John White, deputy chancellor in New York City, is leaving to New Orleans.

While Mayor Bloomberg was on the brink of announcing Cathie Black’s departure last night, a deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education was boarding a plane — to New Orleans, where tomorrow he will be named superintendent of the Recovery School District.

White’s appointment to lead one of the most-watched education improvement efforts in the country has fallen under the radar in this whirlwind day of education leadership changes in New York. But the move is important: it means one fewer leader at Tweed Courthouse during a transition and a major promotion for White.

White also said the Innovation Zone project he runs in New York would continue. “The work in New York goes on,” he said less than half a day before Black would resign.

He also called New Orleans “the most exciting place for education reform in the country.” ”It’s because of what I’ve learned as an educator and an administrator in New York schools that I have faith about taking what I learned and going elsewhere,” he said.

The Recovery School District, created after Hurricane Katrina, operates entirely on a choice model. Families and students select among a set of options, most of them charter schools, and many of them new options. The model has been called the “portfolio” approach, an idea that White championed and led in New York by closing down schools deemed failing and replacing them with new schools of choice.

“New Orleans is the epitome of a portfolio system, in a way that New York because of its legal system and its size never can be, no matter how much you push it,” James Merriman, the executive director of the New York City Charter Center, said today in an interview with our former colleague Maura Walz. “It seems to me that if there is someone who can do this, it would be him.”

Merriman said that White will benefit from New Orleans’ smaller size. “In a month he can get into every single school twice, he can meet with every single principal, he can meet with every group of teachers, he can meet with community groups,” Merriman said. “It’s possible to do it in the retail way.”

Outgoing chancellor Cathie Black also offered her thoughts last night, praising White in a prepared statement that, interestingly, betrayed no sign of being her last.

“Over the past few months I have gotten to know John and have been continually impressed by his thoughtfulness and commitment to bettering the lives of our school children,” Black said. “For his friends and colleagues here at the Department of Education, this news is bittersweet. But I view it as a compliment to New York City and the innovative work of this Department that Louisiana chose one of our own to lead the Recovery School District.”