The Orleans Parish School Board has named three finalists in its search for a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.
In a special board meeting Tuesday, the board voted to advance the three candidates in a field that was narrowed from 15 initially to seven who went through reference checks last week. They are: Marshall Tuck, Avis Williams and André Wright. See their resumes.
Last week, Williams was reported to be a finalist in the superintendent search for Montgomery County Schools.
Board members voted 5-1 to move the three candidates forward. Board member Carlos Zervigon voted against the motion, criticizing the lack of “local representation.”
On March 11, the board voted to cut an initial list of 15 candidates down to seven. The March 11 vote raised some transparency issues. Rather than taking a public vote to eliminate eight named candidates or advance seven semifinalists, board members only announced that their vote would advance “one or more candidates.”
The number and names of the seven semifinalists were kept secret for several days, possibly running afoul of the state’s Open Meetings Law, which typically requires public boards to inform the public what they are voting on. An agenda for Tuesday’s meeting used the same “one or more” language, but the board ultimately voted to name the three remaining candidates in its vote.
It will interview the finalists next week on March 29 and the candidates will also have “meet and greet” sessions open to the public that day. The board plans to appoint the new superintendent March 30.
The following day, board president Olin Parker said the board plans to appoint a replacement for former board member John Brown Sr. Brown resigned earlier this month when his daughter, Jawan Brown-Alexander, advanced as a superintendent candidate. Letters of interest are due by March 28 at noon.
“At that meeting the OPSB will appoint a qualified person to fill that seat until a special election is held,” Parker said.
Also on Tuesday, Lewis announced three charter schools would be moving to new campuses — soon to be vacated by closing schools. The annual shuffle of charter schools isn’t new — but this year the district announced a more concerted effort to scale down the number of charter schools it oversees as it deals with declining enrollment.
“We have seen the data that show us fewer children will be entering kindergarten in the coming years,” Lewis said, noting it required an adjustment which the district has called “right-sizing.”
Lewis said the district was thankful, “especially those organizations that volunteered to turn in their charters for the greater good.”
Two charter groups, FirstLine Schools and IDEA Schools voluntarily surrendered their charters for Live Oak Elementary and Oscar Dunn Elementary, respectively, to close at the end of this school year. Two other schools, Arise Academy and James M. Singleton Charter School, are closing after failing to meet academic and other standards required for a new charter contract.
Three of those closures opened up buildings that charter schools in old facilities could apply for. Lewis announced the selected applicants on Tuesday. (Singleton operates in a private, not district-owned building.)
“(The sitings) honor our promise that our students have access to the best facilities possible,” Lewis said.
District Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said the district considered three main goals when choosing from multiple applicants for the building swaps: increasing the overall quality of the district’s school buildings, ensuring buildings are fully occupied and making sure students have access to high-quality buildings with science, art and athletic amenities.
“If you are under-enrolling a facility you are starving it of capital funding,” Delcour said. “So that became a priority.”
Lewis announced the changes.
Audubon Charter School’s 3rd-8th grades will move to the Live Oak campus. Morris Jeff Community School’s 5th-8th grades will move to Drew Elementary on St. Claude Avenue. Educators for Quality Alternatives, which runs The NET alternative high school and The Bridge, a program that enrolls expelled middle school students, will move its Laurel Street students to Gaudet Elementary in New Orleans East.
A district release called it “a first step in what will be a multi-year project of district optimization.”
The moves could create a domino effect. Delcour said two schools that applied for Live Oak could move into the building that EQA is vacating on Laurel Street and the district is in talks with the organizations.
Not included in Lewis’ announcements was Plessy Community School, which also applied for the Drew campus. The charter will remain at its French Quarter campus, the only remaining school located in the historic neighborhood. Many parents insisted that the school remain in the neighborhood, saying its location factored into their decision to pick Plessy for their children.
Plessy CEO Meghan Raychaudhuri said she hopes the district asks quickly on repairs the historic building requires.
“While we are disappointed to not have been selected, we are eager for NOLA PS to begin agreed upon work to improve our facility,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.
Delcour said Plessy’s current building would not be financially sustainable after making all the required repairs and updates, including accessibility accommodations, to the building.
“Currently that school can only serve about 375 students. Which barely makes it financially sustainable,” Delcour said.
After the modifications required — such as widening stairwells and adding an elevator — the building will only be able to hold 275 students, she said, making it “completely unsustainable.”
Despite that, the district plans to move forward with a $2 million project to keep the school “water tight.” Delcour said the project design was underway.
With low COVID-19 case counts in the city and district, at least for now, officials also discussed its mitigation measures in school buildings, including a vaccine mandate for NOLA Public Schools students. The district was not able to reach 100 percent vaccination by its Feb. 1 deadline.
“All good news on the COVID front today,” Delcour said, noting there had been “significant declines” for several weeks in a row. “We’ve also allowed a ‘test-to-stay’ option for our unvaccinated students,” Delcour said.
That means unvaccinated students can stay in the classroom after coming into contact with someone who tested positive as long as they test negative for five days.
Earlier this week the district dropped its universal masking recommendation. The city also loosened COVID-19 restrictions.
“I do want to caveat all of this positivity with one major asterisk — we still deal with variants.
As we reduce these restrictions we are clear when these restrictions would go back in place,” she said. “If we are to reach high levels of covid spread again masks would go back in place.”
Update: This story was updated after publication.