Livingston Parish school superintendent to retire in June, school board to discuss search this week _lowres

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Livingston Parish Superintendent John Watson speaks to a packed room of teachers and parents during a meeting to discuss Common Core State Standards on Monday at the Livingston Parish School Board in Livingston.

The Livingston Parish School Board bid a heartfelt early goodbye to the district’s superintendent Thursday, following his announcement earlier this week that he will retire at the end of June.

Superintendent John Watson said it has been an honor to work in the parish’s public school system for more than 33 years and to serve in its top post for the past three-plus years.

“It’s not an easy decision,” he said of his retirement, “but I appreciate the board for having the faith and confidence in me being able to serve in this position.”

The board will immediately advertise the position, with the goal of conducting interviews in early June and naming the next superintendent before July 1.

Board President Malcolm Sibley said bidding Watson farewell was “almost like a funeral.” Sibley and the other board members praised Watson for his character, working knowledge of the system and dedication to the students.

“Two words, and no pun intended, but class act,” board member Kellee Dickerson said.

Jan Benton, who served in the administration before becoming a board member, said working alongside Watson was like having a “walking policy manual. You didn’t have to look it up; you just knew.”

“You’re personable, also,” board member Karen Schmitt said. “You’ve got the knowledge and professionalism, of course, but you’re also down-to-earth. As my grandmother would say, you’re our kind of people, and I appreciate that.”

Board member Jimmy Watson, the superintendent’s brother, joked that he could probably “debunk” a lot of his colleagues’ impressions but said he was trying to behave.

“Y’all can thank me for a lot of things,” John Watson said, “but that’s probably what you can thank me for the most.”

Assistant Superintendent Rick Wentzel said he had received countless phone calls following the announcement of John Watson’s retirement.

“He means the world to the people in this system,” Wentzel said. “They love him, and we love him. And speaking for the employees of this parish, we’re going to miss him.”

Sibley said Watson had reached a firm decision about retiring, and the system could only offer a heartfelt thanks.

“The ‘thank you’ comes from me,” Watson replied. “It’s been a wonderful ride.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.