After almost three years under what was supposed to be temporary leadership, locally controlled public schools in New Orleans finally are set to get a new, permanent superintendent.
The Orleans Parish School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to select East Feliciana Parish Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. to run the schools in New Orleans that remain under its jurisdiction.
The decision was met with cheers and applause by audience members, some of whom represent groups that have been pushing hard for a new school leader.
The vote was a rare show of unity on an often-divided board and ended a process that has dragged on since the last permanent superintendent of the system, Darryl Kilbert, resigned in April 2012.
Since that time, the board had been unable to muster the five votes needed to select a candidate for the job and even fought over the qualifications needed in the school system’s next leader.
Seth Bloom, elected as the board’s president at Tuesday’s meeting, said after the vote that Lewis’ experience in Louisiana’s school system was a key factor in the decision to choose him over Debbra Lindo, a consultant who served as superintendent of a school system in California until she retired last year.
The 40-year-old Lewis is a New Orleans native and also serves as a school board member in St. Bernard Parish.
“He has actual experience in Louisiana,” Bloom said.
School board members met in a closed-door session for more than an hour and a half before taking the vote. Members did not discuss the executive session after restarting the public portion of the meeting.
Lewis, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, will be tasked with running a unique system. The vast majority of public schools in the city were placed under the state-run Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina, and almost all of those remain in that system.
Most of the schools overseen by the elected school board are actually run by independent charter operators.
The difficulties of running such a system were seen as one of the challenges of getting qualified candidates for the superintendent’s position. At the same time, the board’s inability to hire a new leader was seen as harming its efforts to bring more schools back under its umbrella.
The process of selecting a new leader has seen the board fight over the qualities and philosophy its next superintendent should have, with some consultants reporting that different board members gave conflicting answers when pressed on those issues.
Bloom said both candidates, neither of whom was involved in previous rounds of the search, would have been good choices.
“When you have two candidates who are highly qualified, you have a difficult decision because you could go either way,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Jan. 21, 2015, to correct the spelling of Darryl Kilbert’s name.