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New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Says He Will Not Renew Contract Past 2022

Aubri Juhasz
Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. discusses Ruby Bridges' legacy with Akili Academy fourth-graders. Nov. 13, 2020.

New Orleans Public Schools will soon be searching for a new superintendent.

The district’s current leader Henderson Lewis Jr. said Monday that he intends to step down from the position when his contract expires at the end of June 2022.

“I am proud of NOLA Public Schools. I am proud of our staff, our teachers, our school leaders and most of all, our students and families,” Lewis said in a statement. “And with all journeys, there comes times for new direction and new leadership. I believe now is the time now for new voices, new dreams, and new visionaries to carry NOLA Public Schools into the future.”

Lewis’ contract was originally set to expire at the end of this month, but he received a one-year extension last May, following a 5-2 school board vote. While opponents argued the decision was premature, proponents said the early renewal would provide the district with stability during the pandemic.

Lewis became superintendent in March 2015 and quickly announced a clear vision for his tenure: “To reunite the school district.”

Louisiana seized more than 100 public schools from the city after Hurricane Katrina and converted them to charter schools. When Lewis took office, some schools were overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board and others by the state-run Recovery School District.

He began building the infrastructure necessary to welcome schools back and completed the reunification process in 2018. Today the city’s almost all-charter system is authorized by the school board and answers to the superintendent.

School Board President Ethan Ashley said in a statement that the board will meet this month to discuss “next steps, including a comprehensive, transparent and equitable superintendent search process.”

“We welcome the challenge of attracting and identifying an equity-minded leader to continue improving our school district for our students, teachers, staff, families and community,” Ashley said.

Lewis still has a full year ahead as the district completes its strategic planning process, racial equity audit and facility renaming initiative. He recently said his main focus for the fall is making sure all students return to full-time in-person instruction. As a result, he’s instructed schools to offer virtual learning only when absolutely necessary.

Lewis prioritized in-person learning throughout the pandemic and periodically amended operations based on the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate, overall case count and number of hospitalizations.

“Over the past year, Dr. Lewis built partnerships, used data to drive decisions, and led NOLA-PS through the COVID-19 pandemic,” the district said in a press release. “That work has helped NOLA-PS lead the way nationally to reopen schools, gain access to COVID testing, and secure access to vaccines for teachers, staff, and students.”

New Orleans public schools were considered ahead of the pack when they secured $5 million for technology in March 2019 and welcomed some students back to the classroom in late September.

While some parents expressed frustration with the district’s decision to reopen schools only to shut them back down, one survey found the majority of respondents had grown more favorable toward the district based on its response to the pandemic.

Still, Lewis is no stranger to pushback and parents and teachers have not always agreed with his decisions to close underperforming schools or hand them over to another charter operator.

Before becoming superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools, Lewis was superintendent of East Feliciana Public Schools. Prior to that he worked for the Algiers Charter Schools Association in New Orleans for six years and taught in St. Bernard Parish Public Schools for seven years. He also served as a board member of the St. Bernard Parish Public School Board for 11 years.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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