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Virtual interviews of the five leading candidates for East Baton Rouge Parish schools superintendent conducted earlier this week were posted online Friday morning.

Leslie Brown, Adam Smith, Quentina Timoll, Nakia Towns and Marshall Tuck were interviewed Monday through Wednesday in private meetings. At most four board members at a time were present, asking each candidate the same 18 questions. Those questions have also since been posted online.

Board leaders justified not having live interviews in public as a way to avoid some candidates getting an unfair advantage by learning the questions in advance of their interview as well as seeing the responses of their competitors. The board has previously held live interviews of superintendent candidates, going back several decades.

Smith and Timoll are top administrators with the school system, while Brown, Towns and Tuck are out-of-state educators. The parish School Board on March 5 picked the five semifinalists from a group of 24 applicants. The board plans to meet again May 21 to narrow the field of five further to two or three finalists.

Town and Tuck were interviewed Monday, followed by Smith and Timoll on Tuesday, and Brown finished up on Wednesday. Smith’s interview was the shortest at 62 minutes while Brown’s was longer, lasting almost 91 minutes.

The Advocate has posted online the applications of all the applicants.  Here are the five semifinalists:

  • Brown is chief portfolio services officer for Broward County Public Schools in Florida, one of the largest school districts in the nation, with more than 270,000 students.
  • Smith is the school system’s associate superintendent of academic programs, where he primarily oversees elementary schools. He is a career educator in Baton Rouge, including several years as principal of Park Forest Middle School.
  • Timoll is the school system’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, where she oversees the Innovation Network, a federally funded turnaround effort aimed at the school system’s lowest-performing schools.
  • Towns is chief of staff for the Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee.
  • Tuck, now an education consultant, is former president of the southern California-based charter school group, Green Dot Schools, and failed elective candidate for California state superintendent of education.

None of the semifinalists have previously served as school superintendents. The person selected would replace Superintendent Warren Drake, who is set to retire June 30 after five years at the helm.

The School Board’s process mirrors the one the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has been using to help it narrow the field for the next state superintendent of education. Between March 31 and April 2, BESE held private, virtual interviews with seven candidates. All of those interviews were recorded and posted online days later for all to see; one of the seven candidates ended up withdrawing.

The reliance on virtual interviews and meetings is largely a response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

As it posted the recorded interviews Friday, the School Board also went live with a short, online “community engagement survey.” It starts with several statements that it asks respondents to rate in order of importance. An example: “Increase access to quality early childhood education and special programs for all families.”

It also asks people to say what questions they would ask the candidates as well as a place where they can make an additional comment.

The survey will close after 10 days, at midnight on Monday, May 18. The search firm JG Consulting of Austin will prepare a report compiling the results of the survey.

BESE also conducted a similar survey, generating about 7,800 responses as well as a report from its search firm. BESE is meeting May 19 and 20 to examine its six remaining candidates.

Watch the five interviews below:


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.