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Live blog: Committee interviews candidates for Lycée Français board

Update: The committee decided to recommend six candidates for the board: Alysson Mills, Erin Greenwald, Mary Jacobs Jones, Tim Gray, Elizabeth Rhodes and Ben Castoriano.

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans charter school is undertaking the unusual process of completely rebuilding its board of directors in an effort to strengthen governance and leadership at the embattled school.

I am live-blogging each of the three nights of interviews — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — with people who want to be on the charter school’s board. Each night’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. (The live blogs are posted below.) The committee aims to recommend candidates at the board’s April 8 meeting.

Though only in its second year, this tiny, 340-student French curriculum school has captured the attention of the state’s highest education leader, state Superintendent John White, who late last year asked the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools to step in and assist the school.

Now, Lycée’s board is moving forward with a blueprint of leadership change authored largely by a management consultant hired by the association with the board’s consent.

EMH Strategy’s Jeremy Hunnewell proposed that all five of the current members resign June 30 and reapply for the board’s seven to 11 seats. Two members must step in immediately, as the board’s current size is two shy of state requirements.

Last week, a committee of five people selected 15 applicants to interview. But even that process raised questions as some lawyers said it appeared to violate the state’s open meetings law. Prior to the meeting, Hunnewell ranked 31 applicants based on information he says he got from each of the nominating committee members through one-on-one conversations or emails.

With little discussion, the committee decided to interview the top 15 people on Hunnewell’s list.

Thursday night, the nominating committee will interview its final three applicants. After the interviews, members will publicly discuss the candidates and are expected to recommend a slate of candidates for full board consideration Monday.

The committee will identify then which candidates should serve one, two and three-year terms, as well as which two candidates are best suited to join the board next week.

At the first round of interviews Tuesday the committee asked that all parents hold questions and comments until a motion to approve a slate of candidates was on the table.

Thursday’s live blog

Thursday’s candidates:

  • Mary Jacobs Jones, project director at The New Teacher Project
  • Alysson Mills, attorney at Fishman Haygood Phelps Walmsley Willis & Swanson LLC
  • C. Kathleen Whalen, director of program and professional development at Partnership for Youth Development

Wednesday’s live blog

Wednesday’s candidates:

  • Mary Hines, learning commons coordinator and assistant professor at Loyola University’s J. Edgar and Louise S. Monroe Library
  • Tim Gray, attorney at Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy LLP
  • Terry Christenson, associate professor at Tulane University
  • Malcolm McLetchie, self-employed tax consultant
  • Elizabeth Rhodes, assistant professor at Southeastern Louisiana University
  • L. Olivia Sweetnam, director of infection prevention and control at Ochsner Heath System

Tuesday’s live blog

Tuesday’s candidates:

  • Erin Greenwald, historian and curator at The Historic New Orleans Collection
  • Ben Castoriano, attorney at Frilot LLC
  • Kimberly Baptiste, accountant at Bruno & Tervalon LLP
  • Gypsye Bryan, executive director of school leadership and instruction for East Baton Rouge Parish schools
  • *Nolan Marshall III with the Downtown Development District and founder of Common Good

*Correction: Nolan Marshall III works for the Downtown Development District. He was formerly with the Cowen Institute. An earlier version of the this post did not include his most recent position.

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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.

  • nickelndime

    NEXT!!! Any individual who did not make the Hunnewell-Reid “cut” should file an injuction to have these proceedings stopped. Is there a parent who is a lawyer in the house? Montes is looking good compared to this pack of jackals. I am rolling on the floor. Great job, Marta!

  • NM3

    If chosen, I look forward to working with and representing the Lycée community. No matter what your ideological perspective is regarding public education (and everyone seems to have one), we have to start accumulating good situations and opportunities for families and stop rooting for failure to prove whatever point backs up our perspective. We have enough failure on all sides of the direct run, OPSB, RSD and charter school ledgers. If I can offer any skills that help add one to the success column, thereby providing more families with a good situation for their kids, I’m willing.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    Just read the live report of the candidates that were interviewed. I hoped that all board candidates would have prepared for the interview and, at least, knew the difference between a French National School and a French Immersion School. It also might have been wise to read the charter which is posted on the LFNO website. Having some knowledge of the charter would have demonstrated a keen interest and commitment to understanding what serving on the LFNO Board entailed. However, in fairness to the candidates, the prepared questions asked by the committee were woefully lacking in content, and failed to focus on the candidates’ knowledge of best board practices, understanding the mission of the school – its academic and governance bones, and state law. Good probing questions identify candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, and translate into a successful interview process, and the identification of quality candidates. Tonight’s interviews told me very little about these candidates. I expected a solid interview process as these board positions are key to the school’s future and growth. Instead, the interviews were sloppy, and the questions inane. Perhaps my expectations are too high for those in charge, but I fear that LFNO parents are so desperate to keep the school afloat that they are willing to accept mediocrity instead of demanding quality/excellence in school leadership. I expected so much more from the head of the La Charter Association, and a hired consultant.

  • frenchfriend

    It seems the committee does not understand the French National school system either, as they seemed were deemed speechless when asked questions about Americans picking specialties come tenth grade and how they were going to deal with that.The committee are only looking at the here and now and maybe that is all they can do to save the school. This school has to make these board decisions quickly. They have to become board compliant. Lycee has no choice but to do what the BESE says and choose from a group that BESE has ok’d. This has to be a bit better than what they have now, we have to hope ( although the troika is not going away) At least a few candidates asked about the outreach problems. Parents acted too late and this is what they get.

  • frenchfriend

    I was very concerned that the candidates seemd to skirt the question or had not done research on the school when asked about their perception of the school. How could so many not really address this issue. Were they not applying to to change the perception of the school and help fix the actual problems that this school is having? Where were the what would be looking for in a CEO questions? What is their vision for this school regarding diversity ( or lack there of)? Maybe tonight the parents will bring the questions. Interesting to watch. This is still a better group applicants than what they have now, don’t you think? I think there is hope.

  • Nola

    Mr. Marshall, if you do get chosen, the first thing you should look in to is the 300 dollar a week camp that will be offered at the school over the summer. Is there going to be financial aide at this camp? Will it be available to all children, or only those that can afford the camp? Is this offered through the school or an outside source? Can an outside source make money on this camp while being housed in a building paid for with public funding? What about the families that were promised free help last year as their children entered first grade with no French language experience? Will they be allowed to attend this camp for free? Certainly they still need help. Will children be allowed to enter the school in first grade or higher next year with no language experience? Is this fair to those children, or is it being done solely to put children in seats for MFP dollars? Is restricting entry at those levels illegal due to the federal start up funding rules. So many questions!

  • So many questions but why would you ask them to a prospective Board member? Board members are responsible for governance and oversight and you’re asking about day-to-day operations. These are questions for the CEO.

  • frenchfriend

    Mary Jacobs Jones is very good candidate and there have been a few others. Is there any where to go but up? Yes, this school got special attention and many have their opinions why they did, right or wrong,but at least some of the evil involved in this school has been outed and taken down. Not all of them, but some. Also, this has brought attention to many about many things that are wrong and right with the charter school system and that is a good thing.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    These board positions are critical to the resurrection of LFNO. i understand that there is a time constraint, but it is imperative that the process be rigorous to ensure that prospective board members are the right fit for the school. If candidates are truly interested in a board position, they should invest time learning about Lycee to determine if a highly specialized school is the right fit for them.

    It is apparent that many parents do not understand the nature of a French National School thinking that it is immersion. That is a pity, but hopefully, over time, they will come to a full appreciation of what an academic gift LFNO can be for their children. The French National Curriculum is regarded to be far superior to any other, especially in Math; and the lagniappe, the French Baccalaureate which opens the door to acceptance into Ivy League Schools.

    A CEO manages the day to day operations of a school, but if board members do not have a grasp of the school’s mission, and knowledge of the charter and its provisions, then how can they hold the school’s leader accountable during the evaluation process? Governance is the bailiwick of a board, but its members must have an intimate knowledge of the school’s blueprint to pass legitimate judgement upon a CEO’s job performance. Otherwise, LFNO will be back where it started, and that would be another disaster in the making. This cabal has been about LFNO board members’ ignorance of best board practices, but more importantly their unwillingness to familiarize themselves with the school’s mission, and its charter.

  • frenchfriend

    You are correct in everything you said. The saddest thing about the night was the discussion of Elizabeth Rhodes. It seems they looked at her first qualification as being diverse. She should be insulted as she is qualified on so many levels. Still there is a glimmer of hope with some new board members.

  • Nola

    Why? So you can write the answer for the current CEO? I am sure she does not know these answers. These are questions for anyone who will seek to find the truth. When and if LFNO gets a qualified CEO, I am sure the questions will be asked again. BUT, I would argue that a board overseeing a budget that is publicly funded will want to ask questions about compliance with the laws that govern that funding. Further, as the public face of LFNO the new board will have to have some awareness of where the current problems lie. Diversity and equal access are huge issues with this school, it is a priority that needs to be stressed when hiring a CEO… It was certainly NOT a huge priority when selecting new board members.

  • frenchfriend

    It seems NOLA meant that the impression of the school continues to be exclusive and white and the price of camp does not make this impression any better. Looking at the Lycee camp prices makes that clear. The questions to the board should be how are you going to make the lycee mirror the state in racial diversity. Will you fix the reputation in the French community and the French ministry of education that this school is a racist one that does not follow though with commitments to others who are truly at risk,( , the McMillian debacle, asking on lycee october website to come to the office if you collected food stamps during Isaac as you qualified as a being a free and reduced lunch child for an entire year. What about the prk3 class photos, where the black teachers are photo shopped out by sweet olive, but left in the feet ( many have these photos, including the lens, tribune, NAACP) . Lycee did not keep their word to the “at risk” black community and failed them. This needs to be made right. This means that lycee has failed the community even if they are educating some. Change the Karma, change the school. Commit to make it right and honorable.

  • Sally Roberts

    Mary Jones not only knows Jean Jacques Grandiere, she was his “roommate” in New Orleans for several years until just a few months ago. The online coverage sounds as though she minimized their relationship. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark my friends…

  • Agreed, Board members can ask those and other questions to the CEO, no problem.

  • frenchfriend

    Wow, what a thing to overlooked Very interesting indeed. Paige ,jean and Catherine had to have known this. Why was this not disclosed?

  • nickelndime

    What else was minimized or excluded altogether by all candidates, let alone the ones who were selected? True, the questions asked by the committee were shallow (and displayed individual committee members’ ignorance of the school and its charter, etc.). Sally seems to have hit the nail on the head. There may be something rotten in Denmark, but it is nothing compared to the backroom legal maneuvers and shady deals in this process. And for the record, the nonprofit, CHOICE FOUNDATION, is seriously lacking in its academic portfolio (and dusted around the inside investigation of cheating allegations at Lafayette), AND obscenely overpays its CEO, Mickey Landry (with public money), and has been doing so for years. The group (Alysson Mills, Esq.) plans to involve itself in a lawsuit right now (as reported in THE LENS). Could there by any more lawyers buzzing around and sitting on nonprofit charter boards and charter management organizations (CMOs) that the LDOE and the RSD have created (with the help of New Schools for New Orleans – NSNO – and the federal moneypot) to mitigate the problem schools that the State/RSD has let slide for 5 years at a time. There are some individuals who were interviewed and not selected. Say thanks for that (and I will not speak of their past and/or their inadequacies), but as you can see, there are still problems with some of the ones who were selected (“roommate,” indeed!). Go Sally! Go Marta!

  • Well, I don’t think it has that reputation outside this echo chamber. It’s an equal access school and has a progressive community that is not just tolerant but warm and welcoming. As for the camp, it’s expensive for my taste as a parent, too, but we shouldn’t turn every decision (especially one involving a third-party camp operator) into a sinister plot either.

  • Sally Roberts

    I’m sure they did know- especially considering her children went to Audubon with Saleun’s. Another of Saleun’s cronies!