Paul Vallas, the outgoing chief executive of Philadelphia's school district, yesterday morning was named the next superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District during a ceremony in which he was praised by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the state's education superintendent.
The announcement made official what was widely known since April 11, when Vallas said he planned to leave Philadelphia, where he has run the 174,000-student district since July 2002. Before that he headed Chicago's public schools, from 1995 to 2001.
"Paul was an effective agent of change during a time of growth and progress in Philadelphia," said one of Vallas' bosses, James Nevels, chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. "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 plans for new leadership in Philadelphia will be announced shortly. School officials have said an interim chief executive will first be named to serve while a national search is conducted to find Vallas' replacement.
Louisiana Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, who hired Vallas to continue the job of rebuilding the city's schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said: "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."
Said Vallas, who will start his new job on or after July 1: "No school district in the country has been able to accomplish what the RSD did last year in opening schools. Clearly, many challenges are still ahead including the need for additional facilities, recruitment, finances and most importantly, building a strong internal team."
Vallas, 53, will be leaving some of those same challenges unfinished in Philadelphia. His last budget proposal for the 2007-08 school year won't be balanced until nearly $100 million in spending cuts are made and he - or somebody - convinces the state and city to pony up millions more in additional funding.
Last night Vallas said he wouldn't leave Philadelphia permanently until the budget is passed. He has pledged to help make sure Philadelphia schools open smoothly next fall. Between now and the start of his new job Vallas will continue serving as a consultant to the New Orleans district, Pastorek said.
The state-created Recovery School District is much smaller than Philadelphia's district. Within the RSC, 17,600 students are enrolled at 22 schools and 17 charter schools.
Another 12,000 to 14,000 students are expected to re-enroll for next school year, New Orleans officials said.
"Rebuilding the educational system in New Orleans is vital to the city and the state's recovery from the hurricanes," Blanco said.
"I am confident Mr. Vallas' wisdom and experience will help to improve the educational environment." *