The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday held what promises to be the first of many debates about what it will need to do to replace Superintendent John Dilworth when his contract ends in June 2012.
Board President Barbara Freiberg said she hopes the board can start making some decisions about how to proceed at its June 16 meeting.
Dilworth, in a May 20 email to board members, said he did not want to stay superintendent longer than his contract because of dissension among board members, with frequent divided votes, and the lack of a good fit between him and the board.
Jerry Arbour, the board president during the 2009 search that led to hiring Dilworth, suggested using information from that search, including several characteristics of a superintendent that the search firm at the time developed.
“That would get us moving and get us thinking about what we’re looking for in a new superintendent,” he said.
Freiberg agreed that might be a good place to start.
Board member Jill Dyason objected to the idea. She said she sees merit in going back to the community to see what they want in their next superintendent.
“I think there is a renewed interest in this community to get this right and make it our own,” Dyason said.
Dyason also said she’s looking for an alternative to a traditional search firm, noting she has not liked the firms that have run the past two searches for the school system she’s been involved with.
“I was disappointed that both times the search firm narrowed it to three candidates,” she said.
“It’s time we see as many options as the board can see to see what’s best for Baton Rouge,” she said.
Dyason also said she wants to see more nontraditional candidates in the pool.
Arbour defended search firms, noting that they have better connections to potential candidates and can serve as a “buffer” between the candidates and the board.
Both Arbour and Dyason, however, suggested the board not wait, noting that the 2009 search took longer and ended later than they had planned.
Board Vice President Tarvald Smith suggested making more use of local universities and business groups to help come up with a new superintendent with a strong connection to Baton Rouge.
Board member Randy Lamana was reluctant to move on from Dilworth. He suggested trying once again to keep him here — in April 2010 Dilworth resigned but rescinded that resignation 20 days later after a community lobbying effort to keep him.
“I think it’s going to be a grave injustice to this system to lose a person like Mr. Dilworth,” Lamana said.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Lamana said. “He’s got a staff better than anywhere in this country.”
Board member Vereta Lee blamed other board members, whom she didn’t name, for Dilworth’s leaving, saying he’s the best superintendent she’s known in Baton Rouge and said he does the right thing no matter the pressure he gets.
“Right now, we are divided,” Lee said. “Half the board wants a ‘yes sir man,’ ‘yes sir woman’ who will do what they want to do behind closed doors.”
Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson disagreed.
“I’m not under the impression that we are a divided board,” she said. “I think that we work very well together.”
She said she was shocked by Dilworth’s email and puzzled as to why.
“I really hate to see Mr. Dilworth go, but I do know we have to move forward,” she said.
In other action, the School Board agreed to several personnel changes:
• Hiring Shirl Gilbert for the new position of executive director of school turnaround and charter schools. The job is being funded by a three-year, $6.5 million federal school improvement grant the school system was tentatively approved for. For the past two years, Gilbert has served as one of the superintendents for the state-run Recovery School District. Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson sought unsuccessfully to make Gilbert’s appointment interim, not permanent, but her motion failed by a 4-7 margin. “This person is more than qualified to do this job,” Dilworth said.
• Reassigning several administrators, including the following: Wilbert August, from principal at Glen Oaks High to assistant principal at Valley Park Alternative School; Shonel Branch, from principal at Mayfair Middle to assistant principal at Glen Oaks High; Sandra Douglas, from principal at Claiborne Elementary to director of curriculum for elementary programs; Angela Lee, from interim director of elementary programs to interim principal at Belaire High; Louis Moore, from assistant principal at Tara High to interim principal at Mayfair Middle; and Stephanie Weaver, from principal at Brookstown Elementary, a school that recently closed, to interim principal at Wildwood Elementary.