The search for a new East Baton Rouge Parish schools superintendent reaches a crucial stage this week as the School Board interviews three finalists over three successive nights.

The School Board last month said it would interview three out of the 21 applicants for the job. One is Interim Superintendent Adam Smith. The others are 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.

Sheppard’s interview is set for Wednesday, Narcisse’s interview is Thursday and Smith will finish out on Friday.

Each days’ activities will begin at 4 p.m. with a 90-minute town hall for members of the public to pose questions, followed at 5:45 p.m. by a 150-minute interview where only members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board can ask questions. That's four hours of questioning each night, or 12 hours total.

Both the town hall and the board interviews will be held at the school system’s Professional Development Center, 3000 North Sherwood Forest Drive. Due to social distancing restrictions prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, the meeting room will seat only 50% of its normal capacity. Also, since Sept. 3, the School Board has been partitioning this space into three rooms, with those in two side rooms watching the proceedings on a large video screen. For those who chose not to come in person, the interviews will be streamed live on the School’s Board YouTube channel, EBRSchoolsTV.

The School Board plans to pick one of these three educators as its permanent superintendent at a special meeting Jan. 14.

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 new search was prompted by the unexpected resignation of Leslie Brown in October. Brown replaced Warren Drake, who retired in July after five years at the helm.

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.

Adam Smith named interim superintendent while Baton Rouge schools look for permanent leader

Smith, who was promoted from deputy to interim superintendent after Brown’s resignation, applied for the job the first time, but failed to make it to final interviews. Narcisse and Sheppard did not apply for the job last time.

JG Consulting is once again leading the new search. The Austin, Texas-based search firm 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.

The School Board selected Narcisse, Sheppard and Smith as finalists at its Dec. 17 meeting. All three have submitted resumes, which the School Board has posted on its meetings website. The website also has a link to 10-minute interviews of the candidates; the link was not working early Monday, but was restored by Monday night. 

The format for this week’s interviews is similar to when finalists were interviewed in June, but there are important differences.

One big one is that there will not be a set list of questions asked to each candidate.

“Board members will be free to ask any questions they wish,” said Board President Mike Gaudet. “No set questions and the questions may be different for each candidate.”

Here are other differences with the last search:

  • Online comments will be visible to the public online but won’t be read aloud into the record as they were before. This is consistent with a recent change in how the School Board conducts public meetings during the pandemic. During the town halls, a moderator will review questions posed online and may choose to pose them to the candidates.
  • No town hall will feature more than one finalist. In June, finalists Brown and Nakia Towns of Chattanooga sat on the same stage on one occasion.
  • No small group interviews of the finalists. In June, finalists Brown and Towns were interviewed at four workshops led by business and community leaders, as well as parents, school employees and members of local education groups.

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, 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. 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, in both cases hired to “turn around” 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.