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Newly selected East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse answers questions during a press conference at Glen Oaks High School. He was joined by, background from left, 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.

With little discussion, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday agreed unanimously to hire a Utah-based consulting firm to help develop a new strategic plan for the school system, replacing a rarely used plan approved in 2013.

The goal is to have a new plan in place by June, in time for the start of the next school year. The strategic plan will lay general priorities of the school district meant to guide future decision-making.

The frictionless selection of the Arbinger Institute was an early success for new Superintendent Sito Narcisse, who pushed for the hiring of the suburban Salt Lake City organization.

Narcisse, who started full time on Monday, prevailed upon the School Board to quickly organize Thursday’s special meeting, which was held before other School Board business that night.

Narcisse emphasized the Arbinger Institute’s past experience doing similar work in other large urban school districts. One of those was Metro Nashville public schools, where Arbinger did work while Narcisse served there as chief of schools from 2016 to 2019.

In hiring Arbinger, the School Board passed over other firms interested in this work who responded to a Request for Quotes and Qualifications, or RFQQ, approved by the board on Nov. 19. The Advocate on Thursday submitted a public records request Thursday seeking to review those proposals. On Friday, the school system released proposals from five firms: Cognia, IEG, Lean Frog, MGT and Prismatic. Arbinger did not participate in that process, supplying its proposal separately.

One reason that Narcisse said he’s behind Arbinger is because the school system won’t be paying for their services. In a memo sent to board members on Monday, Narcisse said “please note that the Arbinger Institute’s services will be paid entirely by funds arising from private donations through the Foundation for East Baton Rouge School System.”

Narcisse did not initially say how much that work would cost or identify any donors. On Friday, Narcisse said that Arbinger's work would cost about $138,000, but did not indentify who was providing the money to pay the firm.

Narcisse also is using private financing from unidentified sources to pay for outside consultants from the Charlotte, N.C.-based Van Fleet Group who are interviewing district staff for a series of transition reports that the new superintendent is using to guide his early decisions. Narcisse said on Friday that the transition work will cost about $42,000.

Using outside money for such purposes is not new for the school system.

When the last strategic plan was developed between 2011 and 2013, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber put up at least $25,000 to employ SSA Consultants to develop the plan, covering roughly two-thirds of the cost.

The downsides of that planning process, however, are helping to shape the new strategic planning process.

The bulk of that 2013 plan was developed while one superintendent, John Dilworth, was leaving and before his ultimate replacement, Bernard Taylor, came on board. Taylor ended up with a plan he had little input on and consequently diminished investment in carrying out.

By taking a lead role in the new strategic plan, and having his hand-picked firm leading the process, Narcisse is forging a different path.

The 2013 strategic plan also was ambitious. For instance, a key "bold goal" was to move from the lower end of annual academic rankings of school districts to the top 10 by the year 2020. In 2019, the last year rankings are available, East Baton Rouge ranked 54th out of 70 traditional school districts in Louisiana.

Thursday was the first School Board meeting that Narcisse attended in person. Narcisse was accompanied Thursday by two newly hired administrators, Chief Academic Officer Michael Robinson and Chief of Staff Caron Smith. They are two of four new top administrators the School Board agreed to let Narcisse hire at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Robinson, who served from 2016 to 2018 as superintendent in Pine Bluff, Ark., worked with Narcisse in a previous job in Prince George’s County, Md. Smith is a Baton Rouge native who worked with Narcisse in Washington, D.C. public schools, where she served as director of secondary academic scheduling and support.

Two more administrators have been hired, but were not in attendance Thursday: Chief of Operations Frank Chester and Chief of Schools Sharon Williams. Chester previously worked as chief human resources officer in Pittsburgh, where Narcisse once worked, and in a similar position in Bridgeport, Conn. Williams has been serving as chief academic officer for public schools in Holmes County, Miss.

Also on Thursday, the School Board voted unanimously in favor of another Narcisse initiative, to rejoin the Council of Great City Schools. The council has 72 urban school districts as members, including Metro Nashville. The membership will cost the school system about $40,000 a year.

East Baton Rouge Parish was a member of the Council of Great Schools for years until 2015 when it was dropped around the time of the arrival of Superintendent Warren Drake.

Several board members spoke Thursday about how they’d pushed to pull out of the Council years ago, but are willing now to give Narcisse the benefit of the doubt.

“When we reviewed how we were using those resources, we weren’t really using them,” Board President David Tatman explained.

Narcisse promised he would make use of the Council’s services, including auditing services and the development of key performance indicators.

“My goal is that we use them extensively,” Narcisse said.


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