After a three hour closed-door session on Thursday, the Orleans Parish School Board voted to extend interview invitations to “one or more” superintendent candidates recommended by the board’s search firm. The board did not name any specific applicants.
NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr., who has held the $250,000 per year job since 2015, is set to depart the 44,000 student district at the end of this school year. After receiving a one-year extension in his contract in the early months of the pandemic, Lewis announced in June that the 2021-22 school year would be his last leading the unique, all-charter school district.
According to a timeline provided by the board’s superintendent search consultant, Greenwood Asher and Associates, the board will conduct first round interviews over the next two weeks. Then, the firm will complete reference and background checks on the candidates the board would like to move to a second round. Those applicants will become finalists and interview again in the last two weeks of March, with the goal of naming a new superintendent by early April.
Board members also heard a summary of the search firm’s months of community engagement work. Consultant David Presley said more than 450 people participated in dozens of “community listening sessions” to help the firm compile desired attributes and skills the community seeks in the next superintendent.
Students, parents, teachers, charter school leaders and board members, and business and community leaders were among participants in the sessions held over the last several months.
Presley said themes that emerged included a desire for strong interpersonal skills, including listening and communication skills, a student-focused approach, and a creative and innovative leadership style. The public also expressed a wish for a visionary leader with strategic planning skills, and resource management skills to effectively oversee budgeting, personnel and the district’s current “right-sizing” plan.
As school enrollment continues to fall, the district has started what it called a “right-sizing” process that can include closing and merging schools to effectively use buildings and ensure school budgets aren’t stretched if they are under enrolled. Four schools are set to close at the end of the year.
Presley said a series of student-only listening sessions held in recent weeks were particularly informative. He noted they echoed many of the same concerns adults had expressed in earlier sessions.
“That first point of equitable learning — one student identified how their opportunities at their institution were far greater than the student in front of them and how that was not ‘fair’,” Presley said. “It’s also important for this person to be actively working to solve problems addressing children outside the classroom, those would include poverty, crime, truancy, amongst others.”
Board member J.C. Romero asked that the firm work on improving the response rate of an online community survey.
“I’m really disappointed we only have 85 survey responses,” he said. “What do you think could be done to improve that? I anticipate we will have more interaction as we get candidates.”
“I think the opportunity still exists for people to participate and we hope they will,” Presley said, noting the significant gap between the 450 listening session participants.