desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The field for top leader of East Baton Rouge Parish public schools shrank significantly Thursday night when the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed to invite three candidates back for interviews.

The three finalists are Interim Superintendent Adam Smith; Sito Narcisse, chief of secondary schools for Washington, D.C., public schools; and Marla Sheppard, deputy superintendent of Kansas City public schools. Narcisse's district has 52,000 students and Sheppard's has 14,000 students.

They will return for interviews on Jan. 7, 8 and 9.

Over two rounds of voting Thursday, the board narrowed the field first to five, and then to three candidates. The five candidates who made the first cut were all candidates recommended by Austin-based JG Consulting out of a field of 21 applicants for the job.

Board members Tramelle Howard and Dadrius Lanus sought unsuccessfully to invite back all five candidates who made the cut in round one.

Devin Wright, a leaders of the teachers group South Louisiana Coalition of Educators, lobbied to bring all five back for interviews. He said that's what the board did in its last superintendent search and it worked well. 

"You did not do a double-elimination in one night," Wright said.

Smith and Sheppard earned seven votes each, while Narcisse earned five votes, which was the minimum needed to be brought back for an interview.

This is the second search in a year for someone to fill this key position leading the state’s second-largest traditional school system, home to more than 40,000 students.

The School Board has posted online the résumés of all 21 applicants as well as a link to short introductory video interviews submitted by 18 of the applicants

Citing declining health, East Baton Rouge school superintendent resigns after 2 months on job

The School Board was compelled to hunt again for a superintendent after Leslie Brown resigned after just two months on the job. Brown, 62 and a veteran educator from south Florida, replaced outgoing Superintendent Warren Drake on Aug. 3. Brown went on emergency medical leave on Sept. 21 for an undisclosed illness. Sixteen days later, she turned in her resignation.

JG Consulting has returned to lead the new search. It is honoring a clause in its original contract saying it would conduct a second, free search if the person hired left “for any reason” within two years of being hired.

Whoever lands the job arrives as the school system wrestles with an ongoing coronavirus outbreak and faces likely budget cuts thanks to the economic consequences of that pandemic.

Jeremy Couvillion, a former superintendent in Assumption Parish, home to about 3,300 students, and Tawana Grover, superintendent of Grand Island Public Schools were in the top five, but failed to earn enough votes to advance to interviews. Couvillion got three votes and Grover got two.

Smith took over as interim superintendent on Oct. 15. The board launched the search that same day. That night it also narrowly rejected moves to limit the search to just the No. 2 applicant from last time, Nakia Towns, a top administrator in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Towns did not apply again. Neither did top applicants Quentina Timoll and Marshall Tuck.

In its first search, JG Consulting gave the School Board the names and résumés of 24 applicants — one immediately withdrew. For the new search, JG used the same ad and job description from the previous search.

Smith is the local favorite for the job. Board members Mark Bellue and Mike Gaudet were the only board members who opted not to invite Smith back for an interview.

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, who retired in July, put him over elementary schools a couple of years ago.

Sheppard has spent the past three years as deputy superintendent of Kansas City public schools, which has more than 14,000 students. The bulk of her career though has been in the Houston area. She spent four years as assistant superintendent in Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas, which has about 73,000 students. She also served as the principal of a middle school and then a high school in Houston, both cases hired to “turn around” those low performing schools.

Narcisse has spent the most time in leadership roles in larger school districts. He has spent the past 17 months as chief of secondary schools in the public school district in Washington. D.C. Before that, he served as chief of schools for Nashville, Tennessee, public school, which has about 85,000 students, as well as four year as associate superintendent in Prince George’s County, Maryland Public Schools, which has almost 130,000 students.


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