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Consultant’s ranking system weighed heavily in Lycée board picks

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.

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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.

  • Sally Roberts

    How was the nominating committee chosen? Did that process follow Open Meetings Laws? I do not recall that committee being chosen in public. Marta, can you look into this?

  • nickelndime

    “The pen is mightier than the sword.” You did it, Marta. You are doing it now. The nominating committee was not chosen in public and/or according to open meetings laws. You got dat rite, Sally. “Oh, this is so-o-o easy.” Well, that should have been a tip off. Don’t you think? The other earlier tip offs should have been when John White asked for Roemer Shirley (LAPCS) for help. Then she picked Hunnewell (another red flag). It appears that Adams and Reese has been there from the get go, but the real tip off should have been when Lee Reid showed up.

  • mac_25
  • ET

    but watch for the Wizard (who’s been behind the curtain for two years) to manhandle the new board applicants. Who is it? j. McPhail of course.

  • frenchfriend

    Mcphaille is the worst kind. She ha been in the middle of all the wrong doing and let’s just montes and saleun take the fall. The parents need to wake up and see that she is as bad as the other two and should not be trusted on any committee The school should have demanded for three board members not two to be dismissed. More will come out. Lycée kids need this board member gone and away from this school. Inside politics and sweet deals have no business

  • frenchfriend

    Posted before finished above. Personal interest/ gain and inside politics have no place in education . All of the above pertains to this board member

  • nickelndime

    Let’s just say that the nominating committee was approved by the board (to be objective about this). One of the the problems is that the board has been so heavily influenced by outside sources at this point (i.e., State/LDOE, White, Roemer Shirley, Hunnewell, Reid/Adams and Reese LLP, public pressure, litigation threats, etc….), it would be difficult to say when and where the process was corrupted and/or contaminated and what variables influenced the results. There is a slate of 15 possible board members, and I can tell you that each one could be picked apart, and the result would be as equally disturbing as the consultant’s weighting system. And, if Hunnewell is being advised by Reid (of course, he is), then why is Adams and Reese being paid legal fees at all for such gross mistakes? It would seem that the more legal mistakes being incurred, the more lucrative it becomes for the law firm. Bad legal advice is always more costly in the long run. Does this school have the financial resources to continue this kind of behavior, or is it that the State and White will make sure that the school has the financial resouces to pay Reid instead of what the school is supposed to do academically.

  • nickelndime

    Hey mac_25. Please see above comment. Let’s just say that the committee was approved by the board. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Josh Reyher

    Sally they were chosen at the last board meeting post Mardi Gras, I believe it was a special board meeting. Mr Teague and Mr. Bell with Ms. Mcphaille were chosen. Nominations were open to the public to submit via the LAPCS top shelf.