Controversial Douglas County superintendent to lead Texas school district

Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen, who put in place a controversial market-based pay system for teachers and a voucher program that drew national attention and legal challenges, is leaving to lead a Texas school district.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Douglas County district officials announced that Fagen had been named the sole finalist to take over the 39,000-student Humble Independent School District in Humble, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Fagen was tapped to head the 67,000-student Douglas County district in 2010. She was hired after a conservative takeover of the school board in the traditionally high-performing, affluent south suburban school district.

But the politics in Douglas County have shifted. The November election spelled the end of what had been a run of conservative domination. The board is still in conservative control, but by the narrowest of margins. Three upstart candidates who opposed the reforms championed by Fagen’s administration won seats in the election, resulting in a 4-3 board split.

Since the election, the district has been embroiled in a controversy over a student protester’s secret tape-recording of a meeting with board majority members, which had led to accusations of intimidation and calls for the board members to resign.

An attempt to revive the district’s controversial voucher program, meantime, has resulted in two legal challenges.

Fagen’s moves have drawn praise from conservative education reform advocates and criticism from supporters of the teachers union and a vocal band of parents.

The district did show gains under Fagen, boosting its high school graduation rate to 88 percent, for example. And in 2014, the district received the state’s highest accreditation rating. But the district recently refunded the state $2 million after the state found some students didn’t meet state requirements for full-time funding.

“The Douglas County School District is truly an excellent school district – one that is a lighthouse in American education,” Fagen said in a statement. “I am proud of all that we have accomplished over the past six years together. I know that our teachers, leaders and support staff will continue to amaze. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with the talented students and staff in this district.”

Douglas County school board president Meghann Silverthorn in a statement thanked Fagen for her service and said the district would turn its attention to a transition plan. No details were given.

The Douglas County Federation of Teachers, the county’s teachers union, used Fagen’s announcement to pivot to the next school board election, in 2017.

“Although we believe that this is a positive step towards reclaiming public education in Douglas County, we also realize that Dr. Fagen acted in concert with the school board that directed her,” said Kallie Leyba, the union’s president. “And, until a majority of board members are elected who support public education and who will treat teachers and staff as the professionals they are, there will be no significant change in the direction of the district.”

The Humble school district is Texas’ 31st largest school district. Douglas County is Colorado’s third largest.