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Douglas County School Board's choice for new superintendent is leader of district in Cincinnati

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He's trustworthy, student-centered, an inspiration, a lifelong learner.

That's how Douglas County School Board members described their choice for the district's new superintendent. At a special meeting on April 5, the seven school board members voted unanimously to hire Thomas Tucker, the superintendent of Princeton City Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pending agreement on a contract, he will start in the 2018-19 school year.

“Ultimately, he struck me as an individual who cares very much about people,” board member Wendy Vogel said during the meeting at the district's administration building in Castle Rock. “The one comment he made to us that got to me the most is that public education saves lives. He is undoubtedly a fierce public-education advocate.”

The decision follows a recent shift of power on the school board.

In November, voters elected Anthony Graziano, Christina Schor, Krista Holtzmann and Kevin Leung to fill the seats of four reform-minded members, signaling a change in a longstanding majority board that espoused policies that, to many people, caused an exodus of teachers in recent years. The board has since taken steps to undo decisions made by the previous majority board, like rescinding a controversial voucher program that would have used public money to help parents pay for private schools.

To address the district's need for additional funding, the school board is looking at tax measures for the November ballot. A bond measure would address capital needs and a mill levy override would address teacher pay, compensation and school programming.

For school board President David Ray, the board's superintendent selection was of utmost importance.

“We absolutely know that this is probably one of the most important decisions we will make as a board,” he said. “I've never seen a more dedicated group of volunteers who have put in so many hours to see what is right for our 68,000 kids.”

Colorado law requires a 14-day waiting period between naming of the finalist and offering a contract. DCSD's job posting indicated the annual salary would be in the $260,000 range, according to Ray.

About Tucker

Tucker expressed his gratitude to the school board.

“It’s a distinct honor and privilege to help lead one of America’s finest — and I do mean finest — public school systems,” Tucker said in a news release issued by the Douglas County School District.

Tucker was born and raised in northeastern Arkansas. He received his bachelor's degree from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. He continued his education at Ohio State univerisity, where he received a doctorate in education with an emphasis in higher education, student affairs and communication, and a master's degree in educational policy and leadership.

He served 29 years in the Kansas and Ohio public school systems as classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal and director of secondary curriculum and superintendent, according to his website, www.tstucker.me. 

Tucker began his career in education as a teacher in 1989 at Jardine Middle School in Topeka, Kansas. From 2008-11, he served as superintendent of Licking Heights Local School District in Pataskala, Ohio, which serves 4,300 students. He went on to become the superintendent of Worthington School District in Worthington, Ohio, from 2011-14. The district's enrollment is more than 9,925 students.

In 2015, he was hired as superintendent of the Princeton City School District, serving 5,633 students. He was paid $145,000 a year, according to a local news outlet in Cincinnati.

In 2012, Tucker helped pass an incremental levy and no-new taxes $40 million bond issue. He was the first superintendent in Ohio to attempt and pass an incremental levy and bond issue on a single ballot.

Tucker was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2016 and the National Alliance of Black School Educators in 2013.

When Tucker recently came to visit schools in Douglas County, he knew board members' names before they introduced themselves, Ray said. Tucker did his research. He visited different businesses in the community. He posed solutions to existing problems. At an April 3 public forum, rather than dining with the adults, he ate pizza with Douglas County students.

“He's a man that I felt like I could immediately trust,” Ray said.

Three finalists named

Tucker was one of three finalists announced by the school board. The others were Daniel Clemens, superintendent of North Kansas City Schools in Kansas City, Missouri, and Karen Brofft, superintendent of Lewis-Palmer School District in Monument.

Clemens withdrew his name prior to the April 5 meeting, the school board confirmed. The previous day, Fox31 reported that Clemens was involved in a federal lawsuit that accused North Kansas City School District administrators of negligence by not fully vetting a teacher who has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a student.

Some community members were disappointed to learn that interim Superintendent Erin Kane, who announced in January she would apply for the position, was not selected as a finalist. She was hired in 2016 at an annual salary of $240,000 after former superintendent Elizabeth Fagen resigned and took a position in the Humble Independent School District in Texas.

The school board's final decision comes after a search process that began last December, when the board contracted with an executive search firm to find candidates that met qualifications gathered from online surveys, community input meetings and board priorities. The board received more than 1,100 inquiries from nearly every state in the U.S., according to Ray.

The school board has since hosted more than 15 community input meetings at various locations around Douglas County. The week of April 2, candidates participated in panels with more than 70 staff members, students and community members and were interviewed by board members. A public forum was held at a local high school, where community members were able to submit questions and give input on the finalists. The interviews and forum were live streamed on the internet for the public.

'Moral obligation'

Tucker touched on subjects such as school funding, transparency, climate and culture, teacher pay and mental health. He calls special education a "moral obligation." He wants to see more partnerships with the business community. He has lobbied on the state and national levels to reduce the amount of standardized testing. He emphasized the importance of building relationships among students and staff.

"Every student should have at least one caring and compassionate adult in school to which he or she can turn to to discuss issues going on,” Tucker said in a April 2 interview with board members.

He took a moment to brag about his current district, Princeton City Schools. Of his students, 70 percent are minority and 70 percent are on free or reduced lunches. With a focus on student achievement, the graduation rate is 95 percent for all students, 96 percent for African American students and 85 percent for students with disabilities, he said.

“It was a goal. It was articulated by the board, articulated in our strategic plan," Tucker said. "And those things need to be put up front. They have to be part of what we do.”

He outlined four goals for his first 30-60 days as superintendent: building relationships in the community; building a strong relationship with the school board; reviewing data on student performance and the financial status of the district; and creating a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

“There is a great deal of pride throughout the district. Clearly there is a focus on doing what is best for students,” Tucker said in the DCSD news release. “I give the community my promise — you are going to get 110 percent effort out of me each and every day."

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