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Vallas to run New Orleans schools

Vallas to run New Orleans schools


NEW ORLEANS - Paul Vallas, chief executive of the Philadelphia school district, is the new head of the state-run state-run public school system in New Orleans.

The Louisiana Department of Education announced today that Vallas, a former executive of Chicago, would become superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District "on, or after July 1," the department said in a news release.

Vallas, 53, had told Philadelphia officials last month that he would be leaving, but did not say when. He has been working as a consultant to New Orleans schools for several weeks, and will continue on those terms until he takes over officially.

He had promised Philadelphia officials that he would ensure an orderly transition.

Carey Dearnley, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, said this afternoon that 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; the 20th is the last day for staff.

An interim replacement in Philadelphia could be named early next week.

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

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.

New Orleans' schools were in chaos long before Hurricane Katrina, and the system had three superintendents from 1998 until the hurricane in 2005.

Pastorek said he chose Vallas because of his achievements in Philadelphia and Chicago.

Pastorek cited a more than 20 percent improvement in math and reading scores in Philadelphia between 2002 and 2006 and a program to recruit and retain teachers that resulted in fewer than a dozen vacancies in the last two years.

"He knows the job that lies ahead in the RSD and has the experience and expertise to lead this mission," Pastorek said.

The New Orleans district took over a handful of schools found academically unacceptable 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 and the rest divided between the recovery district and privately run charter organizations.

The entire public school enrollment is about 26,000, including 31 charter schools. The RSD has had to open new schools and hire more teachers as students returned to New Orleans. About 900 new students registered in the past two months, the district has said, and its 22nd school, an elementary school, was reopened in April.

Robin Jarvis, who was named superintendent of the district in April 2006, announced last month that she was resigning at the end of May.

Vallas and Pastorek have not yet agreed 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.

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