Douglas County School District Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen announced Tuesday she is leaving to assume the top position in the Humble Independent School District in Texas, a district of 39,000 students about 20 miles outside of Houston.
"Humble ISD is an excellent school district - a great match for me personally and professionally," she wrote in an email sent to district staff after the Humble school board confirmed her as the finalist. "And I am very grateful for the opportunity they have offered me."
Fagen, hired by the Douglas County School Board in 2010, said in her email she expects to leave by mid-July. Texas law requires a 21-day waiting period between naming of the lone finalist and the school board's final approval. That vote would come on June 14.
DCSD Board of Education President Meghann Silverthorn praised Fagen's accomplishments.
"Dr. Fagen has led many changes and improvements in the past six years ...," Silverthorn said in a news release sent Tuesday evening by the school district. "We're grateful for her tireless service and commitment to education. We wish her and her family all the best in her future endeavors."
But many teachers and parents have blamed Fagen and the school board majority for policies that caused widespread low morale and led to an exodus of teachers and administrators over the past several years. During her tenure, the school board severed ties with the teachers' union.
"In 2009, the Douglas County Board of Education undertook the re-invention of American education and subsequently hired Superintendent Fagen to further their goal," said BOE member Wendy Vogel. "I think that her resignation is a clear indication that their reform agenda is not working."
Board member David Ray said he had mixed emotions about Superintendent Fagen’s resignation.
"I believe she was placed in an extremely difficult position of carrying out the edicts of the previous Board. Unfortunately, her past six years have been marred by turmoil due to the ill-advised nature of the board’s actions," Ray said. "Fortunately, the superintendent’s resignation will continue the process of restoring trust in our District. My hope is that senior board members will follow the superintendent’s example of doing whatever is necessary to continue building trust - even when it means sacrificing the self for the sake of our learners."
Controversial initiatives included a new teacher-evaluation system and market-based pay salary structure. The district is amid legal challenges surrounding its attempt to create a voucher system. And the hashtag #firefagen has been used widely on social media for more than a year.
Fagen's strategic plan, as described on the school district website, highlights safety, school choice, world-class education, 21st century skills and system performance as its priorities.
"We are hopeful the resignation of Dr. Fagen will be a positive step toward the healing of our school district and community," Douglas County Parents spokesperson Jason Virdin said in a statement. "The results of the school board election last November were quite clear, showing the community does not support "reform." We are anxious to start the healing process in Douglas County and hope the board majority will back up their recent assertions with action--gathering and considering significant, substantial community and staff input while searching for a new Superintendent."
In a news release, the district credits Fagen for improving student and staff safety in schools, building a strong network with home schools and charter schools and "empowering teachers to create inspiring...curriculum units."
Before coming to Douglas County, Fagen was superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona.
Fagen, whose salary is $273,715, is moving to a district a little more than half the size of Douglas County, which has more than 67,000 students and about 80 schools.
She will replace outgoing Superintendent Guy Sconzo, who is retiring. According to its website, the district has 43 campuses, 5,000 employees and is among the 25 fastest-growing school districts in Texas. It is the 31st largest district in the state.
"We are excited about getting the best education mind in the country," said Robert Sitton, Humble school board president. "It's powerful what she is going to be able to do. When people talk about education, we want them to say, 'You really need to go see what Humble ISD is doing.' She is, in our opinion, the leader to take us there. She is innovative, visionary and not afraid to take risks if it enhances education."