Wesley “Wes” Watts will officially retire from education after a career that has spanned three decades.
“I can’t thank them enough for an amazing journey. I’ve loved every minute of it, not every issue, but I loved every day of the job. The support, the working together that’s taken place over the last eight years from the government, parents and industry, all of that together has been amazing. I can’t say enough for how grateful I am to have been a part of that,” said Watts.
Watts began as a science teacher and coach in 1992 at Lee High in Baton Rouge. The following year, he moved to Central High. During his 16 years at Central High, Watts served as a teacher, coach, dean of students and athletic director. Then in 2009, he went to Zachary High where he served as the assistant principal for the first year and then was promoted to the principal. However, in 2014, the West Baton Rouge school district needed a superintendent and they had their eyes on Watts. Watts became superintendent in 2014 and will hang it up at the end of this current school year.
“Around Christmas, I started having thoughts of, “Is it time to do something different. If I can’t do this and go 100% for the next 3-5 years, I need to do something now for the sake of the district.’ The people of WBR have been amazing to me and I’m taking a leap of faith as to what’s next,” said Watts. “I really thought my end game was going to be high school principal and Central is my home and I just thought that was going to be it but I had the opportunity to go to Zachary High School as the asst. principal and I fell in love with that place, became their principal and loved it and then thought that was it. Then came the opportunity to become the superintendent in 2014. I went to West Baton Rouge Parish and so I’ve been there eight years and I can honestly say along the way, I’ve loved every job I’ve had, loved the people I’ve worked with and still, the most enjoyable part of what I do is working with kids,” said Watts.
Watts graduated from McNeese University with a bachelor of science in exercise & fitness. He went on to get his masters education degree in administration & supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi. During this current school year of 2021-2022, Watts was named “Louisiana State Superintendent of the Year.”
Under his watch, in 2016, seven of the ten schools in WBR improved their school performance by a letter grade. WBR also experienced major growth in advanced placement and graduation rates. More students from all races and economic status were taking and having success in AP courses leading to national recognition on the College Board National AP Honor Roll in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, WBR reached the 80% graduation rate for the first time in history at 82.6%. The graduation rate in 2019 continued to improve, 87.1%, and also in 2020 at 88.8%.
Watts said the best part of his job was all the relationships he built in not only in the three different school districts Watts worked in, but throughout the entire state.
“Probably the greatest joy I get out of it is seeing kids you have either coached or taught coming up to you and just saying something to you about, ‘Hey, I remember your class. You were my favorite teacher.’ I literally had one about six months ago, ran into a former student at an event somewhere and he said, ‘Mr. Watts, I remember what you told me when you handed me my diploma when I walked across the stage.’ That one brought me to tears. That was when I was principal,” said Watts.
Watts said the toughest part of his 30-year career also came back to his students.
“When you have students who have been hurt or even passed away or even a teacher, those things are almost impossible to get over,” said Watts.
He added that legal issues with employees where someone may have done something wrong were also very difficult.
“Those are always tough because you know the majority of your people, 99% of your people are working their behinds off and doing right by the kids and it takes one to tarnish that. The struggle for me was from a legal perspective. We can’t always speak up about what the truth is from a personnel privacy perspective. Sometimes I have to let people say what they’re saying because I can’t say anything legally because of privacy laws,” said Watts.
Looking back at his career, Watts said one thing he will remember forever is Common Core. He said he remembers starting in WBR in 2014 and how well the teachers and schools handled Common Core becoming a reality.
When asked what his biggest accomplishment has been, Watts said it was a community effort from school officials, parents, local businesses and more coming together to create a new mission for the schools, some cores values and a 5-yr strategic plan.
“We called it 2020 vision & I think all of that combined really was a team effort that included a lot of stakeholders to develop a plan that we were able to implement and out of that plan came a $5,000 pay raise for our teachers and then the $90 million bond issue that we passed in 2016, which led to new schools and every facility in West Baton Rouge Parish being improved either with a new facility or renovations to the current facility,” said Watts.
The obvious question would be what’s next for the 53-yr-old after he retires, but Watts said he’s not sure of that for now.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I feel like we’ve done a lot of good, hopefully we have touched a lot of lives in a positive way and I’ll cherish all those memories,” said Watts. “I hope I’ve given them just a little bit back in terms of how much they’ve given me.”
Watts is married to Jodie. They have a son and a daughter and are the proud grandparents of a granddaughter and two grandsons.