Dec 102012
 

The Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans campus on Patton Street.

The Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans governing board approved the hiring of an interim CEO on Monday night, then several board members convened a private meeting with about 50 teachers and parents to discuss the decision and other issues facing the school.

Board chair Jean Montes opened the meeting with a short monologue apologizing for what he described as the board’s failure in the past to provide strong enough oversight to the school’s activities. He then announced that after the board meeting, several board members and staff members would hold a private meeting open only to parents and teachers.

“We have not always made the right decision, but we have always made decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the students and the school,” Montes said.

Montes then introduced Gisele Schexnider, a French teacher at the Louise McGehee School whom he appointed as academic director and interim CEO about 10 days ago, as an “excellent leader.” Shexnider will replace former general director Jean-Jacques Grandiere, who resigned in November, and Montes has said the board will seek a permanent CEO to be hired by this summer following a national search.

“I deeply believe in this school,” Schexnider said in brief remarks. “I’ve always supported this project from the very beginning.”

Schexnider asked if she should discuss her background, and Montes said that conversation would better be left until later. One member of the audience expressed concern that the academic director job opening was not properly advertised or discussed in public, but board member Catherine MacPhaille said she believes Schexnider is “eminently qualified” for the job.

With that, about five minutes after discussion began, the board voted to ratify Montes’ appointment of Schexnider to the position.

The meeting then proceeded into the financial report, as finance director Julianne Ruocco spent about half an hour updating the board on the school budget. Although she is waiting on a set of reimbursements from the Recovery School District, the school is generally proceeding within the reduced budget approved last month, she said.

“We’ve got to run a tight ship right now,” Ruocco said. “We still have money for the essentials, but non-essential items will have to go through a review process.”

After a few more brief items, the board voted to adjourn, and Montes reiterated the invitation to people “connected to this family” to stay and discuss any concerns they have with school leaders.

“We also want to stress that this is a closed meeting,” board member Joel Vilmenay, president and general manager of WDSU, said specifically to the members of the media present.

During a short break before the closed portion of the meeting, Vilmenay said that only three board members would be remaining — himself, Montes and Dan Henderson. The total board is now seven members — former board chair Andrew Abrams resigned without explanation a week ago, Montes said — so the three of them do not make up a quorum, meaning that state open-meetings laws would not apply, Vilmenay said.

“We just want to be able to talk to parents and teachers and anyone who is part of the Lycee family,” Vilmenay said. “Some people here may be concerned about making remarks publicly, and we want to alleviate some of that pressure.”

The closed portion of the meeting proceeded for approximately two hours, and “after the doors were closed to reporters, parents criticized what they saw as a lack of transparency and communication,” according to a report at Nola.com. The meeting also discussed issues surrounding security, the nola.com report states.

About 30 minutes into the closed meeting, a reporter from The Lens returned inside and said that her editors were of the opinion that the three board members conducting the meeting constituted an ad hoc committee of the board that was deliberating over issues they are charged with supervising, and thus were subject to open meetings laws. Vilmenay that he had a document from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that explained the reasoning for the closed meeting, and handed reporters from The Lens and from Uptown Messenger a printout of descriptions of topics that are allowed to be discussed in executive sessions.

“Please leave the building,” Vilmenay then said.

After the meeting ended around 9:30 p.m., Vilmenay explained that he handed out the executive-session document by mistake, and had intended to hand out another printout from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that states that “in the absence of a quorum, the gathering is not subject to the Open Meeting Law.” He also stated that the reporters who returned to inquire about the rationale for closing the meeting were themselves in violation of the law.

Alex del Castillo, a parent at the school, said after the meeting that he felt the closed discussion had been productive for the school. He said that the board has owned up to its past mistakes in selecting administrators, and that the failures of various staff members have required board members to take up responsibilities they shouldn’t have had to shoulder — leading to the present uncertainty among the staff.

“The teachers are good here, but unfortunately it seems somebody has been riling them up,” del Castillo said.

To read live coverage of the meeting, see the box below.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.georgehirons Amy George-Hirons

    Thank you for your coverage of this meeting. We are certainly working on fixing the problems at our school and, in my opinion, public oversight is an important part of the process.

  • Dee

    I don’t see a clear exception applicable. Who can we call to say there has been a violation of open meeting law. As a general rule of thumb, if the board cannot say things publicly, it probably shouldn’t be saying things at all.

  • UptownMessenger

    I was just emailed the below comment from someone who asked to be kept anonymous. The writer noted that he had posted the same comment at The Lens but wanted it to be posted here as well and was having difficulty with the Disqus system:

    * * *

    This is troubling. The Lycee is a public school and has an obligation to
    conduct its business in public. Furthermore, current parents are not the only ones with a legitimate stake in its operations. I am currently
    researching kindergartens for my child next year. They owe me, as a
    potential parent, the same consideration of current parents so that I
    can make an informed decision about my child’s education.

    This behavior of Montes and the board further erodes my confidence in the Lycee.

    Please continue to pressure them to meet their obligation to the public.

    (Note: I’m withholding my name, since my child is applying to the Lycee. What does it say about this board that I fear retribution from them for expressing an opinion publicly about their actions?)

  • Current Lycee Member

    The current board continues to
    micromanage every aspect of the school, including the recent firing(s) and quick
    hiring of Ms. Schexneider. I don’t believe she has any experience “running” a
    school, not to mention one with serious problems internally. It’s my
    understanding her experience is in teaching only. I would like to understand why
    the school never even posted for a viable candidate. She should at the least be
    interim until a more qualified person can be found to put this school back on
    some solid ground. Our teachers are excellent as is the French education our
    children receive. However, I am concerned we will ultimately lose our French
    teachers and become just an immersion type school. We signed our child up for
    the benefit of the French system and ultimately the possibility of the
    bacalaureat. We’ve lost so many excellent leaders, staff, and teachers under the
    current board. We desperately need some new leaders for our school and some
    fresh faces on the board working with transparency and creating a more united
    school, not one separated by parents who are disgusted with the way things have
    been going and other parents that seem to look the other way