NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters.

The Orleans Parish School Board on Tuesday unanimously appointed Donaldo Batiste, a 40-plus-year educator, including a stint as a district superintendent in Illinois and now a professor at the University of Holy Cross, to its recently vacated District 4 seat representing the West Bank, Bywater and French Quarter. Batiste was the sole applicant for the interim posting.

Batiste has a decades-long background in public schools, including many years in New Orleans. He served as a speech pathologist before becoming an assistant principal and later a principal in the city’s public schools. He also recently served on the facilities renaming committee. 

The District 4 seat was vacated by board vice president J.C. Romero last month, as he planned to move out of state to join his family. Romero grew up in the city and often spoke of his experiences as a Spanish-speaking student in the district. 

District 4 is the second board posting to be filled by an interim member this year, following the April appointment of Leila Eames in the District 1 seat. Eames was appointed to serve in place of elected member John Brown, who resigned from the board in March. (Eames is now running for a full term on the board in the fall election.)

Batiste began his public school career in Terrebonne Parish, where he grew up, before coming to New Orleans in the late 1970s to work for the school district as a speech pathologist. He went on to work in administrative positions, including assistant principal and principal. 

In the 1990s, under the leadership of then-Superintendent Morris Holmes, Batiste said district officials offered him another posting as principal. Batiste said the city had 37 “failing” schools at the time and was asked which one he’d like to lead.

“I said if they’re ranked — and they all were — give me the lowest-performing school,” Batiste told board members. He went on to lead John McDonogh Senior High School between 1996 and 1999. He was named Louisiana high school principal of the year in 1998. 

Batiste eventually became the head of curriculum and instruction in the district before moving to Waukegan, Illinois. Batiste served as the deputy superintendent of Waukegan Community School District #60 for two years and in 2006 became superintendent where he served for 10 years before returning to New Orleans in 2016. 

Eames praised Batiste’s experience but noted that he worked primarily in traditional, direct-run school systems. In the years since his previous experience in New Orleans, the city’s public schools have transformed into an all charter-based system where, rather than running schools directly, OPSB members serve as charter-school authorizers and the district central office as a regulatory authority. 

Batiste said he’d served two years on the nonprofit governing board of International High School, a charter school, and said he would seek to learn what has changed in the system since he’d last worked in it. 

“I’m supposed to be on the balcony,” he said. 

Asked if he saw any weaknesses in the current structure of the district, Batiste said he thinks there is a lack of centralized oversight for charter schools. 

“I find problems that come up in charter schools that didn’t come up in traditional schools,” he said, mentioning recent graduation problems at district charters. 

More than half of Einstein Charter Schools’ high school students were ineligible for diplomas this spring due to apparent record-keeping issues. Neither the NOLA Public Schools district nor the students were aware of the problem until after the school’s May 20 graduation ceremony. The situation was strikingly similar to the record-keeping and administrative mistakes at John F. Kennedy High School in 2019. That resulted in about half the class having to repeat courses and exams to be eligible for a diploma. 

“The infrastructure is lacking,” Batiste said. “There has to be greater oversight in my opinion.”

He suggested the board should put stronger corrective action plans into board policy and that the district should offer more support to struggling schools.

Asked about the OneApp enrollment system by board member Ethan Ashley, Batiste said he’d heard concerns by parents about having to apply to multiple schools and not getting their top choices. 

“I appreciate your response,” Ashley said. “It’s not accurate.”

In additional questions about charter schools, Batiste said he has “nothing against charters, as long as it’s a quality school.”

Batiste also said he wanted to see stronger professional development and teacher training for charter schools, especially in cases where teachers were able to bypass the training required by traditional districts. Charter schools are independent and are able to hire their own staff. 

“I come to this board willing to share my head, my heart and my hands,” Batiste said. 

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...