The school districts in El Paso and Columbus, Ohio—both recently rocked by cheating scandals—are hoping to get a fresh start with new superintendents. The new leaders in both cities will be tasked with steering the districts through ongoing investigations and rebuilding trust with their communities.
In El Paso, Juan E. Cabrera, Jr. was selected as the sole finalist for the position of superintendent in the 64,000-student district, the El Paso Times reports. Mr. Cabrera was the chief legal counsel in the Eanes school district, near Austin. Mr. Cabrera’s contract will be finalized in three weeks.
Mr. Cabrera is the district’s first new permanent leader after a cheating scandal sent the former superintendent, Lorenzo García, to prison last October. Under García, school officials encouraged students to leave school or be placed in the wrong grade, among other manipulations, in order to improve their own performance bonuses.
Mr. Cabrera was selected by a state-appointed board, which took control of the district in the wake of the cheating scandal and can run it for up to two years. Control of the district will eventually return to a locally-elected board. Vernon Butler had been the district’s interim superintendent.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, J. Daniel Good is the new interim superintendent of the 51,000-student district. Mr. Good was previously the superintendent of the 15,000-student school district in Westerville, also in Ohio. Gene T. Harris, who had worked in the Columbus district for 35 years, retired in June.
Some Columbus schools have been accused of tampering with attendance data so that low-performing students appeared to have withdrawn from school. State auditor David Yost has also alleged that some contracts in the district were rigged. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized the Columbus district’s leadership in the wake of the scandals, saying that there had been a lack of oversight, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Carol L. Perkins, Columbus’ school board president, said in a statement that “the Board has every confidence that Dr. Good is the leader that we need at this time to move us forward....While our challenges will not disappear overnight, this school district, these children, and our community are worthy of our best—and we will do everything possible to ensure that we deliver on that promise.” The Columbus board will conduct a more extensive search for a permanent superintendent, but Mr. Yost, who continues to investigate cheating in the district, approved of Mr. Good’s selection, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
In addition to the standard challenges that come along with leading a large urban district, a superintendent coming into a leadership role after a scandal must prioritize transparency and character, said Dan Domenech, the president of the AASA, the superintendent’s association, in a conversation with Education Week about the districts’ searches for new leaders this spring. Districts need to select “somebody who’s very transparent and comes across as an individual with high values and ethics who’s going to do the right things for kids,” he said.
Mr. Cabrera directly addressed the issue in a Q&A with the El Paso Times. When asked why he thought he had the best experience to lead El Paso out of such a difficult time, he said, “the advantage I’ve got here is nobody in America’s prepared for that job—literally. I’m going to put up my audit background, my systems background, my process, my organization, my leadership (backgrounds)...that along with my people skills.”
In other leadership news, Jonathan Lewis is acting as the interim superintendent in the Richmond school district. Yvonne W. Brandon had led the district for five years, but left after the make up of the school board changed following a recent election.
Richmond, Columbus, and El Paso were just a few of the school districts searching for new superintendents as of the end of last year: Check out this Education Week article for more about districts’ leadership searches.
Photos: Former El Paso Independent School District superintendent Lorenzo Garcia is escorted by his attorneys into federal court in El Paso last year, where he was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison.
--Ruben R. Ramirez/The El Paso Times/AP-File
Gene Harris announces her retirement as Columbus City Schools Superintendent last year in Columbus, Ohio.
--Eric Albrecht/The Columbus Dispatch/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.