This is the final installment in a three-part series profiling Orleans Parish School Board district races. Read our profiles of Districts 1 and 2 and Districts 3 and 4.

District 5: Uptown

On Nov. 3, Katie Baudouin and Antoinette Williams will take on current District 5 board member Grisela Jackson, who was appointed on an interim basis in June when board member Ben Kleban stepped down. Baudouin and Jackson both applied for the interim seat over the summer, but Jackson ultimately won with six votes to Baudouin’s one. 

Jackson is the co-owner and CFO of Young Engineering Company. She attended local schools, graduating from Alcee Fortier High School and has an M.B.A. from Tulane University. Her children attended Lusher. She helped write the initial charter for Crocker Arts and Technology School, which opened in 2008 and lobbied for a new facility for it. She’s served on the board of New Orleans College Prep, a local two-school charter network which took over Crocker in 2013.

Jackson, who did not respond to interview requests for this story, has raised $9,650 in campaign contributions and loaned her campaign $15,500. She also appears to have spent about $4,900 out of her own pocket on campaign t-shirts, yard signs and a website, which appear as in-kind contributions on her Oct. 5 campaign finance report. Other than a $500 contribution from the Wisznia real estate development firm, contributions to her campaign have mostly come from individuals — rather than companies, advocacy groups or political action committees — and range from $50 to $1,500.

Stephen Rosenthal, this year’s second largest OPSB campaign contributor, is supporting both Jackson and Baudouin in this race. “They are two good candidates,” he said. He has contributed $1,000 to each. 

As a public school parent who’s experienced OneApp, Baudouin said she knew she wanted to run in June. 

“The inequity in our system is apparent. So when the seat became open for the interim position I thought my experience with state and local government and with nonprofits could really make a difference,” Baudouin said.

Baudouin works as New Orleans City Councilmember Joe Giarusso’s land use and policy director and previously worked with Medicaid programs at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. With just under two weeks to go before the election, Baudouin had raised over $42,700. She has the backing of Democrats for Education Reform, this year’s largest campaign contributor. Education Reform Now Advocacy, a national group affiliated with DFER, has not contributed to her campaign. But it has spent $9,500 on a direct mail campaign supporting her candidacy, according to campaign finance records.

“I think that the biggest challenges are serving all of our students well despite how they come into school. Whether they are coming a couple of grades behind, with exceptional needs, English Language Learners or whether they need not just a cookie cutter school but one that is in line with their interests and abilities,” she said. “I think we’re not serving all of our kids citywide the way we should be.”

She said OPSB members “need to work with these schools so families have the choice among quality options that the system claims to be providing.”

Baudouin said the city’s decentralized, charter-based system can be challenging for parents with students in multiple schools because transportation varies, students may attend schools far from their home and school calendars vary as well.

“I think we need to give parents a voice on the board and that’s one of the things I want to be.”

Antoinette Williams, a recent McDonogh 35 alum and current Xavier University student, was inspired to run after working with students through the district and other organizations.

“In speaking to them I really noticed that they felt like the students’ voices were not being heard on the school board. And that teachers were feeling the same way,” Williams said in an interview. 

She told The Lens she would work to ensure that charter school groups are held accountable for ensuring a safe environment for students and to give students equal opportunities.

“All of our schools aren’t resources in the same way. Opportunity is different across schools, that goes for classes like AP classes as well as extracurricular activities like band,” she said. 

Williams has collected just under $4,000 in cash contributions, mostly small contributions from individual donors. She has also reported about $1,200 in in-kind contributions. She has loaned her campaign about $1,300. 

“I haven’t raised a tremendous amount of money because it’s truly a grassroots campaign.”

District 6: Uptown

David Alvarez, Erica Martinez and Carlos Zervigon are hoping to win the District 6 seat this year. Current board member Woody Koppel is not seeking reelection.

Carlos Zervigon is an artist and former teacher and charter school board member. He helped reopen Audubon Charter School after Hurricane Katrina and helped Benjamin Franklin High School’s board navigate its collective bargaining agreement with the school’s teachers union before later joining the board. He wants to focus on school accountability, expand community seats in schools to help ease transportation and said he will listen to parents and that this next term is “critical.”

“After reunification we are kind of at an inflection point,” he said. “I don’t think we’re finished envisioning what this needs to be.”

“We still have a significant gap of high performing schools and schools that are struggling. I think the main thing to do is lift up the schools that are struggling,” he said. 

He also wants to replicate successful schools to expand access to A- and B-rated schools in the city.

He has the backing of DFER and Rosenthal and has raised the most of any candidate in the race at over $63,000. He has loaned his campaign $5,300. Zervigon, a Democrat, said he was proud to secure the endorsement of the GNOR, a group created by Republicans in greater New Orleans. “I would pitch myself as the unity candidate.”

Erica Martinez has worked in mental health and is currently the Program Director at College Beyond where she works to increase college retention and persistence of New Orleans public high school graduates. Martinez has raised about $25,650, including both cash and in-kind contributions, and has loaned her campaign $2,270. 

Martinez has worked with children and families who’ve been through traumatic experiences and sees a need to increase mental health support in schools and with a system-wide approach.

“When kids feel safe, they are better ready to learn,” she said. “I’m at risk of being seen as a one issue candidate but when you have good trauma support in the schools children are better able to learn when they feel safe and schools are better able to keep teachers.”

“I know when we support them with really good relationships that we will release their excellence,” she said. 

Martinez said the COVID-19 pandemic has only further amplified disparities within school communities and that the NOLA Public Schools district needs to ensure that schools are aware of programs available to them. She also publicly criticized a recent board contract for trauma services that was awarded to an out-of-state company, arguing the district overlooked talented groups within the city offering those services. Board member Sarah Usdin was also critical of the decision at the time and asked that the district consider adding a consideration for local groups when evaluating bids. 

“I’m running for the family member who lives beside me and the grandmother who lives beside me,” Martinez said. “I really think it’s important to note what makes me different is I’ve been working directly with kids and families. I haven’t been sitting in board rooms detached from what families and kids are going through.”

David Alvarez wants to increase transparency and efficiency in the school district. He is the director of LA Voz de la Comunidad and president of Evaluation Insights Inc. He challenged Koppel for the seat in 2016, but Koppel won. 

“I want to implement policies that capitalize on the governing power of our school board during contract negotiations,” his website states. That includes more power over charter contracts, it states, a task which largely falls to the superintendent and his staff now even though they are ultimately approved by the board. 

He wants to increase teacher retention and would put forth a policy requiring charter school boards to have at least one teacher on them. Right now they require one parent.

Alvarez has won United Teachers of New Orleans’ endorsement as well as AFL-CIO. He’s reported $2,775 in campaign contributions as of the end of September. Most of his campaign’s funds have come from a $6,000 loan from his personal funds. 

District 7: Algiers, Gentilly, Treme, 7th Ward

Jamar Wilson and Kayonna Armstrong are challenging incumbent Nolan Marshall Jr. for the seat in District 7. 

Marshall was first elected in 2012 and he said he’s running again because he doesn’t feel his work is done yet. 

Marshall was instrumental in pushing for an expanded disadvantaged business enterprise  program — encouraging the district to contract with local and minority-owned businesses — and has long questioned expensive and time-consuming bus rides that have students criss-crossing the city daily. He helped push for a policy mandating that school bus pick-ups could be no earlier than 6:05 a.m. But his greater focus, he said in an interview Wednesday, is holistic child development that he feels the district has yet to achieve.

“I believe we focus too much on getting the kids prepared to work and not on the human development of the person,” he said.

“There’s still too much conversation about the adults and not about the children. And frankly when parents argue children suffer. And when the community argues the schools suffer. I want to build consensus for what quality education truly should be. And begin to work across silos, NORD, United Way, the housing authority, neighborhood associations.”

For example, he suggested bringing NORD to school sites to provide programming and possibly working with the Greater New Orleans Housing Authority to turn unused schools into temporary housing for families that become homeless.

“We have to bridge the gap between these silos and we have to become the village to raise the children. It’s really that simple. The difficulty is in communicating with each other,” he said.  

“Education is the quality of life issue for all of us,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have kids in the schools or not, you are impacted by the quality of education.”

Marshall has raised about $4,600 in campaign contributions. Education Reform Now Advocacy has also reported spending $8,200 on direct mail campaigns supporting him and Wilson, one of his opponents in the race. 

Wilson is a 10-year educator who wants to improve mental health services, make direct-run schools a choice for families and improve wrap-around services, such as mental health support and social work. He also thinks the district’s accountability system is too narrowly focused on state letter-grade ratings for schools, which are largely determined by student test scores. Those grades largely determine whether a charter school remains open or is closed.

“I will be pushing to change our accountability framework to make it more holistic,” he said, noting he would include discipline rates, family surveys and more.

“We don’t actually have a diverse portfolio of schools for our families to choose from. We don’t have direct-run schools,” he said. (While NOLA Public Schools is made up almost entirely of charters, it is currently running one school directly: Mary D. Coghill Elementary, after the district opted not to renew the charter agreement with Coghill’s former operator.)

“I think we can have both charters and direct-run to balance things out,” Wilson said.

He also wants the charter renewal process to be more transparent and thinks charter operator options need to “go beyond just college prep schools.” In a time when equity is widely being discussed, he said the district must lead.

“I think a lot of people keep calling for equity plans and things, but I think unless the district is going to be the leader, calling for a living wage, equal gender pay … if the district is not the one leading the way then we can’t expect schools to be held to the same level,” he said.

Wilson has raised about $22,500 in cash and in-kind contributions this year. 

Kayonna Armstrong said her experience as a parent, teacher, paraprofessional and parent advocate working in education pushed her to run.

“We all came from different public education systems and we’ve done well in our careers. So to say that the public system isn’t working to me is a fallacy. And now we’re under this system that has not proven to be working,” she said. 

She said she will advocate that charter schools be returned to school board governance and direct oversight. She also wants to increase neighborhood seats in schools. Armstrong has raised about $4,400 in cash and in-kind contributions. 

“OneApp basically splits up our children by busing them all over the city. They need to bring back our neighborhood schools. My son should be able to walk down the street to a school near his house and there should be a seat available,” she said.

That, in turn, would make funding now used on transportation available for other important needs and children wouldn’t have to spend so much time on buses. 

“I don’t want to have to worry about my son being on the corner at 5:45 in the morning in unsafe areas, to pick him up, to bus him across town to have him only get home when it’s almost dark,” she said. 

She said her decisions as a board member would be made in close consultation with her constituents.

“I’m going to ensure that in these 15 years parents have been voicing their concerns and frustrations that those concerns be heard.” 

The campaign finance data tables published in this story have been updated to include new campaign finance reports that were released on Oct. 26, 2020.

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...