Liz Fagen, the embattled superintendent of the 67,000-student Douglas County Schools, announced her resignation Tuesday to become superintendent of Humble Independent School District, just outside of Houston.
A petition on Change.org, with more than 600 signatures collected in its first nine hours, calls on the Humble School Board to reconsider its decision to hire Fagen. The petition sponsors are “Concerned Parents of Humble.” The district has about 39,000 students but is expected to grow to 52,000 within the next decade.
A petition in Colorado, started by DougCo school district high school students, drew more than 1,800 signatures and protested high rates of teacher turnover under Fagen. The movement also helped launch a student walkout at Ponderosa High School, which led to a heated meeting between the walk-out’s organizer, sophomore Grace Davis, School Board President Meghann Silverthorn and Vice-President Judith Reynolds, who have since been asked by Davis to resign.
Fagen, who was appointed by a conservative board majority, has been superintendent of DougCo schools since 2010.
“Dr. Fagen has led many changes and improvements in the past six years in Douglas County,” said DougCO board president Meghann Silverthorn. “We’re grateful for her tireless service and commitment to education. We wish her and her family all the best in her future endeavors.”
Her tenure has been marked by nearly constant controversy. Within a year of her appointment, the board launched a voucher program eventually declared unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court. The case now awaits a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, which will likely not happen this term. The board also ended its collective bargaining relationship with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers in 2012 and now requires teachers to individually negotiate contracts with their school principals.
The unanimous conservative 7-0 majority shrank to a narrow 4-3 majority in last November’s elections. The four remaining conservative members, including Silverthorn and Reynolds, are up for re-election in 2017.
That played on the minds of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, a parents’ group that supports teachers and opposes the conservative board majority, and at least one former member of that majority.
Justin Williams, a former conservative board member who was term-limited in 2015, said recently that the majority would not hold unless they cut ties with Fagen. In a YouTube video posted by a Facebook group, Douglas County Parents, Williams cited Fagen’s hiring as one of his greatest accomplishments during his time on the board. But since 2010, the board majority has lost support, he said. “There were people who supported us in this cause the last time [who] have switched over. I’ve come to the conclusion…that if we go forward in the next election in 2017 without a superintendent change, we’re going to lose.”
The video was shot at a May 2 meeting of Liberty Libations, a conservative networking group in Douglas County.
“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 Douglas County Federation of Teachers President Kallie Leyba on Tuesday. “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.”
In a statement Tuesday, Douglas County Parents said in the district teacher turnover has nearly doubled since Fagen took the helm. As a result of reforms, including the voucher program, the district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawsuits and experienced a never-before-seen level of community dissatisfaction with the school district.
Jason Virdin, a spokesman for Douglas County Parents, said the group is hopeful Fagen’s resignation will be “a positive step toward the healing of our school district and community … We are anxious to start the healing process.”
The struggle against the conservative board majority is far from over, said Virdin. Before the board hires a new superintendent, they should resolve the investigation of board president Silverthorn and vice-president Reynolds, at the request of the student protest leader Davis.
“Douglas County Parents continues to support [Davis] in her request for the resignation of both directors,” Virdin said.
In the meantime, Humble ISD School Board President Robert Sitton is enthusiastic about bringing Fagen on. “We are excited about getting the best education mind in the country.”
Said Sitton: “When people talk about education, we want them to say, ‘you really need to go see what Humble ISD is doing.’ She is, in our opinion, the leader to take us there. She is innovative, visionary and not afraid to take risks if it enhances education.”