A familiar face will lead Aurora Central High School, one of the state’s lowest performing schools, through another challenging phase: Gerardo De la Garza, who has drawn mixed reviews as interim principal this school year.

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn informed school staff of the hire in a Monday morning email, which Chalkbeat obtained.

The Aurora Central principal selection has been closely watched by state officials, the city’s school board and education advocacy groups.

De la Garza will be responsible for boosting the school’s student achievement, which has chronically lagged behind state averages. He’ll also be navigating uncharted territory: Aurora Central, along with four other schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood, are the first schools in Aurora to be dramatically redesigned under the state’s innovation law.

Pending expected approval from the State Board of Education next month, Central and the four other schools will be allowed to choose their own curriculums, extend their school days and years, and hire and fire teachers without abiding by the district’s teachers contract.

In his email, Munn said that De La Garza had the necessary skills to manage the school’s new freedom from district and state bureaucracy.

“Over this past year and throughout the interview process, Mr. De la Garza demonstrated a commitment to student learning, a willingness to hold people accountable for school performance and the ability to focus on sustainable results,” Munn wrote. “Mr. De la Garza’s demonstrated turnaround traits, coupled with his existing connections to the community, will provide Aurora Central with a strong platform to launch its innovation efforts.”

De la Garza is not without critics. Teachers have criticized how De la Garza handled the school’s redesign process and his instructional chops. De la Garza addressed the criticism at a forum earlier this month, pledging to improve the culture of the school, the Aurora Sentinel reported.

Before taking the interim job at Aurora Central last fall, De la Garza spent nine years as principal at North Middle School.

He officially will begin in his new role July 1.