Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent James Meza has formally lined up the district’s chief academic officer to take the reins after he leaves the system, promoting Michelle Blouin-Williams to deputy superintendent and outlining a transition plan for the coming months.
The move is part of a plan, supported by the School Board, to insulate the selection of the district’s next leader from ongoing election campaigns to determine who will sit on the board starting in January. The plan also will get Blouin-Williams, who has the support of Meza and many current board members, up to speed on aspects of the school system that have not been part of her previous role.
“I developed the plan around overlapping leadership so that she gets to understand on a deeper level the decisions and also a much broader view of the work as it moves into budgeting and … some of the politics of the job and other aspects,” Meza said.
“She’s been focusing more on academics, so by working together at that level, it’s really a plus for us. It’s the best-case scenario when the two of us can work as co-leaders in a sense. I’ll still have the final authority on all major decisions, but she’ll be able to talk, to listen to people, to perceive things without being forced into a crisis where she has to act.”
Meza’s contract with the district expires at the end of January, but he had planned to leave in September. He reversed course on that decision last month after board members asked him to stay on at least through this fall’s election.
Current board members have backed Blouin-Williams as the next leader of the system but have expressed concern about giving new board members who may be elected a voice in the decision. Delaying a decision also could ensure that Blouin-Williams does not become a target during the election, in which all the current board members are seeking new terms.
Blouin-Williams will be paid $157,100 a year in her new position, the same as the previous deputy superintendent. That’s a step up from her salary of $143,500 as chief academic officer.
Among the issues she will work on with Meza during the transition are developing plans for federal funding and grants, establishing a committee to develop a new salary plan for employees, finalizing plans for expanded services for students who are not native English speakers and helping to identify sites for new charter schools. She also will “shadow” Meza during that time.
Meza said he still doesn’t know when he will officially leave the district. The actual timing could depend on what happens in the November election, so he can talk with any new board members about the transition, he said.
“The biggest threat to school reform is leadership succession, so we wanted to build in a smooth transition,” Meza said. “She’s someone I have confidence in, and if the majority of the board comes back, they have confidence in her. I think if a new board comes in, they’ll have confidence in her. She’s an exceptional person.”
Meza said he has no firm plans for what he will do next, but he hopes to do some consulting. In addition, he said, he’s been having conversations about starting an academy that would train officials with the skills they would need to be school system superintendents.
“We’ve got to start developing top candidates,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.