The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday selected out-of-state educators Leslie Brown, of Fort Lauderdale, and Nakia Towns, of Chattanooga, to advance as finalists for the next superintendent.

They will return for final, in-person interviews at dates still to be determined, but could come to Baton Rouge as early as next week.

Brown, 62, and Towns, 46, are top administrators in Broward County, Florida, and Hamilton County, Tennessee, respectively. Broward, with about 270,000 students, is the sixth largest school district in the country, while Hamilton has about 45,000 students, making it slightly larger than the East Baton Rouge Parish district.

In selecting Brown and Towns, the board passed over two in-house school administrators, Adam Smith and Quentina Timoll, as well as a prominent out-of-state candidate, Marshall Tuck, of Los Angeles, who was strongly promoted by a few business and community leaders.

Towns received eight votes while Brown received seven. To become a finalist, a candidate needed at least five votes, or a majority of the nine-member board. Tuck received four votes, Timoll received three and Smith received two.

Several speakers came out in opposition to Tuck, an education consultant. He is former president of the southern California-based charter school group Green Dot Schools, a former head of a nonprofit that took over 10 low-performing Los Angeles schools and a twice unsuccessful elective candidate for California state superintendent of public instruction.

“Mr. Tuck concerns me because he does not have a large school district experience, and I’m really not impressed with his extensive charter background,” said Jennifer Carwile, with the Progressive Social Network.

Erica Hamer, a mother of a 5-year-old, favored Smith and Timoll, though she credited Towns doing her homework in preparing for her interview.

“Our community cannot wait for a new leader who needs time to get to know our community and collect more data to identify needs,” Hamer said.

Smith and Timoll split the votes of the five board members willing to consider a local candidate. Smith, a 24-year veteran of the school system, is associate superintendent of academic programs; Timoll is assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Baton Rouge has often gone outside of the Capital City for its top schools leader. Six of its previous eight superintendents were outsiders. Warren Drake is an exception, having spent the bulk of his career with East Baton Rouge, but he made his name after running the top-rated Zachary school system for a decade.

Towns is chief of staff for Hamilton County schools. She left a corporate career in 2010 for a job as a school administrator in Knoxville. She went on to spend three years with the Tennessee Department of Education. She has never worked as a schoolteacher.

Except for a three-year stint as principal of a charter school, Brown has perhaps the most traditional résumé for this position. She’s spent 41 years in education, 12 of them as a classroom teacher — the most of any of the candidates. Since 2013, she’s served as chief portfolio services officer for Broward County, where she oversees an array of magnet, charter schools and special programs.

While Towns would be a newcomer to Baton Rouge, Brown has close family ties to this area. Her recently deceased parents lived here for years, and she has a sister who lives in Baton Rouge.

Thursday's meeting was the board’s first in-person meeting in two months. During the coronavirus lockdown, the board has been holding virtual meetings.

About 20 people attended Thursday in person and all wore masks and everyone’s temperature was checked. Attendance was restricted to no more than  65 people, including the nine board members. And Thursday’s meeting was virtual as well as in-person. Many viewers with comments sent them in virtually.

The Advocate has posted online the applications of all the applicants. The School Board has posted online the video interviews of the five semifinalists. 


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.