desks school stock classroom

Two local and three out-of-town educators have made the cut in the hunt for the next school superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish and will be invited to return for public interviews on March 23 and 24.

Board members on Thursday chose Leslie Brown, Adam Smith, Quentina Timoll, Nakia Towns and Marshall Tuck to attend this round of interviews, which may be followed by a second round.

Timoll and Smith are top lieutenants of outgoing Superintendent Warren Drake, who retires June 30.

Here are the other three who made the cut:

  • Leslie Brown, 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.
  • Nakia Towns, chief of staff for the Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee.
  • Marshall Tuck, former president of the southern California-based charter school group, Green Dot Schools.

None has ever served as a school superintendent, though all have management experience with larger school districts and school organizations.

They were part of a field of 23 applicants who submitted applications between Jan 16 and Feb. 16. The Austin, Texas-based search firm JG Consulting ended up recommending 14 of those candidates.

Board members said little Thursday in the leadup to the vote. Board members listed their preferred candidates on sheets of paper. Only candidates who earned at least four votes advanced to interviews.

Three more of those 14 candidates recommended by the search firm earned votes Thursday, but fell short of the four-vote minimum. They are Metro Councilman LaMont Cole, chief academic officer of the Community School for Apprenticeship Learning School District; Chris Hurst, superintendent of the Othello School District in Washington; and former Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas.

Cole and Hurst both earned three votes, while Vallas earned one.

Smith and Timoll were the most prominent in-house candidates.

Smith primarily oversees elementary schools these days as associate superintendent of academic programs, but this veteran school administrator earned his reputation as a middle school administrator, including serving for several years as principal of Park Forest Middle School.

Timoll was hired by Drake in 2017 after working as a top administrator in St. John the Baptist Parish. She oversees what’s known as the Innovation Network, a grouping of the school system’s lowest-performing schools. The network has received millions of dollars in federal school turnaround money.

The board has not as yet posted online any information supplied by the applicants, though it may do so when interviews occur, board President Mike Gaudet has said. That information includes candidate résumés, letters of interest, job references and college transcripts.

The Advocate, however, obtained that information via a public records request and has posted it online.

East Baton Rouge has more than 80 schools, 10 of them charter schools, that educate collectively more than 41,000 children. Drake is retiring June 30 after five years at the helm. After interviews are complete, the board plans to make a final decision on Drake’s replacement sometime in April.

While board members said little Thursday, members of the public spoke before the vote. Several were educators with the teacher group South Louisiana Coalition for Education.

June Conti, who teaches second grade at Park Elementary, urged the board to hire a person familiar with the classrom.

“I implore you to seek someone with an education background,” Conti said. “Someone who has a track record of treating educators as experts at the classroom level.”

Several members of local teacher unions also spoke Thursday.

Kirk Green, a social studies teacher at Westdale Middle School, said the next superintendent needs to understand that students come to school with a host of issues beyond the teacher’s control.

“Some of the problems we have have nothing to do with education or teachers,” Green said.

All nine board members wanted to interview Brown and Towns. Seven of nine board members wanted to interview Smith and Timoll, and five wanted to interview Tuck.

Brown has spent her education career in Florida, starting in 1979 as a teacher in Tallahassee. In 1985, she moved to Broward County in south Florida and has been there ever since, except for three-year stint with the for-profit charter school chain Charter Schools USA. She has been in her current job since 2012. In that post, she manages an extensive array of school choices, including dozens of magnet and charter schools.

Towns started in banking, but in 2010 joined the school district in Knoxville, working as director of human resources and as chief accountability officer. From 2015 to 2018 she worked as assistant commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Education. In 2018, she joined Hamilton County, based in Chattanooga, a district with about 45,000 students.

In addition to his time with Green Dot, Tuck served as chief executive officer of a city-sponsored nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and made two high profile, but unsuccessful runs for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He now works as an educational consultant.

Six other top applicants didn’t earn a vote Thursday: Elida Bera, superintendent of the Kingsville Independent School District in Texas; Dino Coronado, co-founder and chief operating officer of xSPEDite School Services in Arizona; Larry Lewis, founder and chief executive officer of Transformation, Innovation & Student Achievement in Texas; Corey Seymour, area assistant superintendent for Portland Public Schools; Bobby White, founder and chief executive officer, Frayser Community Schools in Tennessee; and Antwan Wilson, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, D.C.


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