Three days after Head of School Anthony Amato passed away unexpectedly, the board that governs International High School voted to name his interim successor Thursday night.

Nancy “Nan” Ryan, who served as International High School’s Assistant Head of School under Amato, was voted in as interim Head of School until the end of the 2013-14 school year by the Voices for International Business and Education.

Anthony Amato
Anthony Amato

Taken after an executive session, the vote for Ryan was unanimous. The vote was met with applause from a crowd of teachers, parents and other members of the school community who turned out at a special board meeting to support her.

“We believe that she is well-positioned to maintain continuity of leadership and vision not only for the staff and board of IHS, but more importantly, for our students,” said a statement signed by 38 staff members that was read allowed at the meeting prior to the vote.

Amato, 66, a former superintendent of Orleans Parish public schools, passed away early Monday morning. International High School turned out to be the last stop of a 40-year education career during which he led school systems across the country.

When the surprise news of Amato’s passing came in, the board already was in the midst of a search for a new head of school. After negotiations in the spring, Amato and the board agreed that he would leave at the end of this school year.

At its November meeting, the board announced it hired an outside consultant to complete the search and has allocated $30,000 for the search.

VIBE Board chair Robert Couhig III said after Thursday’s meeting that the search will move ahead as planned.

Amato was remembered by board member and former Orleans Parish schools administrator Maria George at the beginning of the meeting.

“He was such a tremendous person,” George said.

Throughout the meeting, staff members who spoke in favor of Ryan’s appointment also spoke of Amato in the same clause. They said the two always had an open-door policy with the school community, and had compassion and empathy in their dealings with staff students.

One parent, Gwendolyn Hooker-McIntosh, spoke of a son who had behavioral issues while he was at the school, but said the administrators never alienated him.

“Although he had issues, they never held it against him…Because of their patience, he is in college and doing very well,” Hooker-McIntosh said.

Much of the board’s discussion surrounding Ryan’s appointment was held behind closed doors.

The state’s Open Meetings Law allows public bodies to go into closed executive session to discuss a person’s “character, competence, physical health, or mental health.” The person must be informed they will be discussed in executive session, and can opt for the discussion to be held in public.

Couhig said Ryan wanted the discussion held in executive session. Couhig called the roughly 30-minute executive session a “frank” discussion.

According to her resume, Ryan served in a variety of administrative roles at Orleans public schools prior to the Recovery School District takeover, including administrator for school reconstruction, director for adult education and prevention and certified personnel. She has served as principal at Booker T. Washington Transitional School and YouthWorks NOLA, the latter of which is run by Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.

In addition to her role as Assistant Head of School, Ryan also was serving as the school’s business manager and coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Program.*

Ryan said there likely would be some changes during her leadership term, but wasn’t prepared to say what they would be on Thursday night.

“She is capable…I know that she will do what she has to do, and I trust you,” George said prior to the vote, looking at Ryan.

In addition to the new leader, International High School also learned this week that its charter was extended for one year by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Charters are eligible for a one-year extension in their fourth year, then re-evaluated by the state in their fifth year for further renewal.

The VIBE board will meet again on Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. to take up an outstanding budget matter.

*Correction: Earliers, this story incorrectly said that Ryan had been at the school since 2009. (Dec. 13, 2013)