Benjamin Franklin High School appoints Patrick Widhalm as head of school

Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, the state’s high-scoring public high school, has named Patrick Widhalm as its new head of school.

He will replace interim leader Daniel Casey on July 1.

Widhalm, 62, was appointed after Franklin spent $60,000 on a national search for a new leader. He has been executive director of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches, the state’s A-rated public boarding school, for the past 15 years.

School officials announced his appointment Monday, but Franklin’s independent governing board chose him in December. A finalized contract was all that was needed to clinch the deal, and school officials said Monday that document has been finalized.

Widhalm will earn $170,000 a year, board President Lester Alexander said.

Before his tenure at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, Widhalm was a manager at the Conservatory of Music at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was founding dean of arts and academics at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities in Greenville.

He has a doctorate of musical arts in piano performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Franklin’s strong academic track record caught Widhalm’s eye, he said.

“What I saw during the interview process really sold me. I saw a highly qualified faculty and staff working with bright and motivated students for academic and personal growth, and that is the heart of a great school,” he said.

Casey took the helm at the start of the 2015-2016 school year after Timothy Rusnak retired a year earlier than expected. Before that, Casey had been the school’s dean of faculty and professional development.

At Franklin, students must pass an admissions test to get in. In addition to its frequent local accolades, the school has been recognized repeatedly in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools program, which honors schools for their academic excellence, and has been featured on “Best High Schools” lists provided by U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek and Business Week.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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