NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters.

Interim Orleans Parish School Board member Leila Eames has drawn two challengers in her bid for a full term in the District 1 seat to represent New Orleans East. 

Eames was appointed to the seat in March, after board member John Brown Sr. resigned in March. 

Patrice Sentino, who previously applied to be appointed to the interim seat in the spring, successfully qualified for the race last week, as did Deidra Louis. Sentino also ran against Brown in 2020.

“My vision for public education in Orleans Parish is that every student has the support and resources needed to reach their full potential,” Sentino wrote in response to questions from The Lens. “I will take a forceful stance for equity and advocate to ensure that every student is equipped with the proper resources, academic skills, tools, activities, and opportunities for academic achievement.”

Sentino is a licensed social worker and has worked as an assistant professor at Southern University at New Orleans in addition to running the nonprofit group Center for Hope Children and Family Services, which helps treat adults and children affected by mental illness, behavioral health and serious emotional disturbance. 

Sentino sees a need for increased social-emotional learning and support in city schools and thinks the NOLA Public Schools district must “significantly increase school performance.” Sentino also thinks the district must work on “developing policies and practices that promote racial equity, accountability, and transparency.” 

“A quality school district should embody applying an explicit race equity lens to policy development, broad access to quality schools and educational opportunities, equipping students for college and the workforce regardless of their income, geography, and race, ensuring that teachers are given the necessary and equitable allocation of resources and training, and inclusion of parent’s voices and community stakeholders,” she wrote.

Eames, who currently holds the interim seat and has qualified as a candidate for a full term, is a longtime District 1 resident. She spent 33 years as an educator in the school district and also worked in Title I programming — federal funding targeted to low-income students — and eventually served as the school district’s executive director of federal programs, where she managed a $50 million annual budget. She also served on the board of Lake Forest Charter School for 15 years.

“Every child deserves to be provided with a quality education with quality educators serving them,” she wrote. “I will hold the superintendent responsible for giving support and resources to schools. I will continue to align the school needs with resources from across parishes so collectively the children have everything they need to maximize their potential.” 

She shared concerns about truancy and attendance issues, which worsened during the pandemic.

“We must work together with the mayor and district attorney to solve this problem,” she wrote. “Education is a perpetual role in our community, we can only implement plans when we fully understand them, that’s my goal.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and NOLA Public Schools officials are expected to address truancy and attendance at a press conference Monday afternoon. 

Eames also said she would work to ensure district schools were compliant with special education laws and graduation requirements. Both have been a problem for district charter schools. 

Last month, outgoing NOLA PUblic Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis’ staff issued the district’s highest warning to Einstein Charter Schools after learning half of its high school’s senior class had been ineligible for a diploma on graduation day. Of the graduating class of 84 seniors, only 36 were eligible and only three were told they were ineligible. The problems outlined in the letter were very similar to issues uncovered during the John F. Kennedy High School graduation scandal in 2019.

The third candidate for the seat, Deidra Louis, did not respond to questions from The Lens.

The election is set for Nov. 8. To win outright in November, a candidate must earn more than 50 percent of the total vote. Otherwise, the top two candidates from the November election will advance to a Dec. 10 runoff. 

District 4 seat opens

OPSB District 4 representative J.C. Romero resigned last week to move out of state. Romero was a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ and Spanish-speaking students and often talked of his upbringing in the New Orleans Public Schools having to serve as a translator between educators and his mother. He topped incumbent Leslie Ellison, who voiced anti-LGBT views, by nearly 10 points in the 2020 run-off election after Ellison missed an outright win by less than one percentage point.

Last week, board president Olin Parker said Romero’s resignation was effective July 15, giving the district 20 days to fill the seat with an interim appointment. 

On August 2, the board will hold a special meeting with the intention of selecting a new member. Interested candidates must submit materials to the board by Friday. 

After conferring with the secretary of state, Parker said Romero’s resignation came too late to be able to place the District 4 seat on this fall’s ballot alongside the District 1 seat. A special election to fill the District 4 vacancy will be held on March 25, with a run-off on April 29 if necessary.

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...