Schools
 

No public discussion or vote as Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy picks new leader

In apparent violation of state Open Meetings Law, the board of Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy emerged from a closed executive session Thursday afternoon to announce, without public discussion or a public vote, that Nicole Young Smith would be the school’s new principal.

Smith’s qualifications and prior experience were not revealed nor were those of the other four candidates for the job.

School boards are required to take action in public. They are also required to announce a public meeting for any group, such as a selection committee, working on the board’s behalf. It is unclear when the school held interviews or who conducted them.

At the beginning of its Thursday meeting, the board voted to add an executive session to the agenda. The law requires agendas to be set 24 hours in advance of a meeting.

After the hour-long closed-door session, the Rev. Charles Southall III, the board’s president, invited the public to return to the Central City school’s cafeteria.

“We’re just out of executive session and we’ve had our discussions,” he said.

“There were five candidates that were applying for the school leader position,” he said. “And the successful candidate for the school leader position for Harney is Nicole Young Smith.”

Smith succeeds a revolving door of previous Harney leaders. The school’s chief executive officer left in the spring of 2017 and the successor CEO departed last fall. Smith replaces an interim school leader.

Not only did the board not vote in public, but no other board members spoke publicly for or against her selection to head the school.

After an unrelated public comment, the board voted to adjourn.

Before the meeting, a Lens reporter asked who the candidates were for the position to which Smith has now been named. Southall said they would be discussed in the meeting. That didn’t happen.

Harney wouldn’t be the first board to violate the Open Meetings Law while hiring its top employee. In 2017, the state said ReNEW Schools violated state law by conducting its interviews privately.

A few months later, New Orleans College Prep did the same thing, by failing to publicize interviews.

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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.