METAIRIE, La. - The Jefferson Parish School District is in the market for a new leader after School Superintendent James Meza announced he is stepping down after three tough years in reform mode.
His reasons for leaving are both personal and professional. The 66-year old, former UNO Dean of Education says he wants more family time to spend with a new third grandchild and he says he's achieved all the goals he set when he took the post.
"The district three years ago was a D district where 75 percent of the schools being D or F schools," said Meza. "Today, the district is a B district, 41 percent of our schools are now A and B schools."
Meza erased a $25 million deficit and balanced the district's half-billion dollar budget . With school board approval, he closed seven schools, froze teacher salaries and threw out a long-standing union contract.
"We had to say the students were going to be first," said Meza. "We restructured the district around the needs of children."
"I think teachers are somewhat disappointed in the way they've been treated over these last few years because of some of the policies that have been put into effect," said Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch. She says Meza's decisions as an agent of change were not always well received.
"Change isn't always good," she said. "Change isn't always bad. There's been a tremendous turnover in our schools system which was unheard of prior to this board and this administration."
Meza admits it was a tough job pulling JP schools out of a downward spiral. "More than 30,000 children in Jefferson Parish are now getting a higher quality education because they are in higher performing schools," said Meza.
So what's next for Dr. Meza? He says he'd like to spend some time consulting in other school districts and eventually, launch an academy to help train new school superintendents. He plans to leave his position at the end of September.