Watts looking forward to challenges as WBR superintendent _lowres

Wesley Watts

The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Wednesday unanimously selected Zachary High Principal Wesley Watts as its next school superintendent.

Watts’ selection came after an hourlong executive session at which board members narrowed their choice from four candidates down to two: Watts and Frances Annette Mire, the school district’s associate superintendent of human resources and staff development.

Watts, 45, was selected over Mire by a 7-3 vote.

Board members Jason Manola, Craig Sarradet, Toby Sarradet, Ronald LeBlanc, G.A. Chustz, Michael Maranto and Teri Bergeron cast votes for Watts. Atley Walker, Leon Goudeau and Thelma Pattan voted for Mire.

After that initial vote, the board then immediately turned around and unanimously supported a resolution naming Watts as the next school superintendent.

“I wanted this to be a tough decision and it has been tough for us all; we had four very qualified candidates,” Manola said before Wednesday’s vote.

In addition to Watts and Mire, the School Board interviewed John Jackson, the administrative liaison for the University of North Georgia, and Cynthia Ourso, West Baton Rouge’s elementary supervisor.

The four candidates were presented to the board following a regional search from a private scouting firm.

Manola, the board president, said Watts’ leadership skills and accomplishments at Zachary High caused him to outshine the other candidates.

Watts, who holds degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and McNeese State University, told board members during his public interview last week that within the first two years of his leadership, Zachary High went from being the lowest-performing school in the Zachary Community Schools District to the district’s top-performing campus.

In his application for the position, Watts notes Zachary High’s school performance score jumped from 118.3 in 2010 to 149.9 in 2012.

During his interview, Watts also touted a schoolwide reading program that helped boost students’ ACT scores, and a student-driven leadership group in 2009 called Teen Influence Motivating Others.

“His passion for education is something we all recognized,” Manola said. “He is very well respected not only professionally, but as a person, in the community he’s been in.”

Manola said the board’s selection now begins contract negotiations to lock in Watts’ salary. The district pays current Superintendent David Corona $151,000 annually at the moment.

Manola said the board will be negotiating a two-year contract for Watts — which is the time left in the current board’s terms.

“I’m very hopeful we’ll have the contract ready for the board’s approval at our next meeting,” he said.

The School Board’s next regular meeting is July 16.

Corona, who is retiring after 10 years with West Baton Rouge, is set to leave office at the end of July.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.