Waco ISD Board names retired educator as interim superintendent

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Waco School Board members Thursday evening named a retired educator with experience both in the classroom and as an administrator as interim superintendent.

Dr. Hazel Rowe. (Transformation Waco photo)

Dr. Hazel Rowe served as the district’s interim superintendent during the 2000-2001 school year and is currently a member of the board of Transformation Waco, the in-district charter created to oversee five struggling Waco schools, however, she will now have to resign from the board to take on her new role.

“It’s my pleasure to be able to step up,” Rowe said. “We hope to hit the ground running.”

The decision comes a week after Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson resigned over a drug charge.

School Board President Pat Atkins said there was no denying what Nelson did for the district, but it was time to move forward.

"You can't deny his ability to unite and unify this community and their support of public schools...that's going to be tough to replicate or duplicate," said Atkins. "But I do think there are other talented educators out there, and we're going to do a nationwide search and find the best possible candidate to lead the Waco public schools."

When deciding on an interim replacement for Nelson, Atkins said Rowe's name kept coming up.

"It just seemed a natural fit," said Atkins.

The announcement was made during Thursday night's school board meeting.

"I did not put my name in the hat, I was asked, I guess I was probably one of many, but I decided that I want to do that - I want to make a difference for the kids in our district," she said. "The community support has been so strong, I felt compelled to accept coming back to work with the students, teachers and staff here."

Rowe said her goal for the remainder of the school year was to keep the momentum Nelson started going.

"To the point that we don't let any gaps happen, and so that our students feel that we're there to support them, that's a big part of this, too," said Rowe.

There was a good turnout for Rowe's appointment, but it paled in comparison to the specially called meetings the week before where hundreds packed the board room - mostly to stand behind Nelson.

In his resignation letter to the district, Nelson said he decided to step down because he was concerned the debate over his future with the district would become divisive following his misdemeanor marijuana charge.

"I have to acknowledge that people disagree about what consequences I should face, and if this debate continues, I fear that it may end up dividing this community and distracting us from what should be our focus - the kids."

Nelson was arrested on March 6 after a traffic stop in Robertson County.

He was released the next day on his own recognizance after spending a night in jail.

He reached a plea deal with Robertson County prosecutors under the terms of which the drug possession charge will be dismissed if he completes a 90-day diversion program.

He will also pay a $500 fine.

The board also voted Thursday to hire the Texas Association of School Board’s Executive Search Services, the same company used to find and recruit Nelson, to begin looking for a permanent replacement.

"We've been very happy with the results, and because of the contract provisions the price was right," said Atkins.

As part of a warranty clause, the district won't have to pay fees for the TASB's search, only expenses, because Nelson fell short of the two-year benchmark outlined in the agreement.

Atkins feels the job will be attractive to applicants, in part, because of the level of community support in Waco, and he says student test scores are going in the right direction.

"I think there are a lot of things going well, separate and apart from Chip and Joanna and the Silos, and I think there's lots of good reasons why people will take a good, long, hard look at Waco," said Atkins.

In the meantime, Rowe takes the reins Monday morning.

"I"m coming, so get ready to work," said Rowe.

Rowe’s career started in Clearfield, Utah, where she taught reading to at-risk high school students and adults.

She went on to teach fourth graders at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and later at North Waco Elementary School.

She served as assistant principal and then principal of Waco’s Crestview Elementary School and then became the director of the district’s elementary operations.

She has also served as an assistant superintendent for campus operations and as associate superintendent for school improvement.

After ending her first stint as interim superintendent, she became associate executive director of the Region 12 Education Service Center in Waco, from which she retired in 2011.

After retirement, she continued to train current and future educators as an instructor in the doctoral program at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton and in the alternative teacher certification program at McLennan Community College in Waco.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Texas Southern University, a master’s degree in education from Tarleton State University and a doctorate in education from Texas A&M University.