HARVEY, Louisiana — The Jefferson Parish school superintendent says he will leave his position at the end of September. Dr. James Meza Jr. has held the superintendent's job since 2011.
Meza, a former dean at the University of New Orleans, signed on as an interim superintendent, expecting to stay for just a few months, but stayed on and ultimately overhauled the system and its approach to educating students.
Under Meza's leadership, the school system said in a news release Thursday, it has improved its performance rating, balanced the budget and enabled the first employee pay raises in three years.
Meza said his mission has been successful and is complete.
"I think in my time in Jefferson, I've achieved what I wanted to do and what the board wanted me to do," he said, noting the superintendent's job is 24-7.
School Board President Mike Delesdernier said under Meza's leadership the district is in great shape for the next generation of leaders.
The system's performance grade rose from a D to a B in Meza's first two years, and the share of Jefferson Parish schools earning an A or a B rose from 14 percent to 41 percent.
His drive to cut waste and improve efficiency brought the system from a $25 million deficit to a balanced budget, and Meza said the results include a two-year, $7 million capital improvement program to fix up schools and the first teacher raises in three years.
"Budgetarily, the district is very stable and now (the board) can plan more strategically," he said. "They're out of this crisis mode that we were in when I came here. You couldn't plan ahead. You couldn't make decisions."
But those changes did not come without tension. The administration shrank by 150 positions, making people do more with less, though Meza said it allowed more resources to go into the classrooms. Also during his tenure, the system closed seven of its roughly 80 schools and replaced 50 principals whose schools didn't show achievement over a three-year period.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1lSDIfh) Meza's contract ends in January, but Meza said Wednesday that September is the right time to leave because it will allow him to help get the new school year off to a strong start while still leaving him time to launch the next stage of his career.
Meza, 66, said he'll probably do some consulting for the next three or four years, but would also like to work with foundations or universities to create a superintendents academy to train people for top public school system jobs.
"Most superintendents come from experience in a district, and if it's a system that's been status quo for a long time, then the status quo will continue," he said. "We need to open up some opportunities where people can learn some new approaches and have some different systems in place."
Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com