East Baton Rouge School Board launches superintendent search _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- BR Magnet High students walk in front of the school.

The effort to find someone to replace outgoing schools Superintendent Warren Drake moves from a simmer to a boil Thursday when the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board tries to choose between two consulting firms that are proposing to help the school system find a new top educator.

The two firms vying for the contract, SSA Consultants of Baton Rouge and JG Consulting of Austin, Texas, plan to make presentations Thursday night on what they will do if hired.

If either is found lacking, the board could seek anew for outside help or go another route entirely.

SSA Consultants, the Baton Rouge firm, has provided executive search services for many local companies, organizations and government institutions during its 49 years in operation. These range from finding the executive director of Aunt Sally’s Pralines to new leaders for the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and BREC.

SSA lists no past K-12 education searches in its proposal, though the firm has done other work for public school districts. A prominent example was its role in helping the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board develop its current strategic plan.

Austin, Texas-based JG Consultants, by contrast, specializes in searches for superintendents and top school executives. The firm was founded in 2014 and says it has managed about 70 searches since then.

JG’s founder James Guerra is listed in that's firm's proposal as principal consultant. He started in education in 2003 and has worked with “the nation’s largest school districts in various capacities,” according to the firm's proposal. His résumé shows the bulk of previous jobs were in sales positions for private companies that work in public education.

Patricia Linares, who is listed as the firm's chief search officer, is a retired top administrator with the Ft. Worth Independent School District in Texas and briefly served as superintendent there. Senior search consultant Alton Frailey has worked as superintendent in four districts, including his current employer, the small Nacogdoches Independent School District in Texas, but his longest tenure, nine years, was with the large Katy Independent School District in suburban Houston.

SSA's Consultants' team includes Chief Executive Officer Christel Slaughter and Partner Rudy Gomez. The firm has added two outside organizations to its team: Franklin Associates and Bayard Management Group.

Franklin’s president, Perry Franklin, formerly headed the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance in Baton Rouge. Bayard’s president, James Gilmore, served a short stint in 2017 as assistant administrative officer under East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

SSA’s suggested fee is $49,500 while JG is proposing to do the work for $25,000.

Unlike JG Consulting, SSA’s fee does not cover travel expenses for bringing in candidates or for placing job ads.

JG is also pitching other "add-on services," including professional development from what it describes as its “faculty” of 25 current and former school executives. It also proposes an annual leadership academy “for aspiring leaders and superintendents.”

JG’s proposal, the more detailed of the two, offers a work plan, a list of places it would advertise the job and a rough timeline. And its proposal addresses another common criticism of search firms: “We do not work with a ‘stable’ of candidates.”

SSA’s proposal is comparatively spare. Beside the price quote, it consists mostly of biographical information on the team members. It does not specify what each of the four team members will do.

Drake is set to retire on June 30, a little over eight months from now.

Drake has served as the East Baton Rouge’s top school executive for the past five years. He spent most of his career with the school system but was best known for the decade he spent leading the new Zachary school district, which quickly shot to the top of the state rankings.

He will leave big shoes to fill.

With 41,000 schoolchildren and about 6,000 employees, the East Baton Rouge Parish school district is the second largest in the state. And it is home to some of the highest-performing as well as some of the lowest-performing schools in Louisiana.

Saturday’s successful vote to incorporate a new city of St. George in the southeastern portion of the parish adds to the challenges that a new superintendent will face.

St. George supporters hope their success Saturday will compel the Legislature to give them a chance to create a new public school district in the area, following on the heels of new school districts in Baker, Central and Zachary.

In the past, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board routinely hired national search firms to find new superintendents. The last occurred in 2012 when the board hired Illinois-based PROACT. It led to hiring of Drake’s predecessor, Bernard Taylor of Grand Rapids, Michigan. However, it was an ugly, chaotic experience that left a bad taste in the mouth of many board members.

In 2015, the board went to the opposite extreme, handling the search that led to Drake's hiring entirely in-house.

Four of the nine current board members participated in the 2012 superintendent search: Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, David Tatman and Evelyn Ware-Jackson. A fifth member, Mark Bellue, was involved with the 2015 search. For board members Dawn Collins, Mike Gaudet, Tramelle Howard and Dadrius Lanus, this is their first search.

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