March 15, 2021

Mercedes Schneider: John White and Co: What Are They Up To Now?

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Mercedes Schneider is a relentless researcher (an impressive feat since she is also a full time teacher). She’s based in Louisiana, where John White for years steered education from the state superintendent’s office. Schneider’s been wondering where he and some of his crew are these days, and she reveals it in a recent post, reposted here with permission. Spoiler alert: these thought leading, education disrupting, privatizing types rarely end up paying a professional price for their failures.

John White’s time as Louisiana state superintendent officially ended on March 12, 2020, after eight years of his wreaking opaque, ed-reform havoc on Louisiana public education.

Two years prior to his exit, in June 2018, White co-founded an education nonprofit, Propel America. However, according to the April 30, 2019, Advocate, he never mentioned to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that he co-founded a nonprofit– even as his nonprofit was piloting its career path product in Louisiana.

Propel America has the following mission statement:

Propel brings together high schools, community colleges, and employers in a unified system of skill-building, job placement, and ongoing planning for young adults. The model includes a “core course” in or directly after high school, in which students determine their job pathway and begin to prepare for it. Propel then covers the cost of job training, pays a modest stipend, provides mentorship and support, and guarantees a job interview for any “Propel fellow” who successfully completes their training. This process empowers recent high school graduates with the skills, credentials, experiences, and social networks to attain a well-paying job within one year, with opportunities for advancement and higher education.

That’s a lot of effort to drop the ball with a promise of only a single job interview, but it sure reads impressive if one glosses over this critical, weak link. But back to White and some other “fellows,” if you will.

On December 17, 2019, Lousiana Department of Education (LDOE) assistant superintendent of policy and governmental affairs, Erin Bendily, left LDOE to go work for White’s nonprofit. The LDOE press release downplayed White’s role (“a volunteer board member for the organization”) and did not mention that White co-founded the nonprofit and was by that time listed on its 2019 tax filing as chariman of the board.

According to that 2019 tax filing, Propel America reported $2.7M in total revenue, with only $237,000 of that total generated by the services the nonprofit offers, and the rest– just shy of $2.4M– generated from “contributions and grants.”  (By its sixth tax year, at least 33.3% of Propel America’s revenue must come from governmental entities or public support organizations and not “gifts, grants, contributions, or membership fees.”)

The Propel America site lists the following “supporters”:

  • John and Wendy Cozzi (John sits on the Propel America board)
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Baton Rouge Area Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
  • Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
  • Fournier Family Foundation
  • Lumina Foundation
  • Mai Family Foundation
  • NewProfit
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Martin and Mistie Eltrich
  • Susan and Thomas Dunn

Even though Propel America reported its 2019 end-of-year net assets at almost $1.4M, in April 2020, the organization received $119,200 in coronavirus bailout money for “payroll.”

Propel America’s 2019 tax form indicates that as chairman of the board, White received no compensation. One of White’s Teach for America (TFA) cronies employed by him at LDOE, former assistant superintendent of academic content Rebecca Kockler, was paid $147K for “program consulting support.” Another former TFAer, Rebecca Blackall, received $113K, also for “program consulting support.” (Propel America paid other consultants as well, totaling $617K, but only those paid $100K or more need to be named.)

Kockler left LDOE for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) the same month that White’s Propel America happened to receive nonprofit status (June 2018). LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner secretly planned to divide LAUSDinto 32 decentralized, “portfolio districts” like all-charter New Orleans. Beutner’s plan was discovered and publicized, and the short of it was that by November 2018, Kockler left her job as Beutner’s chief of staff.

She was apparently fiscally rescued, so to speak, by chum John White.

And there are other LDOE-TFA pals of White poised and ready to make an ed-gig living via their continued association.

Consider TFAer Kunjan Narechania, who was chief of staff under White during his brief time as superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) in 2011. In 2012, Narechania followed White to LDOE, where she was chief operating officer, then assistant superintendent of school improvement, and then (while still asst super) chief executive officer of an RSD that was now being phased out according to state law but still good for resume padding for Narechania, who in characteristic TFA-ladder-climbing fashion is light on actual classroom teaching experience (3 years in NC) and top-heavy on high-profile, ed leadership positions.

Even so, once RSD was over, Narechania, having no new elevated place to land, chose a seemingly popular option for ed reformers between gigs– she formed a limited liability company, Ingleside Consulting LLC (filing date 03/31/20). Narechania is listed as both registered agent and the only officer. The address of Ingleside Consulting is 3436 Magazine Street #158 in New Orleans, which is little more than a mailbox at Packrat Shipping.

Like Narechania, the former assistant superintendent who hoped to replace White at LDOE, Jessica Baghian, formed her own post-LDOE LLC, Roxton Strategies(July 2020), and billed herself as “chief executive officer.” Roxton Strategies has its address in a residential area.

One week prior to his March 12, 2020, exit as Louisiana state superintendent, on March 04, 2020, White, too, formed his own LLC, Coliseum Square, which is “not in good standing for failure to file an annual report.” White advertises both Propel America and Coliseum Square on his Linkedin bio, where he also calls himself a “visiting scholar @UVCurry,” which could mean he is an adjunct or has a fellowship. (White is not listed among UV faculty.)

However, one LLC in particular promises to funnel money into former LDOE assistant superintendent pockets:

Watershed Advisors.

On February 3, 2021, another LLC took residence at Narechania’s Packrat Shipping box #158: Watershed Advisors, which lists as its principal officer yet another former LDOE TFAer, Catherine Pozniak, who was assistant superintendent for fiscal operations under White. John White is listed as “manager, member” of Watershed Advisors.

On her Linkedin bio, Kunjan Narechania lists herself as a “principal” at Watershed Advisors and as working “full time” for the LLC, which only seems right since she had that Packrat Shipping box first.

What is curious is that an LLC formed only one month proir to this writing can afford any full-time employee.

But there’s more.

Former LDOE TFAer assistant superintendent Hannah Dietsch is *also* a “principal” at Watershed Advisors, as is Baghian. Ahh, but former LDOE TNTP (The New Teacher Project) deputy assistant superintendent of strategic data, analytics, and accountability, Jill Zimmerman Pinsky, is only a *director* at Watershed Advisors.

Still, Pinsky is another who indicates that she is working “full time” at Watershed Advisors. She also publicized this notice on her Linkedin page mid-February:

I’m excited to share that several of my former Louisiana Department of Education colleagues and I are launching a new organization, Watershed Advisors. We match visionary ideas with investors seeking social impact and bold governmental leaders at the state and local level. We then embed teams of experts within government agencies to implement, communicate, finance, and evaluate those ideas, impacting generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity. And, we’re hiring!
Watershed Advisors Analyst $60K/yr – $75K/yr

So, what we have here is a fresh, new LLC that is a hub for former LDOE-TFAer assistant superintendents under John White, *and* of which White is a “manager/member,” *and* that has cash enough at startup to pay an analyst at least $60K on top of presumably paying the likes of Narechania and Pinsky at least that much, *and* that wants to “embed teams of experts (presumably themselves)… [to impact] generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity.”

What seems to be the real *opportunity* here is that White-managed Watershed Advisors could somehow draw upon the cash in the coffers of White-chaired nonprofit, Propel America.

For so many former, career-inflated, LDOE TFAers who cannot seem to snag the next taxpayer-funded, golden gig, that would be quite the *watershed* indeed–

— so long as ed-reform-friendly millionaires and billionaires are willing to subsidize the venture.

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