it possible to say which ones all five of us agreed on?” asked committee member Catherine MacPhaille, the only board member on the committee. Hunnewell starred seven names:

  • Nolan Marshall III
  • Rebekah Durham
  • Elizabeth Rhodes
  • L. Olivia Sweetnam
  • Tim Gray
  • Erin Greenwald
  • Mary Jacobs Jones

Hunnewell then noted which applicants were suggested by four committee members:

  • Alysson Mills
  • Ben Castoriano
  • Terry Christenson
  • Gypsye Bryan
  • Malcolm McLetchie
  • Kathleen Whalen
  • Mary Hines

Finally, he said, three members picked Kimberly Baptiste, rounding out the slate with 15 candidates.

“Is there anyone missing on the list you feel really strongly about?” asked Reid, reminding members they could add people to the interview slate.

Bell echoed the same question. No other names were mentioned. Members seemed elated that the process had been so easy — “I’m kind of thrilled by the manner of agreement,” said Bell — and approved the interview slate with a unanimous vote.

Next step: interviews

The committee also discussed interview questions, which will be finalized by Hunnewell and Teague.

Bell stressed that is is important for board members understand the difference between French immersion and French curriculum schools. Lycée teaches the French national curriculum and offers students the opportunity to earn both an American diploma and French Baccalaureate. But member Nancy Shoemaker, who is new to Lycée, said she didn’t think that was necessary for potential board members.

Board members agreed to provide an information sheet on the school to all interviewees.

They were also concerned that candidates disclose conflicts of interest. Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, reminded them there would be a formal conflict of interest disclosure process for board members.

Shirley asked the committee to be very clear with prospective candidates on the time commitment required of a charter school board member.

The committee will determine who will serve one-, two- or three-year terms, Hunnewell said. They will also recommend who should begin in April; at least two board members will likely be brought on then because the board is two members short of the number required by state law.

The committee’s goal of providing the board with recommendations by the April 8 board meeting means they are working on a tight schedule. They set three evening interview sessions for April 2, 3, and 4, which will be open to the public.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote. Committee member Robert Bell said, “I’m kind of thrilled by the manner of agreement.” It was not spoken by committee chairman Jeff Teague. Also, Bell’s name was originally misspelled. The story has been updated to reflect those corrections.

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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.

  • Josh Reyher

    Hats off to Mr. Jeff Teague, Mr. Robert Bell, Mr. Hunnewell, and team for an expeditious recruiting. Looking forward to the interviews and moving Lycee into the next phase of development. 15 applicants with 11 spots bodes well for spreading the work load and providing solid governing process.

  • nickelndime

    My comment is not going anywhere, so let me just have my say as an interested observer. The parents want the school open, and as long as it is open, they will not care who is on the board or who the attorney is or what law firm gets the public money. Nolan Marshall, III has worked with Reid (and Pastorek) before, so you can bet there will be a star by that name. CODOFIL and the French teachers will be paid handsomely, and nobody, I mean nobody will be able to pin anything on this new board because Lee Reid will have them under such tight raps, they will not do anything (make any decisions, think, breathe, eat, speak…) without clearing it with Lee Reid first. Now, if that means that the school will run and people will make money, the answer is YES!

  • frenchfriend

    This is still better than what they had before.

  • nickelndime

    Hi frenchfriend. Thanks for commenting. You do not appear to be convinced that this is the BEST that could happen (and neither am I), only “better than what they had before.” Hopefully, others will take the time to look at the 29 applicants, which Marta Jewson thoughtfully included. My comment is that the newly seated board will be a tightly controlled board, controlled by outside sources (Lee Reid/Adams and Reese, the State, outside “experts,” etc.), but a lot of school/public money will be wasted in billable hours, experts, training, etc. (i.e., outside of the classrooms) because outside control is very expensive. Lycee parents did not make the cut (no surprise there), and neither did Montes (no surprise there). Montes may have been out of control, but you have seen nothing until you see a group of parents (let us call them “The Magnificent 7” in this case). Parents are relentless and tend to be uncontrollable because the stakes are so high (not measured in money). This is dangerous to individuals like Reid, Roemer Shirley, Hunnewell, Bendily, White, BESE, the State, and the LDOE. Uncontrollable individuals are dangerous because they ask the hard questions and they cannot be bought because they have the deepest commitment (their children)! My advice is to scrap the short list (beginning with Nolan Marshall, III..), definitely, because if this group of “5” (MacPhaille, et al.) all agreed on these individuals, it has already failed the “smell test.”

  • ET

    who is paying for Montes and Saluen’s defense in the mipro case? should not be the school because they are sued as individuals. need to find out.
    most anything will be better on the board than the three trouble makers – saluen/montes/mcphaile. the big fear is that the association, the key head leader, will move the school away from the French curriculum because non of them understand this, dangerous.