New superintendent Sito Narcisse on making sure kids don’t fall behind during this unusual time

There’s a lot you might not know about recently appointed East Baton Rouge Parish School System Superintendent Sito Narcisse.

Born in New York City to Haitian parents, Narcisse grew up speaking Haitian Creole at home and learned English as a second language in school. His dad was a cab driver, and his mother worked at a diner. His parents preached that opportunity would come through education, a lesson Narcisse took to heart when he earned a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

Friendly and approachable, Narcisse loves football and dining out, things that make him feel right at home in the Capital City.

Narcisse comes to Baton Rouge by way of District of Columbia Public Schools, where he was chief of secondary schools. Here, he replaces former Superintendent Leslie Brown, who resigned last fall for health reasons after a few months on the job. The school board conducted a national search to replace Brown—its second in a year. Narcisse narrowly edged out Interim Superintendent Adam Smith.

Now at the helm of the state’s second largest public school district, he’s determined to close the gap on educational inequities, expand successful magnet and career programs, and invest in early literacy, which he calls the biggest game changer of them all.

Narcisse is seen here working with students at Scotlandville Middle School.
What was it about this job that attracted you?

I wanted to be part of improving an urban school district—that’s been the focus of my career. Big city and urban school districts have a lot of similar challenges across the country, and those challenges don’t scare me. I also wanted to be part of a community that was behind the work, and that’s the case in Baton Rouge. And I liked the idea of being in the South.

How did you feel when it was announced that K-12 teachers in Louisiana would be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting in late February?

I was thrilled. It’s great for our faculty and staff, because it’s been a time of high anxiety for them. Hopefully, this will help put their minds at ease and also give our families more assurance and consistency. One hundred percent of schools have reopened in East Baton Rouge Parish, and this is good news for families because a big concern is around learning loss from not being in the classroom. Most kids are back, but we still have a lot of families learning virtually—about 25% of the student population. But every school now has access to technology and the ability to simulcast classroom learning, and students have access to computers and hot spots.

Having worked both as a teacher and an administrator, what’s the most important factor when you’re trying to bring about change in public education?

Being inclusive in everything you do. Community engagement works. It really does. You can’t do things to people, you have to include them in the decision-making process. There’s no such thing as too much community involvement.

You’ve said early literacy is a top priority. How do you plan to accomplish this?

My approach is to see early literacy as fundamental to a college and career pipeline. I’d love to see us have universal pre-K. If you can build that foundation of reading and writing by the time a child gets to third grade, then they won’t have to play catch up. If you don’t invest early, kids fall behind, and you’re only focused on an intervention approach.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s decision to hire you was split 5-4. How do you build support among board members who didn’t vote for you?

Transparency equals trust. Once you start focusing on a common goal, you have the best chance of building cohesive relationships. We’re all in it to give children the best possible educational opportunities.

What do you like to read in your spare time?

I’m a big sports fan, so I love keeping up with my favorite teams. I also love to read about innovation in business. I really like the Harvard Business Review.

Even though you’ve said you don’t have roots in Louisiana, how many people have asked you if you’re related to a Narcisse they know?

(Laughs) It’s definitely come up. I love Louisiana culture. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the community.

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of 225 magazine.

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