A group of more than 35 business leaders led by Mike Polito and Richard Lipsey is getting involved in the search for a new superintendent for East Baton Rouge Schools, encouraging school board members to select someone who will make bold, sweeping changes.
The group calls itself Business for Bold Leadership and is an unofficial organization that isn’t raising or spending any money, Polito says. Rather, it’s an independent group of concerned business leaders, who are hoping to land the best superintendent possible to lead Baton Rouge’s perennially challenged school system.
“At some point we have to make more than just incremental progress and we didn’t feel like enough progress had been made,” says Polito, who hatched the idea for the business group with Lipsey over breakfast one day in early January. “We’ve made some progress and we are seeing improvement but we cannot continue to just improve our blocking and tackling. We need a new leader who can bring in bold resources and new ideas and implement them.”
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will meet Thursday night and narrow five semifinalists for the position to two or three finalists. Polito says his group has identified two candidates—Marshall Tuck and Nakia Towns—as its top picks.
Tuck comes from the charter school world and is the former president of Green Dot Schools, a California charter school group. He also formerly headed a nonprofit organization that took over 10 low-performing schools in Los Angeles and helped turn them around.
Towns is a former commercial banker and current administrator in the Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee, which has some 45,000 students, slightly more than East Baton Rouge Parish.
Both candidates have strong business backgrounds. Neither has classroom teaching experience, save for one year Tuck spent teaching English abroad.
Polito says his group identified the two as the strongest candidates based on their interviews, references and resumes.
In recent weeks, members of the group have been meeting individually with school board members to share their ideas and concerns.
“We’re not trying to exert influence,” he says. “I think we’re just trying to voice opinions and talk to members and get their ideas. We met with school board members and laid out what we wanted and got back from them what they wanted and, wonderfully, it was a match. Everybody wanted a bold, visionary leader. We’re excited about that. Now we just want to try and hold them to that.”
The school board meets tomorrow at 5 p.m. and will limit capacity in the boardroom to 25%. Each board member will get to select their top three candidates. Any candidate who receives more than five votes will be invited back for a final interview.