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EBR superintendent finalists address next school year, concerns over Lee High's name

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BATON ROUGE - The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is facing multiple challenges as board members prepare to replace the retiring superintendent.

On Wednesday, the two final candidates for the top public school spot in the parish answered questions from the public on a broad range of issues within the school system.

One of the more pressing concerns is how education will continue in the fall.

"The COVID reopening of schools in the fall really will take multiple opportunities for families to reengage in schools in multiple different ways," superintendent finalist Leslie Brown said.

"We're going to work closely with the state department and with the governor as to what they believe will happen depending on what phase we're in for schools," superintendent finalist Nakia Towns.

Towns is currently the Chief of Staff for the Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee. Leslie Brown works as the top administrator at Broward County Schools in Florida. Both candidates believe the school system needs to prepare to use a combination of in-person and online learning going forward.

"We're going to plan from what if we're all virtual and there's a high public risk, what if we're somewhere in the middle where we have to have some children that are in school learning with us face to face, socially distanced and we have some students in certain categories who may be in blended learning," Towns said.

"We are working on models right now where parents may have needs for their children to go to school every day. There are some parents that may want to keep their children at home and continue with remote learning. 
And we want to make sure we set up opportunities for all of the families 
to meet the needs of their families and their children," Brown said.

The finalists also addressed concerns about Lee High School's name amid the national outcry for police reform and racial equality.

Earlier in the day, EBR School Board Member Dadrius Lanus wrote a letter to board members pushing them to rename the school. It was originally named Robert E. Lee High School in the 1950s before the 'Robert E.' was dropped from the name in 2016.

"We have to really take stock of what are we signaling when we elevate heroes of the civil war who were on the confederate side, that frankly, people who were fighting to keep people who look like me enslaved and people who were fighting to separate the United States of America. And so we are at a point, a critical crossroads and I mentioned this, we have to tell the truth about the past," Towns said.

"I think it's an important one of the community at large. And I really would not prefer to get ahead of the school board and the conversations that we need to have together on that issue. So I really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about what's happening in the community in the case and work with the school board," Brown said.

No matter who gets the job, they will immediately have to get to work, navigating this school system during an unprecedented time.

The two candidates will go through the final round of interviews Thursday evening, and the next superintendent will be selected by board members next Thursday, June 18.


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