The chairman of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans’ governing board got his marching orders this week in a public meeting  — and no one ever mentioned his name.

A five-person committee voted him out of consideration for the school’s next board with no discussion regarding the merits of his application.

It did so thanks to an undisclosed ranking system devised by EMH Strategies’ Jeremy Hunnewell — one that averaged each of 31 applicants based on how individual committee members numerically ranked them in their private conversations or emails with Hunnewell prior to the meeting.

Records obtained by The Lens Thursday show how Hunnewell’s system worked to produce the slate of 15 names that the school’s nominating committee approved Monday night.

Jean Montes, the school’s board chairman since last April, was one of five applicants who didn’t get a single committee member endorsement. The other four were all Lycée parents: attorney Jeremy Epstein, IT specialist Gaston Galjour, U.S. National Guardsman Roy Qualls and attorney Michael Rutledge.

Not only were their applications not discussed at the public meeting, the existence of their applications was not shared publicly, leaving no room for anyone in the audience to question why they had been disqualified. No names were shared with the public other than the 15 chosen through Hunnewell’s system.

All five of the school’s current board members are being forced to resign June 30, under a series of changes adopted by the board amid public pressure to improve governance and leadership at the French curriculum school. Lawyers familiar with Louisiana law told The Lens earlier this week that in its efforts to strengthen the board, however, it appears that this committee sidestepped open meetings requirements by participating in a process that eliminated from public view any of the deliberation that went into choosing the top 15.

It seemed as though even the committee members were unaware how they’d so easily arrived at the 15 people they would interview for the 11 open seats. 

“It’s supposed to be harder than this,” member Catherine MacPhaille said, as members lightheartedly joked at how easy the process had been.

Prior to Monday night’s meeting, Hunnewell emailed information about the 29 applicants to each of the committee members. Two other applications came in late, according to the records.

Hunnewell instructed the committee members to submit up to 20 of their top choices.

One responded by email, according to the records that Lycée attorney Lee Reid provided to The Lens. Hunnewell said the other four members each told him by phone how they’d ranked their top 11 to 20 candidates.

When Hunnewell wrote 15 names on the whiteboard during Monday’s meeting, it was a list of the applicants with the highest average scores.

Between March 21 and 25, Hunnewell said, he contacted each committee member for their list of top applicants. Hunnewell entered those applicants into a spreadsheet with a score of 1 to 20, correlating to their ranking on a member’s list. If an applicant went unselected, Hunnewell said, they got a score of 21.

Hunnewell’s spreadsheet shows columns numbered 1 to 5, each representing an individual committee member. When The Lens asked Hunnewell on Thursday what committee members corresponded with what column numbers, he said that he wouldn’t reveal that until the board’s April 2 meeting. He said he “anonymized the list.”

Four of the five committee members picked between 18 and 20 candidates. But one of the members only picked 11 — skewing the average scores of some candidates.

Mary Jacobs Jones, a project director for The New Teacher Project, ranked first in the overall list because she had the lowest average score — a 1, a 2, a 3 and two 8s.

Meanwhile, Tulane University professor Terry Christenson and tax consultant Malcomb McLetchie, both of whom made the cut for an interview, each had scores of both ‘1’ and ‘21’, illustrating a range of opinion on the merits of their applications.

It’s not that the committee members on Monday night didn’t discuss anything. When they reached the part of the agenda that required them to come up with questions for the public interviews next week, the conversation was rather lively.

Members passionately talked about why it did or didn’t matter that an applicant know the difference between a French-immersion and French curriculum school. They discussed how and whether they would ask about applicants’ perception of Lycée Francais.

When members said they’d like an applicant to have vision for the school, member Nancy Shoemaker countered, saying someone coming in with specific plans would concern her.

The committee will meet three evenings next week to interview applicants— April 2, 3, and 4.

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...