Over nearly seven years, Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. has been a stalwart leader of our public school system. Over the past few months, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) searched for Dr. Lewis’ replacement after he announced his decision to leave by the summer of 2022.
At the end of March, OPSB selected Dr. Avis Williams to take on the role when he steps down. At NSNO, we are confident in Dr. Williams, and we look forward to working with her to serve our city’s children. She is dedicated, experienced, and she is already connecting with our students.
As we welcome Dr. Williams, we want to take this moment to thank and appreciate Dr. Lewis’ hard work leading our system of schools for so many years.
NOLA-PS is a unique district, and our superintendent has a slightly different role than in traditional districts. Our recent “Just the Facts” series explained some of these differences and how they looked in areas like school funding, a superintendent’s emergency powers, their role in facilities, and how they manage student enrollment.
One key difference in our city is that schools and networks have a greater degree of autonomy than in most traditional districts. This means the superintendent is called on to collaborate with and coordinate schools in moments when the district needs a unified response. Dr. Lewis managed this through some immense challenges.
He coordinated a powerful district-wide response at the onset of COVID-19 in our community, rallying all of our schools and networks to come to a shared plan around our response to the virus and reopening schools. This included handing out hot-spots and laptops to make virtual learning accessible, and coordinating free meals for all our public school students even when classes weren’t held in person. It meant helping schools offer both vaccines and COVID-19 testing, and working closely with local public health officials to keep track of the rates of infection. This also meant standing with conviction by these experts’ decisions in the name of our students’ safety.
Dr. Lewis also led the district’s communication surrounding Hurricane Ida. He and his team used their emergency powers to declare schools closed through the disaster and its immediate aftermath. After the storm, his team utilized NOLA-PS’ disaster management contract to help begin inspection and get any necessary repair underway swiftly. They were in close contact with both school leaders and operations teams as they prepared to restart classes.
This leadership was critical in times of crisis. In times of calm, Dr. Lewis worked with OPSB and education leaders on important projects across the district. From making enrollment more equitable, to renaming schools to better reflect the values of our community, families and students, Dr. Lewis and his team have focused on shaping the district our children deserve. He also led our system through unification, in which former Recovery School District schools joined back together under local OPSB control after more than a decade.
When we talked with Dr. Lewis about this leadership, particularly through Hurricane Ida and COVID-19, he led with gratitude. He said he is grateful for:
Our parents, [who] because of COVID, have had to organize their own lives and their jobs around their children’s education…so I’m very grateful for that.
I’m also grateful to our educators that show up every single day, to not only educate our students, but also handle all the things that are thrown at us, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the hurricane – being able to get back in the classroom and take care of our young people, take care of our babies, to make sure that they know that they’re supported.
Our cafeteria technicians…are some of the first individuals our students see every single day, and they give them a nutritious meal that allows them to be able to thrive in the classroom.
I’m very proud of school leaders who have to do so much…they’re saying, “what’s the need?” and responding to that in the moment.
I’m very thankful for my team at the district level…as we work on behalf of our students and families every single day
[I’m thankful for] the school board…our partners, whether it’s city officials and everyone that comes to the aid of the school system to make sure at the end of the day, we have all hands on deck for our children….that’s what it’s going to continue to take, so that every student we have in our school district is able to become whoever they want to be, and be able to thrive and have a future that they so rightfully deserve.
At NSNO, we are thankful for Dr. Lewis, and all he has given to our children and our district as a whole.