Mar 16, 2017

Superintendent Dobard to Continue New Orleans Focus as CEO of Local Non-Profit

NEW ORLEANS, La.-  The Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) today announced a shift in its organizational structure that will increase effectiveness across the state while protecting hard-earned improvements in New Orleans. As part of this shift, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard will assume the role of Chief Executive Officer of New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring a high-quality school for every child in New Orleans. Leadership and responsibility for the RSD's statewide work will be assumed by current Assistant State Superintendent Kunjan Narechania, who will oversee the unification of schools in New Orleans and statewide school improvement efforts under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and by current Deputy RSD Superintendent Dana Peterson, who will oversee the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone (BRAZ), a system of type 2 charter schools, type 5 charter schools and other public schools educating Baton Rouge's most disadvantaged youth.

The mission of the RSD is to transform the state's most distressed schools into successful schools that are autonomous in making decisions and accountable for results. Once successful, these schools return to local governance.

Since the RSD-led intervention in New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans students have achieved remarkable improvement. Student graduation rates in New Orleans schools increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 75 percent in 2015 the average ACT score in the city grew from 17.0 in 2005 to 18.9 in 2016, even as the number of test takers grew; and the percentage of students enrolling in college annually nearly doubled, from 37 percent in 2004 to 64 percent in 2015. And perhaps the most notable gain: 51 percent of students with special needs now graduate on time, when in 2003, only 10 percent of those students exited high school with a diploma.

(For more RSD highlights and announcement details, see Background Information)

The organizational changes announced today respond to three important opportunities in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and across the state, bringing the RSD organization into alignment with a comprehensive, statewide strategy for improving the state's most struggling schools:

  • Act 91 of the 2016 legislative session unifies school systems under local governance in New Orleans as of July 1, 2018.
  • The Baton Rouge Achievement Zone has grown to 14 schools serving more than 4,000 students and is continuing to grow.
  • ESSA requires that school districts develop research-based plans for transforming their most persistently struggling schools. This week the Department of Education and the Caddo Parish School Board, in partnership with the RSD, announced a landmark agreement to transform 14 historically struggling Shreveport schools.

The RSD will continue to serve as a means of transforming those schools that fail to respond positively to interventions implemented under ESSA.

"While the mission to create autonomous and accountable schools continues, the work of the RSD must evolve to address new opportunities and new challenges," said State Superintendent John White. "Under Patrick's leadership, RSD schools have made extraordinary strides. In his new role, he will continue his mission to improve New Orleans schools. At the same time, the RSD must continue to support the unification of schools in New Orleans. Baton Rouge's new generation of schools must be nurtured and monitored. And the new federal law renews the call to transform schools around the state. This plan announced today brings the RSD in line with these new opportunities, and I can think of no better individuals to lead the work than Dana and Kunjan."

The number of charter schools under RSD and state governance is evolving:






New Orleans Type 2





New Orleans Type 5





BRAZ Type 2



6 (7)

6 (7)

BRAZ Type 5





Other Type 5





*This is inclusive of schools that have voted to return to OPSB, as of March 15, 2017

At the same time, the state will be identifying a variety of schools for varying stages of intervention under ESSA, necessitating full alignment of the RSD with the state's ESSA plan.


Current number of schools

“In Need of Comprehensive Support” under ESSA (rating of D or F for three years)


“Academically Unacceptable” (current rating of F)


RSD eligible (rating of F for four consecutive years)

17 (excludes alternative schools)

The geographic concentrations of Louisiana's struggling schools have shifted over time, meaning that the vast majority of struggling schools are not located in Orleans Parish.


% of all Academically Unacceptable schools (2005)

% of all Academically Unacceptable schools (2016)

Orleans Parish



Caddo Parish



East Baton Rouge Parish



Jefferson Parish



Other Parishes




Details of the leadership transitions are as follows:

  • RSD Superintendent Dobard will serve as Chief Executive Officer of NSNO. Dobard has served as RSD Superintendent for more than five years, during which he converted all schools to community-governance charter schools and guided the system toward a focus on issues of equity and fairness. Under his leadership, RSD schools not only improved academically but also developed essential structures such as the OneApp enrollment system, unified expulsion procedures, and the systemic reduction in out-of-school behavioral interventions. Dobard also led the implementation of one of the nation's largest school construction projects and was also leader in the development of Act 91, which unified New Orleans schools more than a decade after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Assistant State Superintendent of Portfolio Kunjan Narechania will serve as Assistant State Superintendent and RSD-Louisiana Superintendent. In this role, Narechania will complete the unification of Orleans Parish Schools and will guide the statewide Title I school improvement process as detailed in the state's ESSA plan. She will also authorize and monitor charter and nonpublic schools statewide. Narechania has served as Assistant Superintendent, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief of Staff at the Louisiana Department of Education, and as Chief of Staff at the Recovery School District. She led the establishment of a new funding formula for all Orleans Parish schools, oversaw the implementation of higher standards for charter school renewals, and is an architect of Louisiana Believes, the state's comprehensive plan for school improvement.
  • RSD Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs Dana Peterson will serve as Assistant State Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone. In this role, Peterson will coordinate charter school authorizing, school monitoring, facilities planning, and enrollment planning for schools in the Achievement Zone. He will also manage community- and community-leader facing activities in the Zone and will serve as a liaison with the East Baton Rouge Parish School System and non-profit partners such as New Schools for Baton Rouge, all in an effort to create opportunities for students and families. In his five years with the RSD, Peterson has led the development and implementation of the nationally recognized, community-based RFA process for replacing struggling schools and developed the common enrollment application program used in the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone. Prior to his tenure with the RSD, Peterson served as board chairman of FirstLine schools.

(For more information on these leaders, see Biographies)

Dobard, who will officially join the NSNO team on March 27, reflected on his experience leading the RSD for the past five years. "We've made impressive strides during my tenure, but our work is evolving and far from complete," he said, noting he looked forward to expanding opportunities for families and ensuring every classroom has a great teacher. "I'm excited to join the NSNO team and continue to lead efforts to improve education for all children in my hometown."
Peterson said he looks forward to building upon the strong foundation the state laid in New Orleans and expanding the effort to the capital city.
"The Baton Rouge Achievement Zone is an ambitious effort, and I am thrilled to play a part in its establishment and operation," Peterson said. "There are currently 14 schools in the Zone, and over the next two years, those schools will evolve. It is my mission to guide them through that change and ultimately to see many of them return to local governance."
Narechania nodded to the connection between the statewide strategy and ESSA.
"This alignment of the RSD with ESSA is critical, and it is an honor to further contribute to the turnaround of the state's most challenged schools in this new capacity," Narechania said. "I look forward to working with districts around our state to build plans to improve student learning and to see those plans implemented, just as I look forward to completing the unification of schools in New Orleans, after more than a decade of work to improve them."
Leaders across the state applauded the transitions.
"New Orleans' school leaders, educators, families and students have made substantial progress over the past decade and during Patrick's tenure," said Kira Orange Jones, District 2 representative for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). "The future is bright, and his experience and track record will lead NSNO into the decade ahead. I look forward to continuing our work together in partnership with our schools and community. His leadership will be integral to our students' sustained success."
Jada Lewis, District 8 representative for BESE, said she was confident the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone would be a welcomed and productive investment.
"Baton Rouge schools have long faced many of the same struggles seen in New Orleans," Lewis said. "But until now, the bulk of the attention was focused elsewhere. I look forward to working with the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone to give low-performing schools in Baton Rouge the attention and the support they deserve."
The evolution in New Orleans and the extension of the RSD statewide is not only proactive; it's necessary, added Erika McConduit, a well-known education and civil rights advocate in Louisiana.
"As the President and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana and an NSNO board member, I am excited about what these transitions mean for our education community and our community at-large," McConduit said. "Not only do I believe that all children, regardless of class or race, deserve access to a quality education; I believe the leaders who have been chosen to shepherd this effort will ensure that ideology is embraced and celebrated. This is an important milestone for New Orleans, for Baton Rouge and for the state of Louisiana."

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