Filed Under:  Education

Orleans Parish School Bd. selects superintendent

26th January 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Dequine Harden
fast track to cash flow superconference Contributing Writer

In a unanimous vote last week, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) selected Henderson Lewis, Jr. as the district’s new superintendent.

“In my 18 years in the education profession, my priority has always been the children,” Lewis said. “My career has always been more than a job to me. This profession is a responsibility.”

Over the past several years, the board has conducted a nationwide search and interviewed 10 top candidates. Until now, they were unable to come to a consensus on a candidate. The decision required a five-vote majority.



The final verdict came down to two candidates – Debbra Lindo of California, and Lewis, a Louisiana native.

Lewis, 40, has worked in New Orleans as an assistant principal of Alice Harte Elementary School and a principal at Algiers Technology Academy. He also worked as the Director of Academics for the Algiers Charter School Association (ACSA).

Lewis is currently the Superintendent of the East Feliciana Parish School System and a member of the St. Bernard Parish School Board.

The ASCA is a unique charter management organization in that at one time, it straddled both of the city’s districts – the OPSB and the Recovery School District (RSD).

Lewis said he believes that his experience working in New Orleans has given him the insight and skills to lead the city’s complex system of public education governance.

His familiarity with the RSD and his experience with both charter schools and traditional schools contributed to his decision to apply for the position, he said.

Following his undergraduate and graduate education at Southern University at New Orleans and University of New Orleans, Lewis earned his PhD. in educational leadership at Mississippi State University in 2004.

In a detailed 180-day “Superintendent Entry Plan,” Lewis outlines a four-phased plan devoted to listening, learning, planning, personal loans in mobile leading, evaluating, and progress monitoring.

Asked about the element of community engagement—identified by critics as a missing piece of reform in New Orleans—Lewis said “We have to find a way to make ourselves available to the community to hear their concerns.”

Lewis acknowledged that solutions may not always come easily, but stressed the importance of hearing all viewpoints and concerns, and making continuous forward progress.

A primary element of Lewis’ plan includes specific strategies and outreach to “rebuild the public’s confidence in the public school system.”

With a board known for its internal strife, and an OPSB/RSD relationship strained with lawsuits and a struggle for power, the position comes with no shortage of challenges.

In his plan, Lewis outlines steps to achieve the goal of developing a “highly effective governance structure with a strong relationship of mutual respect between the Superintendent and School Board so the focus will remain on academic success for all students.”

Lewis also faces unprecedented territory as the OPSB questions the scope of the RSD’s authority to open new schools, and as the community asks just how long the RSD will remain entrenched in the city.

To date, just one school has elected to return to local OPSB governance. Though more than 30 are eligible at this time, there has been resistance accompanied by a lack of incentive for schools to leave the state district.

The lack of a permanent superintendent, as well as the persistent bickering between board members, have oft been cited as reasons for charter schools not to return.

Lewis said that he wants to hear the concerns the charter operators have about returning to the OPSB, and use that feedback to “allow us to be a better OPSB.”

He also said that he believes schools should be governed by the agency that has bond and tax authority.

In terms of the role of the RSD, Lewis said that the reality is that the majority of the schools in New Orleans are part of the RSD, and thus the role of the OPSB superintendent is to “co-lead public education in New Orleans” with the RSD Superintendent. “I don’t think there’s any other way than to do that,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the students – whether OPSB or RSD – all belong to the city of New Orleans and we have the responsibility to provide every opportunity for young people to access a quality education.”

Lewis said he believes the best way forward is to “proactively work through the differences for the betterment of the children.”

The 180-day plan also describes Lewis’ strategy for a close scrutiny of financial operations.

As stated in conclusion in Lewis’ plan: “Becoming the Superintendent of the Orleans Parish Public School is easy. Restoring the public’s faith in the district’s ability to provide quality teaching and learning within safe environments is the very difficult part. The necessary components to actualize that restoration include a focused plan, a way to monitor that plan’s effectiveness, and the courage to make change when necessary. There are no other options for success, and as I see it, success is the only option.”

The position is not yet entirely official, as the board still must approve a contract for Lewis. There is no regular meeting scheduled for February. The next regular OPSB board meeting will be held on March 17.

Lewis’ contract as the East Feliciana superintendent runs through December of 2017, but he has said that the East Feliciana board has been supportive of his pursuit of the New Orleans position.

This article originally published in the January 26, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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