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Newly selected East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse. Narcisse answered questions during a press conference at Glen Oaks High School. He was joined by La. State Schools Supt. Cade Brumley, along with BESE members Preston Castille and Ronnie Morris Friday January 15, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. They took a tour of the school and talked about the future of EBR. Narcisse, who is the chief of secondary schools in Washington, D.C., beat out EBR Interim Superintendent Adam Smith in a 5-4 vote.

After narrowly winning over a divided School board and besting an internal candidate, Sito Narcisse wasted no time getting to work in his new job as East Baton Rouge Parish schools superintendent.

While he is not set to start full time in Baton Rouge until Monday, he’s moved fast over the past two weeks to start shaking things up and answering those who see the need for big changes in the state’s second largest traditional school district. He’s moved so fast, in fact, that it's created legal complications and provoked resistance from board members uneasy with the pace he's setting.

Meet Baton Rouge's new school leader: Sito Narcisse makes first visit day after school board vote

The morning after the board picked him, the 45-year-old veteran educator flew from Washington, D.C. to Baton Rouge and embarked on a whirlwind tour of schools, including holding a press conference with state and local officials to herald his new position. Narcisse ended up staying in town for five days before heading back to D.C.

On day four of his stay, he signed on the dotted line. Narcisse’s contract comes with a base salary of $255,000 a year. Unexpectedly, it also called for him to start the job that same day, Monday, Jan. 18.

In starting as superintendent so soon, Narcisse stands out. Typically, superintendents wait two weeks or longer to wrap up their old jobs before officially taking over a new one.

Adding to the confusion, the first version of the contract posted online set Narcisse’s start date as Feb. 1, which was described at the time as a “clerical error.” Soon after a corrected version was posted with the Jan. 18 start date.

Mike Gaudet, who until recently served as board president and negotiated the contract with Narcisse, said he wanted to give Narcisse the ability to immediately hire his own leadership team and get to work.

“We’re already almost in February,” Gaudet said. “We’ve got a budget to make and lots of things that need to be done before this next school year.”

Narcisse began pushing right away for a far-reaching Central Office reorganization. He asked the parish School Board to quickly approve changes to 24 job descriptions — several of them brand new positions, with many earning six-figure salaries.

But, by the Jan. 21 board meeting, Narcisse retreated, amid concerns from some board members and teachers union leaders that he was planning to go on a costly outside hiring spree. He settled, at least for the time being, for just four new top positions: chief academic officer, chief of schools, chief operations officer and chief of staff. These new jobs are expected to be filled soon.

Even as he’s been busy with his work in Baton Rouge, Narcisse had been finishing out his final two weeks as chief of secondary schools for Washington D.C. public schools — his last day was Friday. It’s a busy time in D.C, as that school district has readied for a controversial move to in-person instruction after 11 months of remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To avoid potential problems of holding two jobs at once — and collecting two paychecks in the process — Narcisse made an unusual decision. The day after signing his contract, he took a leave of absence from his new job in Baton Rouge. The leave of absence lasted until Friday. He said it’s an idea that came up during contract negotiations as a way to avoid receiving two paychecks at once.

“I just want to make sure I’m doing everything by the book," Narcisse said.

When he’s not been doing his duties in D.C., Narcisse said he’s been working on East Baton Rouge school matters for free.

“This is all on my dime,” Narcisse said.

Board member Dawn Collins, who was appointed vice president on Jan. 21, said she was not aware that Narcisse was on a leave of absence until she began asking questions after seeing a Jan. 22 post on Facebook by board watcher James Finney referencing Louisiana law on school superintendents.

The law has broad language prohibiting school superintendents from working other jobs: “He shall be required to devote his entire time to the office of superintendent of schools.”

Gwynn Shamlin, general counsel for East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said his reading of the law is that it’s intended to prevent superintendents from holding two permanent jobs at once, but that it does not apply to Narcisse’s situation.

“It’s my position that he is not violating the law, because this is really a transitional period as he moves into this second job,” Shamlin said.

Collins questioned the rush to bring Narcisse on board so fast.

“The best practice is you don’t start someone right away who can’t answer basic questions through no fault of their own without a transition period,” she said.

David Tatman, who was elected president of the board on Jan. 21, he is not versed in all the details of those negotiations coming in, because Gaudet, his predecessor negotiated and signed Narcisse’s contract.

But Tatman said he’s been speaking daily with Narcisse and said the new superintendent has been active even while working remotely. Tatman said the decision to go on unpaid leave was Narcisse’s.

“He felt if he takes unpaid leave that way he’s not drawing a salary in two places,” Tatman said.

Neither Tatman nor Collins voted for Narcisse for superintendent, but they say they want to see Narcisse succeed. Tatman said he’s glad that Narcisse is finally coming to Baton Rouge for good.

“The man has been elected to be superintendent, and we need to get the man on the ground so he can get to work,” Tatman said.

Narcisse is the second East Baton Rouge Parish school superintendent in a row to unexpectedly go on leave. To be sure, the last time was a much different circumstance.

In mid-September, Leslie Brown, who’d just been the job for six weeks as superintendent, left on medical leave for an unspecified ailment. Two weeks later, she resigned.

While Narcisse has been on leave, Associate Superintendent Adam Smith has been leading East Baton Rouge schools day to day.

“We’ve been in communication daily,” Smith said.

Narcisse narrowly edged out Smith, a 24-year veteran of the school system, for the superintendent’s job. Smith had served as interim superintendent for three months prior to that vote.

Smith said he has not seen a new organizational chart yet, but said Narcisse has told current members of the senior cabinet, including himself, that they will continue in senior cabinet-level positions.

Narcisse also said he’s been receiving regular reports from an outside transition team he’s organized to help him sort out his plans in his new job. Smith said members of the transition team started meeting with school staff, including himself, early this past week.

On Monday, Narcisse starts the job in person. And he's ready to get moving.

“I’m going to be full time and I’m really excited,” Narcisse said.


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