After leading Philadelphia's public schools for nearly five years, Paul Vallas will leave in July to head the state-run public school system in New Orleans.

The Louisiana Department of Education announced yesterday that Vallas, a former executive of Chicago schools, would become superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District "on, or after July 1."

Vallas, 53, told Philadelphia officials last month that he would be leaving, but not when. He has been working as a consultant to New Orleans schools for several weeks and will continue to do so until he becomes superintendent.

James Nevels, chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, thanked the district's first chief executive for his leadership of Philadelphia's schools and his work on behalf of the city's children.

"I wish Paul Vallas well in this new challenge," Nevels said in a statement. "Paul was an effective agent of change during a time of growth and progress in Philadelphia. He is what New Orleans needs now, and I know that he will bring the same hope to the children of the Recovery School District as he did to the children of Philadelphia."

Nevels said the commission would announce its plans "for leadership transition in Philadelphia soon."

An interim replacement could be named next week.

Vallas had promised Philadelphia officials he would ensure an orderly transition.

Carey Dearnley, spokeswoman for the commission, said the July 1 departure date would not cause disruption for Philadelphia schools.

She said the commission had not expected Vallas to remain in Philadelphia beyond the end of the current school year. June 19 is the last day of school for students; June 20 is the last day for staff.

Yesterday, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) introduced Vallas as superintendent of the Recovery School District, which runs 22 of the city's 58 public schools.

The New Orleans district took over a handful of low-performing schools before Hurricane Katrina, but the takeover sped up, increasing the district's role, after the storm.

Five of the city's best-performing schools were left with the local school board. The rest were divided among the recovery district and privately run charter organizations.

Total public school enrollment in New Orleans is about 26,000, including students at 31 charter schools.

The Recovery School District has had to open new schools and hire more teachers as students returned to New Orleans. About 900 new students registered in the last two months, the district has said. Its 22d school, an elementary school, was reopened in April.

"When I look at Mr. Vallas' career, I see a man who has a proven track record of success. He knows the job that lies ahead in the RSD and has the experience and expertise to lead this mission," Pastorek said.

Vallas said his biggest challenge will be improving conditions in a city where schools that survived Hurricane Katrina intact are hard to distinguish from those damaged by the storm.

"These buildings have been neglected for a long, long time," he said.

In a statement released yesterday, Vallas said: "I will be doing a lot of listening in the coming days so that I can act on what I hear and help to create a school system that accomplishes what we all want."

He takes over for Robin Jarvis, who was named superintendent of the New Orleans district in April 2006. She announced last month that she was resigning at the end of this month.

Vallas and Pastorek have not yet reached agreement on the terms of Vallas' contract, according to the Education Department statement.

Vallas is expected to earn less than his $250,000 salary in Philadelphia. Jarvis' pay package totaled $125,000.

Vallas came to Philadelphia as chief executive in July 2002, six months after the state took over the school district and the five-member School Reform Commission replaced the Board of Education.

A former budget director for the City of Chicago, Vallas had overseen the Chicago schools from 1995 to 2001.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported yesterday that Jarvis would take a position with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory on June 1. The private, nonprofit education research and development corporation is based in Austin, Texas.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.