Isaac Joseph, executive director of grants and federal programs for the Jefferson Parish Public School System, was chosen Wednesday to be the system’s next superintendent.
Joseph, who was approved by a swift 6-3 vote of the Parish School Board, is a 29-year veteran of the Jefferson Parish system and will take the reins May 1. The board is scheduled to approve his contract April 22.
“This is a real opportunity for me,” Joseph said. “This is a credit to all the people I’ve worked with, who have mentored me, coached me. ... It’s just a very humbling experience.”
Joseph was nominated by Cedric Floyd, the board president, as soon as the matter was taken up at a special meeting, and the vote was taken with no discussion.
Voting for Joseph were Floyd, Ray St. Pierre, Mark Morgan, Ricky Johnson, Marion Bonura and Melinda Doucet.
Voting against Joseph were the three remaining members of the board’s formerly dominant business-backed faction: Larry Dale, Melinda Bourgeois and Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge.
They said later they supported Michelle Blouin-Williams, the system’s acting superintendent. She was the deputy superintendent under James Meza, who stepped down in January, and was Meza’s choice to succeed him.
Meza was chosen by the previous board, a majority of whose members were backed by the business community. That balance tipped after the fall elections, when candidates backed by the teachers union won a majority.
Meza’s tenure was marked by an improvement in the system’s performance scores, but he clashed with the teachers union, and critics said some good teachers were driven away during his time at the helm.
After the meeting, Floyd praised Joseph as the best of the six candidates who sought the post, noting that he has been a teacher, dean, principal and administrator over management of federal programs and human capital.
“He’s had just about every major job in the school system,” Floyd said. “Nobody else had that experience, that temperament or skill set. I thought that he put himself above the other five candidates in terms of what the school system needed.”
Bonura said he too was impressed with the variety of positions Joseph has held during his three decades with the system.
“I think he can rally everyone around and bring us together,” he said.
Dale and Bourgeois said they supported Blouin-Williams because they felt she was in the best position to carry forward on the upward trajectory established under Meza.
“I felt like she had the knowledge to continue the progress we’ve been making,” Bourgeois said. “It wasn’t that I was against Isaac. I just knew her better.”
Bourgeois said she already has reached out to Joseph about meeting to discuss the issues.
“There’s no animosity,” she said. “The way I look at this system is that we have to continue to move forward.”
Morgan, who voted for Joseph, said he would like to see Blouin-Williams stay with the system.
Bonura said that while he likes Blouin-Williams, he saw in Joseph a candidate who could bring a fresh approach.
“We have somebody who was behind the scenes now in front of the scenes, instead of somebody who is on top already and we’re just rolling the ball with the same people,” he said. “Mr. Joseph might be able to make the changes that need to be done because he’s got a new outlook on it.”
There was some question as to whether the board would go into executive session, though it would have had to have gotten advance waivers from the candidates to discuss their qualifications without them, and it hadn’t done so.
Floyd said after the meeting that he didn’t see any reason to discuss the selection behind closed doors, and, having the floor during the meeting, he put Joseph’s name up for consideration first.
Bonura said board members hadn’t discussed the selection as a group but had an idea about where the others stood. He said it seemed the votes for Joseph were lined up ahead of the decision.
“I think Mr. Floyd realized Mr. Joseph had the votes and he’d just put his name up and get it over with,” he said.
Joseph said he looks forward to taking on the challenges facing the school system. One of the first ones, he said, is finding and hiring a chief academic officer.
“We don’t have anybody who is driving academics in the district right now,” he said, noting he also will begin finalizing his draft plan for the first 180 days of his administration.
Long-term issues include addressing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students on one hand and their white and Asian counterparts on the other. Joseph said the situation is no different in Jefferson Parish than in other systems but is problematic nonetheless.
“It’s nothing new, but in Jefferson Parish you can see that our white and Asian kids continue to excel and our black and Hispanic kids continue to fall below them,” he said. “So unless we start having some real conversations about what to do to address this group of kids, we’re going to be average, and I want to be better than that. I’m sure some of those discussions will be difficult, but they are discussions that we need to have.”
Joseph started his career as a teacher in Waggaman in August 1986, later becoming a dean of student services and then a principal. In 1998, he joined the system’s central office as director of Title 1 programs, which provide financial assistance to children from low-income families. He became assistant superintendent of federal programs in 2003 and assistant superintendent of human resources in 2009.
He became executive director of grants and federal programs in 2012.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.