Memories of A School Leader
photo courtesy of University of New Orleans
“That Hurricane Betsy was a real doozy,” Carl Dolce muses. Long retired as Dean of Education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Dolce has chosen the library at the University of New Orleans to hold his personal records from his nearly five-year tenure as Superintendent of Orleans Parish schools, according to Al Kennedy, adjunct history professor at UNO.
Hurricane Betsy hit the city just as schools were set to open in the fall of 1965, Dolce’s first year. “It just absolutely paralyzed the school system. Schools were destroyed, and then there was a problem of getting everything back to working again and the students back to a learning situation.”
McDonogh 35 High School’s building in the business district was lost. “That was bad, because it was so important to the black community. It moved to the old Post Office building. The Federal Government allowed us to use it, and it was there for the rest of my term,” Dolce says.
Dolce’s parents were Italian immigrants, and he was educated in New Orleans public schools. He began his teaching career here, rose through the ranks and eventually served as a principal. His wife, Nancy, also taught in New Orleans public schools. “After 58 years I still love her!” Dolce says. He received his doctorate from Harvard University and was teaching there when the New Orleans superintendent’s job beckoned.
Dolce’s years coincided with the final steps to racially integrate the school system, faculty as well as pupils. Those years also saw teachers and staff go out on strike. In spite of the turmoil, he saw a tax millage increase pass.
One of Dolce’s proudest accomplishments was seeing the first black person at the assistant superintendent level when Henry Williams was named. The first female at that level was Juliana Boudreaux. “The chief administrator, all he can do is point directions and be supportive. It’s the people who are on the line who make the difference,” Dolce insists.
Bob Wall served under Dolce as Director of Special Projects and Director of School-Community Relations. Having served as an executive assistant to the late Mayor Delesseps Morrison, Wall knew the city well. “People weren’t doing polls in those days, but I think at any time Carl would have gotten a good approval rating.”
The school system central offices were at 703 Carondelet St. “We had over 100,000 students, and it’s amazing that the offices were so small,” Wall recalls. Just after Dolce left, the student population reached 112,000 – its highest point ever.
In Wall’s estimation, Dolce “had a lot of integrity: he was moving forward and trying to be a leader rather than just hanging around the pack.
“He smoked a pipe; it was more of a kind of prop. Many instances when he would be asked a difficult question that required some thought, he would play with his pipe for a couple of minutes – he used that to buy him a little time,” Wall says.
Henry Williams has a special memory of Dolce: “He got me into Harvard! He felt that I was a good enough administrator to go to Harvard – and it was through his recommendation that I was admitted.” Williams, a 1950 graduate of Dillard, earned his doctorate at Harvard. He began teaching in Orleans Parish in ’51 and retired in ’82 as Associate Superintendent for Administrative Services.
During Dolce’s time in office, Williams was on the administration’s team negotiating with the teacher’s union. “Many of the union people were old friends, and we were sometimes at loggerheads to determine what would be best for the district,” Williams says.
Of Dolce, Williams says, “He was one of the most liberal people at the time that we had in our district. I’ll never forget this, he invited me to many private entertainments that I could not have been invited to because of my race, but Dolce overlooked all that.”
“I admired him greatly” Williams says, “and I still do.”