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New Orleans’ school board appoints veteran educator to fill vacant District 1 seat

Aubri Juhasz
Leila Jacobs Eames takes a photo with members of the Orleans Parish School Board after being selected to fill its District 1 seat on March 31, 2022.

When the Orleans Parish School Board appointed retired educator Leila Jacobs Eames to fill its vacant board seat Thursday night, she burst into tears.

“So many people came to me to ask me just to get out here and try,” Eames said. “I almost pulled out a couple of nights ago. I prayed and I said ‘Just go for it.’”

Eames, who doesn’t have any political experience, will represent District 1, which covers the Lower 9th Ward and parts of New Orleans East. She will serve on an interim basis until a special election can be held.

Since 2015, the seat had been filled by John Brown Sr., who stepped down from the board last month, citing his daughter’s bid to become the district’s next superintendent.

Brown’s daughter, Jawan Brown-Alexander, did not advance to the district’s final round of interviews and the board ultimately offered the position to Avis Williams, the current superintendent of public schools in Selma, Alabama.

Several of the candidates vying for the District 1 seat faced tough questions Thursday night, including their stance on charter schools.

The board’s six current members are unified in their support for the city’s all-charter system and appeared to use the question as a sort of litmus test for candidates.

Lois Jones, a retired educator of 38 years who also served on the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the board “no” when asked whether she supports charter schools.

“I’m going with the flow, but that’s not my direction personally,” she said.

Patrice Sentino, a licensed social worker who recently ran against Brown for the position, said that while she isn’t “anti-charter” she doesn’t think the city’s current system has been successful in providing every child with an equitable education.

Eames, who wasn’t asked to share her stance on charter schools, has served on multiple charter boards, including Lake Forest Elementary Charter School, which is in District 1.

She has two grandchildren who attend the city’s schools, one at Bricolage and another at Benjamin Franklin High School.

Eames started her 33-year career with the district as a fifth grade teacher and ended up managing federal programs and professional development for the entire district.

She told the board as a member she plans to focus on issues of equity, truancy and teacher retention. She thinks the district’s centralized enrollment process can be improved to ensure all families have access to high quality options and said parents should be held more accountable when their children fail to show up for school.

Eames received four out of five votes, with board member Carlos Zervigon voting for Sentino, who ran against Brown for the District 1 seat in 2020. The other candidates were Shawon Bernard, Lois Jones and Debra Morton.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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