After seven years at ISL, Wilson was chosen last month as the new leader of International High School, and his upcoming departure was the focus of much of the ISL’s monthly board meeting Wednesday night (held at the Hilton Garden Inn to coincide with a previously-planned event there). The board voted to convene a search committee for a new Head of Schools, and the committee will initially be comprised of current board members, said board president Matt Amoss. The committee’s meetings will be open to the public, however, and some parents or other community members may be added as non-voting members.
The committee will meet on a weekly basis and likely name a successor to Wilson at the next full board meeting, currently scheduled for May 28, Amoss said after the meeting. The board has renegotiated Wilson’s contract each year, and has long had a “contingency plan” of promoting another of the school’s administrators to succeed Wilson if his contract was not renewed for any reason, Amoss said.
Amoss declined to specify which administrator that would be Wednesday night before the search committee meets, but said the appointment may be on an interim basis while another search takes place. Another option, Amoss said, would be to offer the individual a two- or three-year contract, then conduct a national search for a strong second-in-command with a background in finance to complement the current administrator’s academic focus.
If Amoss’s comments during the meeting are any indication, the board may inclined to choose someone who can offer continuity with Wilson’s work. Amoss described the school seven years ago as in a precarious position, conflicted about its academics, its finances, its leadership, its enrollment or even whether a need for immersion education still existed in a post-Katrina world where so many other challenges loomed.
“It really was a time of uncertainty,” Amoss said. “It was uncertain whether the school would succeed.”
Under Wilson’s leadership, the school has expanded to three campuses with 200 employees, and the main campus earned an A rating for the first time on its state School Performance Score. The waiting list for its kindergarten program consistently numbers several hundred students, and educators around the city name ISL as the school where they want to send their own children, Amoss said.
“This is the school that Sean built,” Amoss said. “He and his team put this together.”
(Not everyone at the meeting was as enthusiastic about Wilson’s leadership. Former accountant Anne Marie Hesson used the meeting’s public comment period to say that she was “dismissed without cause” in March following the departure of two other members of the finance team, Bill Toujouse and Bruce Frommeyer. The work environment was “distrustful, exclusive, confrontational and even bullying,” she said, and they were denied access to the information they needed to address discrepancies they found in the school finances. The board agreed to hear her complaints in a formal grievance committee.)
Wilson said the decision to leave was a difficult one, but described his move to IHS as enhancing the opportunity for ISL students to continue their immersion education. ISL has long considered the expansion of its elementary options as a first step toward building a student base for a high school, while Audubon Charter has convened periodic discussions on creating a high school, and the newer Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans is adamant about its plans to do so in the future. Meanwhile, the IHS received a ‘D’ performance score for both 2012 and 2013, though its improving test scores would have earned it a ‘C’ in 2013 under the previous grading scale used in 2012.
Wilson said he looks forward to making IHS a more attractive high-school destination for families across the region’s immersion community.
“I’m excited,” Wilson said. “It means a lot for our community as a whole to have this opportunity for kids and their families.”
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.