In The News › Henderson Lewis Jr. chosen Orleans Parish school superintendent

Jan 20, 2015

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

Henderson Lewis Jr. chosen Orleans Parish school superintendent

By Danielle Dreilinger | The Times-Picayune

January 20, 2015

After 2 years, 203 days and almost 21 hours, the Orleans Parish School Board has finally chosen a superintendent: Henderson Lewis Jr.

The vote was unanimous. “We look forward to his service to this community,” said new School Board President Seth Bloom, as applause broke out in the room.

“I am honored to be selected as the next superintendent of Orleans Parish,” Lewis said, reached at home. “I’m very humbled that the board has placed this confidence in me.”

Lewis, 40, leads the East Feliciana school system and serves on the school board for St. Bernard Parish, where he grew up. He got the nod over Debbra Lindo, 62, who has spent her career working in northern California, most recently as superintendent of the Emery system.

Due to those local connections Lewis was considered hard to beat, and Bloom confirmed that was the deciding factor.

“Ms. Lindo’s qualifications and polish were excellent,” he said, but some members had a hard time seeing how she could immediately get up to speed. “We need someone who can hit the ground running.”

Public education in New Orleans is complex and genuinely unique. The state Recovery School District took over 80 percent of the city’s public schools after Hurricane Katrina, saying the School Board had failed them. A majority are still in the hands of the state. Across both systems, almost all the schools are charters run by independent nonprofit boards. The School Board runs six schools, fewer than KIPP New Orleans.

Lewis already has experience in the Recovery School District charter realm: He spent several years with the Algiers Charter School Association before taking the East Feliciana job. His plan for his first 180 days on the job gets very specific about New Orleans issues, including teacher evaluations, minority contracts and a 2013 Bureau of Governmental Research report that took issue with the system’s tax accounting.

With the 10th anniversary of the storm looming, more and more people have called for some kind of reunification of the schools under the auspices of the School Board. But the boards of successful charters make the call on whether to return to the local system – and almost all have declined the opportunity, naming the School Board’s ongoing uncertainty, instability and squabbling as a key reason.

Seated in January 2013, the current board took nine months to choose a search firm. It interviewed a total of 10 candidates for the top job. After months of stasis, Lewis and Lindo underwent a whirlwind set of interviews in December and the beginning of this month, meeting with the public last week.

Hiring a superintendent requires a five-vote super-majority. The seven-member board typically splits 4-3 on key issues, with Bloom, Woody Koppel, Nolan Marshall Jr. and Sarah Usdin overshadowing Cynthia Cade, Leslie Ellison and Ira Thomas. The latter three are considered more traditional in their outlook, with Cade and Thomas particularly skeptical of the Recovery School District.

The board’s ability to come together around a single candidate remained in doubt earlier in the evening, when members chose new officers for 2015. Often school boards try to make those votes unanimous to convey unity. But neither the president nor the vice president decision went 7-0. Cade dissented on the vote for Bloom, choosing Thomas — though Thomas, the 2013 president, didn’t vote for himself. Cade beat Koppel for vice president 4-3, with Marshall joining the majority.

“That was worth the wait,” said Benjamin Franklin Elementary principal Charlotte Matthews after the superintendent vote, referring possibly to the long evening and possibly to the long search.

Lewis could not say when he might start the job. Along with negotiating a contract, he must still undergo some background checks. His contract in East Feliciana runs through December 2017. However, Lewis said Wednesday the East Feliciana board had been “very, very supportive” of his Orleans Parish bid.

Jan 20, 2015

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

Fair Use Notice

This site occasionally reprints copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues and to highlight the accomplishments of our affiliates. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is available without profit. For more information go to: US CODE: Title 17,107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.