Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Recovery School District, is stepping down to lead a New Orleans education nonprofit, the most striking sign yet of the end of the state agency’s reign in New Orleans as it prepares to relinquish most city schools by next year.
Dobard, 49, will become CEO of New Schools for New Orleans on March 27.
“It’s the right move, at the right time,” Dobard said in an interview Wednesday.
He will be replaced by Kunjan Narechania, the assistant superintendent of portfolio for the state Education Department.
Dobard and his boss of six years, state Education Superintendent John White, both said they see Dobard's move as a recognition that even though the RSD’s oversight in New Orleans is ending, much remains to be done to support the city’s schools and the local Orleans Parish School Board that now will govern them.
Eleven years and a day after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and helped set in motion …
New Schools for New Orleans, a group that has worked since 2006 to raise money for and otherwise help local public schools, was the natural place for Dobard to move to, they said.
Under Dobard’s leadership, the RSD, which was created by the Legislature in 2003, has sought not only to grant principals autonomy and to encourage parental choice in New Orleans but also to create policies that help those theories play out in practice.
The city’s common enrollment system OneApp, the RSD’s student expulsion office and the therapeutic day program it administers jointly with the OPSB are just some examples.
But as New Orleans schools have regained their academic footing and stand ready to return to the local school board's purview, the RSD is shifting its attention to other parishes across the state that contain more than 90 percent of Louisiana’s failing schools.
The approach it takes in those places is unlikely to be an exact replica of the wholesale takeover and distribution of schools to private charters that has been the norm for Orleans, White said.
Case in point: While the RSD has worked in Baton Rouge to hand off some district schools to charter operators, it is working with the Caddo Parish School Board to increase pay for teachers and give principals more control at 14 struggling Caddo schools next year, White said.
More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina cleared a path for the momentous state takeover o…
Thus, Dobard’s move and other leadership changes Thursday “are a realignment of the organization in order to align with our strategies,” White said.
To that effect, RSD Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs Dana Peterson will become an assistant state education superintendent and the CEO of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone, a brainchild of White's that has worked to transform Baton Rouge schools through charter management deals and other means.
Narechania will continue to oversee school reunification in New Orleans, set to be complete by 2018 or 2019. She also will work with traditional schools around the state and will authorize and monitor charter schools statewide.
But Dobard, a New Orleans native whose 2011 arrival was seen as a positive development for a state agency that often appeared to be out of touch with the locals it served, will stay in the city, continuing his work for public school students.
“I don’t think there’s been a superintendent in this country that has done more to transform the systems and the central office of an urban school district than Patrick Dobard,” White said.
Maggie Runyan-Shefa and Michael Stone, the co-CEOs of New Schools for New Orleans, certainly were eager to seize upon Dobard’s expertise last year, telling him they would take on other roles within the nonprofit if he would agree to lead it.
“There’s a danger that we as a community get complacent and say, ‘Box is checked; we’ve fixed our schools,’ ” Runyan-Shefa said. “But Patrick sees that this is not done, that this is a long game.”
Runyan-Shefa will be NSNO’s chief operating officer, while Stone will become its president.
When Dobard becomes CEO in a little over a week, he’ll immediately begin meeting with school leaders, OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and others to discover what the expanding OPSB needs and how NSNO can best help it fulfill those needs, he said.
More racially and economically diverse schools, as well as schools that offer different types of education, are two areas of need he can already see, he said.
Along with no longer receiving the brunt of criticism from people angered by the RSD’s decisions regarding schools in New Orleans, he said with a chuckle, Dobard is most looking forward to helping charters in his new role, after spending years turning down requests for support because the RSD was no longer in the business of direct management.
“That’s going to be liberating,” he said.