A longtime Ascension Parish school system employee, who is also one of two assistant superintendents, has been recommended to be the district’s interim superintendent after Patrice Pujol retires March 1.

Denise Graves, who serves as an assistant schools superintendent along with Steve Westbrook, was recommended by the School Board’s executive committee on Monday to step in on an interim basis.

And School Board members agreed to conduct a national search to find a permanent replacement for Pujol.

The full board will vote on the interim superintendent recommendation at its next meeting on Feb. 16.

Graves joined the school system in 1981 as a teacher and coach at St. Amant High School.

She went on to serve as assistant principal there, before being named principal of Gonzales Middle.

Graves then was named director of middle schools, then director of human resources, before rising to assistant superintendent.

The School Board’s three-member executive committee — Troy Gautreau, Shawn Sevario and Taft Kleinpeter — was joined by board President Pat Russo and six other board members for discussion Monday as the board embarks on finding a replacement for Pujol.

Pujol is retiring from the Ascension school district to take on the presidency of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

The executive committee is recommending the hiring process begin with local and national advertising for the job and the selection of an outside consultant to assist with the hiring process.

“We need to cast a net as wide as we can,” Gautreau said. “We owe it to our constituents that the person is the right one for the job.”

The goal, the executive committee said, is to hire the new superintendent by June 1.

The hiring process, as it has in the past, will include public meetings when residents will have the chance to ask candidates questions.

Board member Robyn Penn Delaney said that while the board should move steadily forward on hiring a new superintendent, it should continue to also focus on an upcoming bond election.

“We have to make sure we take care of the bond issue first, that we focus on the bond issue, for the children,” Delaney said.

The proposal to extend an existing 15.08-mill property tax to pay for $120 million in bonded debt to build new schools and renovate existing ones goes to voters on April 9.