Four district leaders have been named “Superintendent of Year” finalists this week by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, for their focus on students’ academic progress, community engagement, and advocacy.
The just-announced finalists are: Joe Gothard, of Saint Paul public schools in Minnesota; Martha Salazar-Zamora, of the Tomball, Texas, school district; Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, of Contoocook Valley schools in Peterborough, N.H.; and Frederick Williams, from Georgia’s Dublin City school system.
The superintendents will participate in a press conference on Jan. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The winner will be named Feb. 15 at AASA’s national conference in San Diego.
The finalists are “transforming the lives of the students they serve” said John Kenning, the president and CEO of First Student, a school transportation company, which co-sponsors the award, with Corebridge Financial, a retirement planning and insurance company.
The award is open to all superintendents in the United States who plan to continue in the profession, according to AASA. Applicants were measured on: their creativity to meet students’ needs; strengths in both personal and organizational communication; continuous improvement of their skills and those of their staff; and active participation in their communities.
Gothard, who has been superintendent in Saint Paul since 2017, has led the charge to create and implement a new strategic plan that sets clear and measurable goals for student achievement, which guide the district’s efforts and decisions, keeping the focus on students’ needs.
Gothard focuses much of his energy on creating and fostering relationships with students, staff, and the community. He also holds several leadership positions, including president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and member of the Council of Great City Schools’ executive committee.
Salazar-Zamora has been superintendent in Tomball since 2017, and is the district’s first female and first Hispanic superintendent.
She was recognized for her work focusing on student achievement, as Tomball is among the districts that have maintained some of the state’s highest standardized assessment scores, and for having strong financial management abilities.
Salazar-Zamora helped implement the district’s early-college high school, two-way dual language academy, and a new pre-kindergarten center.
Kimberly Rizzo Saunders
Rizzo Saunders has given presentations at recent national conferences on a variety of topics, including improving curriculum, preventing high school dropouts, and adequately funding education. She also successfully advocated for more adequate state funding of districts in her state.
She has been superintendent of the Contoocook district since 2016.
Williams has been superintendent in Dublin, Ga., since 2015.
Under his leadership, the 2023 graduating class posted a 97.7 percent graduation rate, the highest in district history.
The district has also received the “Exemplary Board Status” award from the Georgia School Boards Association each year since 2015.
Williams has spent much of his tenure focused on improving students’ literacy and community engagement, and expanding alternative and advanced education programs.