Adam Smith, interim superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, fainted as he was speaking live at a town hall Friday afternoon, part of finalist interviews for the top job in the state's second-largest traditional school district.

"I think I need to take a break, my ear is ringing," Smith said and then fell abruptly to the ground. Staff rushed to him and he was soon helped into a chair and appeared to be recovering quickly. A nurse came to his side to help him, while he drank water and people fanned him.

A few minutes later, Smith was able to stand up and walk out of the building unassisted. EMS arrived, examined him in the parking lot, then took him to the hospital to be checked out. Smith was accompanied by his wife and one of his sons.

The school system tweeted a photo of Smith seated, looking at the camera and giving a thumbs up. "Don't worry about me, I'm okay," the tweet quoted Smith as saying. 

School Board President Mike Gaudet quickly announced that the meeting was canceled and Smith's interview will be rescheduled for next week or whenever he's capable of resuming.

Smith collapsed less than 30 minutes into what was to be a four-hour affair. He was speaking in the town hall portion of the event, fielding questions from the public, most of them submitted online by viewers watching remote on a live stream. The town hall was to be followed by a interview by the nine-member board, which wasn't scheduled to end until 8:15 p.m.

Smith suffered from an apparently mild case of COVID-19 over the winter break, but was thought to be recovered.

"He said his hearing went away, the room started to spin and everything went away for a bit," said Taylor Gast, a spokesperson for the school district

Gast said that Smith, who is 47, works out daily and is an avid biker, so it's unusual for him to have health issues: "He is a very physically fit, healthy man."

Gast wondered if the heat had something to do with it, noting that several people had noted how hot the meeting room was at the Professional Development Center, 3000 N. Sherwood Forest Drive, where the interviews occcurred.

The School Board held interviews with the two other finalists on Wednesday and Thursday: Marla Sheppard of Kansas City and Sito Narcisse of Washington, D.C. The board is scheduled to pick a permanent superintendent at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14.

This is the second search in a year for someone to fill to find a top leader for the school system, home to more than 40,000 students. The new search was prompted by the unexpected resignation of Leslie Brown in October due to an unspecified medical condition that she said made her unable to continue in the job. Brown replaced Warren Drake, who retired in July after five years at the helm. Smith was promoted to interim superintendent in October after Brown's departure.

Smith is the local favorite for the job. A 24-year veteran of the school system, Smith has risen through the ranks and is well-liked. He spent six years in the classroom before moving to administration. He served as principal of Park Forest Middle School from 2005 to 2008 before moving to Central Office where he's worked ever since.

Smith has been called up repeatedly to stabilize schools in turmoil, including serving temporarily as principal of Glen Oaks and Scotlandville high schools. He has spent most of his career in middle schools, but former Superintendent Drake put him over elementary schools a couple of years ago.


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