School board selects three finalists for superintendent

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The Orleans Parish School Board has named three finalists in its search for a replacement for outgoing superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.

At a special board meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to advance the three nominees in a field that has been reduced from 15 initially to seven who underwent reference checks last week. They are: Marshall Tuck, Avis Williams and André Wright. See their resumes.

Last week, Williams has been reported be a finalist in the search for superintendents for Montgomery County schools.

On March 11, the council voted to reduce an initial slate of 15 candidates to seven. The March 11 vote raised transparency concerns. Rather than conduct a public vote to eliminate eight nominated candidates or advance seven semi-finalists, 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 violating the state’s open meeting law, which generally requires public boards to tell the public what they vote. An agenda for Tuesday’s meeting used the same “one or more” language, but the board ultimately voted to nominate the remaining three nominees in its vote.

He 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 on March 30.

The following day, council chairman Olin Parker said the council planned to appoint a replacement for former council member John Brown Sr. Brown resigned earlier this month when his daughter, Jawan Brown-Alexander, ran for superintendent. Letters of interest are due by March 28 at noon.

“At this meeting, the OPSB will appoint a qualified person to fill this seat until a special election is held,” Parker said.

School campuses

Also on Tuesday, Lewis announced three charter schools would be moving to new campuses — soon to be vacated by school closures. The annual charter school shakeup isn’t new — but this year the district announced a more concerted effort to reduce the number of charter schools it oversees as it deals with declining enrollment.

“We’ve seen the data that shows us fewer kids will be entering kindergarten in the years to come,” Lewis said, noting that this required an adjustment that the district called an “adjustment.”

Lewis said the district is grateful, “especially the organizations that have volunteered to return their charters for the greater good.”

Two charter groups, FirstLine Schools and IDEA Schools voluntarily waived 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 buildings that charter schools in older facilities could request. Lewis announced the selected nominees on Tuesday. (Singleton operates out of a private building, which is not owned by the district.)

“(The locations) deliver on our promise that our students have access to the best facilities possible,” Lewis said.

District Director of Operations Tiffany Delcour said the district considered three primary goals when selecting multiple candidates for building exchanges: to increase the overall quality of school buildings in the district, to ensure that buildings are fully occupied and ensure that students have access to high quality buildings with science, arts and sports facilities.

“If you under-list an institution, you deprive it of capital funding,” Delcour said. “So it became a priority.”

Lewis announced the changes.

Audubon Charter School students in grades 3 through 8 will move to the Live Oak campus. Students in grades 5-8 from Morris Jeff Community School will be moving to Drew Elementary School on St. Claude Avenue. Educators for Quality Alternatives, which operates The NET alternative high school and The Bridge, a program that enrolls expelled middle schoolers, will move its students from Laurel Street to Gaudet Elementary in East New Orleans.

A district statement called it “the first step in what will be a multi-year district optimization project.”

The movements could create a domino effect. Delcour said two schools that applied for Live Oak could move into the building that the EQA is vacating on Laurel Street and that the district is in talks with the organizations.

Not included in Lewis’ announcements was Plessy Community School, who also applied for the Drew campus. Charter will remain on its French Quarter campus, the only remaining school located in the historic district. Many parents insisted that the school stay in the neighborhood, saying its location factored into their decision to choose Plessy for their children.

Plessy CEO Meghan Raychaudhuri said she hopes the district will quickly seek needed repairs to the historic building.

“Although we are disappointed not to have been selected, we look forward to NOLA PS commencing the agreed work to improve our facilities,” she wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Delcour said Plessy’s current building would not be financially viable after making all necessary repairs and updates, including accessibility improvements, to the building.

“Currently, this school can only accommodate about 375 students. Which makes it barely financially viable,” Delcour said.

After necessary modifications – such as widening the stairwells and adding an elevator – the building will only be able to accommodate 275 students, she said, making it “completely unsustainable”.

Despite this, the district plans to move forward with a $2 million project to keep the school “sealed.” Delcour said design of the project is underway.

COVID-19[female[feminine

With a low number of COVID-19 cases 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 school students. The district was unable to achieve 100% vaccination by the February 1 deadline.

“All good news on the COVID front today,” Delcour said, noting that there had been “significant declines” for several consecutive weeks. “We also allowed a ‘test to stay’ option for our unvaccinated students,” Delcour said.

This means that unvaccinated students can remain in class after coming into contact with someone who tested positive as long as they are negative for five days.

Earlier this week, the district dropped its universal masking recommendation. The city has also eased restrictions related to COVID-19.

“I want to caution all of this positivity with a major asterisk – we are always dealing with variants.

As we reduce these restrictions, it is clear to us when these restrictions will be put back in place,” she said. “If we are to reach high levels of covid spread again, the masks would come back on.”

Update: This story was updated after it was published.

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