The Jefferson Parish Public School System’s new chief academic officer is not the person many expected would get the job.

Debra D. Cooper, who has been the principal at L.W. Ruppel Academy for Advanced Studies in Gretna since 2009, will be the system’s new second-in-command, Superintendent Isaac Joseph announced Wednesday.

Cooper was selected after Patricia Mendoza withdrew her application for the position a week earlier. Mendoza withdrew after School Board members voiced opposition to a proposal to pay her an annual salary that was $10,000 above district guidelines, board members Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge and Marion “Coach” Bonura said Thursday.

Efforts to contact Mendoza were unsuccessful.

Cooper, 53, has been working in Jefferson Parish public schools since 1994. Before her stint at Ruppel, she headed Gretna’s Thomas Jefferson High School and Terrytown’s Livaudais Middle School. Before that, she was a teacher and an assistant principal. She won a parish Principal of the Year Award at Ruppel, a magnet school with an A rating from the state.

“Cooper ... guards against mediocrity and the status quo,” Joseph said in a written statement.

School Board member Mark Morgan, whose district includes Ruppel, said, “She was a phenomenal principal at a school with unique demands, and she always met or exceeded those demands. I will miss her there.”

Joseph initially was prepared to offer the chief academic officer’s job to Mendoza, who has been a part of the system since 1977 and has held various administrative positions.

The School Board was supposed to consider approving a $150,000 salary for Mendoza at a meeting July 9, but that proposal was removed from the agenda. The board-approved salary schedule for the chief academic officer runs from $110,000 to $140,000, and Denapolis-Bosarge and Bonura said several board members intended to oppose any effort to stray from that range.

“We wanted to stick with what we had,” Bonura said. “We didn’t want to be negotiating.”

Cooper’s salary hasn’t been finalized but will conform with the pay schedule for the position, Bonura said.

Cooper will replace Michelle Blouin-Williams, a longtime system administrator who also served as interim superintendent after James Meza retired in January. She lost her bid to replace Meza on a permanent basis when the board voted in April to hire Joseph.

Blouin-Williams is joining the Orleans Parish School Board’s central office as chief administrative officer. Her last day working for Jefferson was Wednesday. School Board members sent her off with flowers at a meeting in Harvey.

Cooper’s replacement at Ruppel will be Emily Miller, Morgan said. Miller has taught science and has been the assistant principal at Ruppel, and she won a parish Teacher of the Year Award there in 2013.


CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that Livaudais was a high school. It is a middle school, and this article has been corrected.