Bricolage Academy occupies John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Bricolage Academy’s board of directors selected the school’s principal, Antigua Wilbern, to become its interim CEO at a Tuesday afternoon meeting, a week after it was announced that CEO Troave’ Profice had taken a leave of absence. Profice, who was hired in early 2020, later informed board members that she would not be returning to the position. 

Profice’s departure falls on the heels of a pandemic year that challenged school operations in unprecedented ways and just days before teachers at the Esplanade Avenue charter school will take a vote on whether to unionize. (Profice spoke out against the unionization effort in a statement to The Lens early this month.) It’s still unclear why Profice left. At a Tuesday meeting, Bricolage board president Yvette Jones provided few details about her abrupt departure. 

Jones said Profice called her and another board member to the school for a meeting last week.

“She asked to be on leave for the remainder of the school year,” Jones said.

After a 30-minute closed door session on Tuesday, the board unanimously voted to offer Wilbern the interim position. Board members also said they intend to name her the permanent CEO for the 2021-22 school year. 

More than 75 people attended the virtual Tuesday afternoon meeting — which came just before educators at the school will vote on whether to unionize in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote is scheduled for Friday. 

The educators first asked to have their group, called Bricolage Academy Educators United, voluntarily recognized by the board in a letter in late February. But the board declined to take any action on the group’s request, which led them to the NLRB.

On Tuesday, Jones allowed about 10 minutes of public comment on the matter. Multiple BAEU supporters spoke in favor of the union. 

Parent Tania Castellanos said she has long favored a union. “I hope the union will help stabilize teacher turnover.”

Justin Smith, a fourth-through-seventh-grade educator, said he’s supporting the union.

“Seeing as the board makes so many decisions and we were told a teacher cannot sit on the board, a union makes sense,” he said. 

Music teacher Brittany Scofield said a union will be “a big step toward equity.”

Jones, who, along with Profice, has previously indicated she does not support the union drive, said no matter which way the teachers voted, she “truly admires and appreciates our teaching staff.”

“The vote on this matter is now with the teachers — not with the board,” Jones said, calling the board’s approach “a measured one.”

Before the interim CEO vote, board member Deb Elam said she hoped that Wilbern “would be afforded the opportunity to lead unencumbered for the first few months,” language that concerned Castellanos, the parent who spoke in favor of the union. 

“I do read your language — ‘unencumbered’ — as anti-union,” she said. 

“Let me be clear, I am neither pro union or anti union,” Elam said. “I’m just saying I hope Antigua gets to work in the Bricolage that exists now.”

Wilbern said over the last week she has finished closing out the school year. 

“I want to assure you that this summer is when the real work begins for me,” she said. “I am honored to have been asked to lead this community and capacity.”

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...