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New East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Leslie Brown, left, speaks during an announcement at the school board office Tuesday, Sept. 1. Two of the members of the school district's Health Advisory Committee, Dr. Michael Bolton, center, co-director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Catherine O’Neal, right, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, spoke as well.

These are difficult times for schools everywhere, navigating the challenges of the global pandemic and facing financial pressures from the accompanying recession. But it has been a particularly hectic and painful year for the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system.

In addition to everything else, the school system picked a new superintendent.

Leslie Brown, 62, began her new job this summer, and she seemed to be off to a fine start.

She came to the position with great credentials, with 41 years of experience in education, all of it in Florida. She was chief of portfolio services for Broward County.

But she knew Baton Rouge. Her parents, Robert and Gerry Marks, moved here in the 1970s. They passed away, but her sister still lives in Baton Rouge.

But now, health issues have forced Brown to give up the job after only two months.

She went on medical leave in September. And this month, the board received her resignation letter, written by her husband, Bill.

“Today, it is with great sadness I write to you, as her husband and as her power of attorney, to report her health has continued to deteriorate, leaving her unable to pen this letter herself and forcing her to tender her resignation,” Bill Brown wrote.

The letter is signed by her and her husband.

“The whole thing is a surprise,” said the School Board’s president, Mike Gaudet.

“I feel really sorry for her family and her, but also my impression was she was doing an excellent job, she had gotten the staff behind her,” he said. “It’s a loss for the district but like everything, we have to move up and move on.”

Board Vice President Tramelle Howard said that while he didn’t agree with Brown on some things, she was a good listener, especially on his concerns about fairness and equity in the school system.

“She was very open to those conversations,” Howard said.

The board meets Thursday to begin sorting through its options for replacing Brown.

East Baton Rouge Parish and the whole state of Louisiana have a stake in the success of the public schools.

The system is second-largest in Louisiana, with 40,000 students and 5,000 employees across 80 schools.

Brown’s departure is a tragedy and a challenge.

When she arrived in August, she wrote in these pages that “the East Baton Rouge Parish School System stands ready for the challenges ahead and keenly focused on our reason for existence: the student.”

That’s still true today.

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