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Language immersion schools remove Broussard from top post

Rhonda Broussard
St. Louis American

(From the St. Louis American, updated 4:30 p.m. Monday)

Shocking many parents and students, the St. Louis Language Immersion School Board of Directors announced Saturday that they have replaced school president Rhonda Broussard, who founded the charter school in 2009.

“This transition has been under consideration for some time,” wrote School Board President David Luckes in a letter to the school community. “The board and SLLIS’s extended community are grateful for the work Rhonda Broussard has done over the years to build SLLIS from the ground up.”

Taking her place is William T. Rebore, who is the senior vice president of the education consulting firm of BAFC Consulting that the school board hired.

Luckes told The St. Louis American on Monday that the board was not
calling Rebore the school president. He said Rebore is leading the three
school leaders and staff “during the transition,” or until the interim
president is in selected. Luckes said he could not comment on why they
decided to replace Broussard because it is a personnel matter. The
decision was made during a closed board meeting held on Friday, June 12 at
6 p.m.

The board voted unanimously for the change in school leadership, he
said, and the BAFC’s contract was signed not long before the board’s vote.
Luckes declined to provide the firm’s contract amount, the contract itself
or the exact day they were hired, saying he would announce these details
at the June 24 board meeting.

The news outraged many parents, especially because the board chose to make the announcement after the last day of school, “with a Saturday summer break email,” said parent Loretta Zasaretti.

“Where has the school community engagement taken place since this has been ‘under consideration for some time?’” Zasaretti wrote in an email to Luckes. “Was this a voluntary move for Rhonda? Or a corporate style, bottom line move, as detractors of charter schools speak of?”

Broussard, who is African American and from Lafayette, La., first came to St. Louis to study at Washington University, where she majored in French and secondary education. She also holds a master’s degree in French studies from New York University. Broussard did not return the American’s phone call.

Rebore is white and was formerly an education professor at Saint Louis University.

Susan Herzberg, a SLLIS parent, said many believe that school board member Vince Schoemehl pushed the effort to oust Broussard. Earlier in the year, Schoemehl announced that the board wanted to close the International School – a secondary campus which had just opened in August 2014 – without Broussard’s knowledge, she said.

“He freelanced the decision,” Herzberg said. “The board has just continued to make surprising decisions to the parents.” Schoemehl told the American that he cannot comment because only Luckes can
speak to the press.

SLLIS started in 2009 with the French and Spanish schools. In 2012, SLLIS opened the Chinese School, followed by the International School in August.

Tracy Britt, a SLLIS parent with two students in the district, had her seventh grader enrolled in the International School. She attended the board’s “emergency meeting,” Britt said, which upset many parents.

“That was just wrong,” Britt said. “We already committed to sending our kids there, and the deadline for other schools had already passed. That’s just another example of how the board is insensitive to the parents.”

The board decided not to close the International School, in the end. SLLIS’ charter from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is overseen by the University of Missouri – St. Louis. The school has repeatedly received international recognition.

Herzberg said she was involved when SLLIS was just an idea Rhonda had.

“Seeing it come to life has been amazing and inspiring,” she said. “To have the rug yanked out from under us over some operation issues that were not clearly defined and having her forced out is extremely upsetting.”

After the board’s announcement, students posted hand-written signs up on the school, stating “I love Rhonda” and “Think of the kids.”

About 57 percent of the schools’ students are African-American and almost nine percent Hispanic, according to data from DESE.

SLLIS’ achievement gap among minorities mirrors that of many other charter and public schools. African-American students are trailing their white counterparts considerably in both math and English language arts. Broussard’s leaving will have a significant impact on the district’s black students, Zasaretti said.

“There is already a sore lack of diversity in SLLIS, particularly for African-American students, and now the one consistent presence of a leader and nurturer, is gone,” she said. “I am speaking for myself, I know, but there needs to be more transparency or expect an eventual exodus of at least my child, who has been there since first grade.”

Britt said that for six years, the board has heard parents’ concerns but little has changed. She feels Broussard was often used as a scapegoat and “took the heat” from parents, but the board needs to be held just as much accountable for lack of progress. Britt also said the board should have held an emergency meeting with parents to share this important news, rather than wait until school had ended.

“The way they handled this is horrible,” Britt said, “and what a way to start off this new direction that they are supposedly heading in.”

Rebecca Rivas is a reporter for the St. Louis American, where this article originally appeared.

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