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Rick Wentzel, Superintendent of Livingston Parish Schools

LIVINGSTON — Rick Wentzel announced Thursday he will retire at the end of this school year as superintendent of the Livingston Parish School System.

Wentzel, who lead the school district through the disastrous 2016 flood, cited family needs as the reason for his decision to retire.

The superintendent is just 2½ years into a four-year contract, and the news came as a surprise to some school board members and administrators.

"I just want to say I'm shocked, and I need some time to absorb,” said Watson-area School Board member Kellee Hennessy Dickerson.  “I applaud you for being young to retire and putting your family ahead.”

Wentzel is 58.

The board voted to immediately advertise for a new superintendent to lead the 26,000-student system.

School Board President Buddy Mincey Jr. said he will present at the next meeting a proposed process for selecting a new superintendent.

Wentzel's tenure as superintendent began just six weeks before the parish was hit with widespread flooding in 2016 that affected 19 schools, more than any other in the region. 

Since then, Wentzel has worked with federal agencies to rebuild the damaged campuses and has begun building three new schools to replace those that were destroyed.

"It's hard to really imagine the pressure and responsibility you had put in your lap after only a month on the job," Mincey said.

Asked after the meeting about what he considers his top achievement, Wentzel pointed to the fact that all students returned to school just 20 days after the catastrophe.

He gave ample credit to the many school employees, teachers and administrators who helped make the system's recovery possible.

Wentzel said he does not plan to seek another job. Rather, he is retiring to spend more time with family in a "time of need."

"It’s about being able to stay with my grandson, about being able to go see my family as they need me,” he said in an interview.

Wentzel said he has worked in education for 33 years. 

He began his career as a social studies teacher and coach at Live Oak High before working in East Baton Rouge, then as a principal at Springfield High School and Walker Junior High School and later as an assistant superintendent.

“I worked from the bottom to the top," he said.

Wentzel, who will retire June 15, was appointed superintendent on July 1, 2016, replacing John Watson, who retired after serving four years.

"I pledge to support the selection process of my successor in any manner the board chooses, and I will work to make that transition to a new superintendent as smooth as possible," Wentzel said.

School board members thanked Wentzel for his leadership and gave him a standing ovation after the announcement.

“You have served us well," Mincey said. 

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.