As talks with French educations officials about the prospect of a new high school continue, Lycee Francais is planning to adjust its charter to give admissions priority to children of French citizens, school officials announced Monday night.
Meanwhile, the school is also planning to settle a defamation lawsuit with a former special-education coordinator who was fired in 2012 at the height of the school’s leadership crisis, officials said.
Lycee CEO Keith Bartlett and two board members, Alysson Mills and Ben Castoriano, all had recent meetings with Mark Sherringham, the head of the education department in the French embassy. Sherringham was impressed with the school’s recent growth, academic success and adherence to both the French curriculum and Louisiana state standards, the officials said, and he spoke enthusiastically about his desire to see a French-language high school in New Orleans — echoing observations by French consul general Gregor Trumel to both Lycee and Audubon Charter.
Sherringham recommended, however, that Lycee change its admissions process to give priority to children of French citizens, so that French companies considering New Orleans offices will have a place to send their children to school, for example, Bartlett said. This would require a change to Lycee’s charter, as the only students currently given admissions priority are siblings of current students or those considered at-risk because of their family income.
This recommendation dovetails with a change the administration had already been considering, which was to give admissions preference to children of the French teachers it recruits, who are usually hired after the city’s annual admission process is complete, Bartlett explained. Overall, the change wouldn’t likely make a big difference in the student population — only seven teachers have children in the school, he noted.
“We don’t think it would impact very much,” Bartlett said.
Board member Ann Meese said she’s concerned that the new admissions preference would make it more difficult for the school to reach its goal of 67 percent at-risk students. The issue could grow as the city becomes more attractive to investment from French companies, Meese said.
Castoriano, however, disagreed. The number of children of French citizens would likely be too low to make a significant change in the admissions numbers — especially in the short term, he said. If it does become a problem, the board could revisit the issue down the line, Castoriano suggested.
“It’s important that that odd person here and there can feel comfortable they can get in,” Castoriano said.
The school administration also intends to propose one other change to its admissions process — waiving the French-language proficiency exam for students transferring from other accredited French-immersion schools. That change is primarily to reduce the workload on the school staff, Bartlett said, but those children would not receive any additional admissions preference.
The school administration is still discussing the proposed changes with the state Department of Education, Bartlett said. When they arrive at language for the charter change, it will be presented to the board for approval.
In the meantime, the board voted Monday night to authorize Bartlett and Mills to “resolve” the lawsuit against the school by former special education coordinator Darleen Mipro. Mipro’s dramatic public firing in 2012 — accompanied by a police escort out of the school in front of parents and other teachers and charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace that were later dismissed — took place amid questions about the school’s leadership that would later lead to its entire board and administration being replaced.
Lycee’s current board — none of which were involved with the school at the time of the incident — held a closed-door executive session for about 15 minutes Monday night to discuss the lawsuit, which named the school and former board members Paige Saleun and Jean Montes as defendants. Parent Paula Griffin protested the closed discussion, arguing that the public had a right to know what actions the board was considering with respect to the lawsuit, but board members said that discussing their legal strategy in public would harm their negotiating position.
After the closed-door session, the board voted unanimously to give Bartlett and Mills authority to “resolve” the lawsuit without further discussion. Mills said after the meeting that the board intends for the school to “negotiate a settlement” in the case, but declined to describe whether any settlement offers have been made by any of the parties involved.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below: