Fourteen people — including both local educators in New Orleans and school leaders from around the country — have applied to be the next CEO of New Orleans College Prep, and the charter network’s CEO selection committee may bring a group of finalists to campus to meet the public as soon as this month, school leaders said this week.
Noteworthy among the applications, however, is the absence of any internal candidates, including current interim CEO Natalie Kaharick. After founding CEO Ben Kleban was elected to the Orleans Parish School board in late 2016, Kaharick was initially promoted to co-CEO with Andy Parker, she continue her focus on operations and he to focus on academics. After Parker’s unexpected departure last year, Kaharick took over as the sole interim CEO.
The College Prep board has regularly praised Kaharick’s leadership and publicly invited her to apply, but Kaharick told New Orleans College Prep staff members in an email this week that she believes the CEO should be someone with more direct training in academics. Because her own specialty has always been operations, she said, she decided not to apply.
“It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to act as NOCP’s CEO. Over the last year the role has inspired, challenged, and humbled me,” Kaharick wrote. “The main factor that guided my decision is my lack of academic expertise. I feel it’s critical that the leader of the network is able to help drive academic results. I want our students to succeed, but I know that my skill set is better suited to things that support academics, rather than drive them. And, ultimately, as a network of schools, academics should be our primary focus.”
The next CEO of College Prep will face the challenge of reshaping the charter network somewhat. The first school awarded to the network — Sylvanie Williams Elementary — has been under academic review by the state for several years for declining test scores, and is expected to either be closed or given to a different charter network next year. That would leave the College Prep network overseeing three campuses: Cohen High School — which has been celebrated for its dramatic rise from the bottom of local test scores to its current ‘C’ under College Prep — as well as Crocker Elementary and the new Hoffman preschool site.
The applicants for the CEO of the network are as follows:
- Joel D. Castro, who served as associate superintendent of the Lubbock Independent School District until last year, now living in New Orleans,
- Denise Charbonnet, a veteran teacher school administrator most recently in Norfolk, Va., but with experience at numerous New Orleans schools before Hurricane Katrina,
- Bryan Gendron, a test-security adminstrator with the state Department of Education and former educator in the Gonzales, La.-area,
- Larisa Gray, the 2016-17 middle school principal at Einstein Charter School and former Lusher Charter School teacher,
- William Green, assistant coach of the Xavier University women’s basketball team,
- Tiffanye McCoy-Thomas, current director of special needs services for the Orleans Parish School Board, with 16 years of classroom and administrative experience in schools around Louisiana,
- Adam Meinig, chief of leadership development at Collegiate Academies in New Orleans and an educational consultant, as well as founder of KIPP Believe College Prep,
- James T. Meyer, a national education consultant, and former teacher and principal in Ohio, Rhode Island, Indiana and New Jersey,
- Devona Nicholas, an administrator with the Better Choice Foundation, with 15 years of teaching and administrative experience in Orleans and Jefferson parishes,
- Marvel L. Nolan, former principal of a charter school in Sebastian, Fla., and current instructor at International High School of New Orleans,
- Christina Snowden Shelvege, leader of A Kingdom Connection Changing Lives in Baton Rouge, with a background in business and education administration and service in the Army National Guard,
- Thomas Shepley, a vice president at New Schools for New Orleans, with past teaching and administrative experience in Baltimore and Detroit,
- Geneva Stark, a school administrator from Kentucky, and
- Tomika Washington, an director of academics at Algiers Charter Schools, with teaching experience in New Orleans public schools dating back to 1999.
Only 11 applications had been received by the school’s CEO Search Committee as of the start of the New Orleans College Prep board meeting on Wednesday evening, and committee co-chair Julia Walker initially said the committee had narrowed the field to three finalists. The phone and video interviews were conducted by board members Barbara MacPhee and Stephen Boyard, both retired educators.
“We had educators interviewing educators, and I think that was the right choice,” Walker said.
Walker initially described a timeline by which those three finalists would visit College Prep on Jan. 22 and each make a presentation to the entire board and the public. Board member Jim Raby, however, asked if that meant the application period was formally closed, and Boyard said he would be willing to continue conducting interviews if more applications were received.
After more than an hour’s closed-door executive session, board member Shaun Rafferty announced that the board had determined it was too early to close the application period, and that no finalists would be determined. The decision was in part because of the need for criminal background checks on the finalists as a final form of vetting, but also because more applications were being sent. In fact, Charbonnet’s arrived during the meeting itself, and Gendron and Nolan’s were both received on Thursday.
The board did not name any applicants during Wednesday’s meeting, but released the names on Thursday as the result of a public-records request by Uptown Messenger. According to Louisiana law, the names and qualifications of all applicants for public jobs are considered public records available to the anyone upon request.
To read our live coverage of Wednesday’s meeting, see below.