Fagen assumes role of Humble ISD superintendent


Dr. Liz Fagen. Photo credit Humble ISD.

Emily Humble, Web Editor

Elizabeth Fagen sat at the head of a meeting table in the Humble ISD administration building in mid-July, a venti cup of Starbucks by her side and a pink Apple watch with a white band on her left wrist.

The newly appointed Humble ISD superintendent was  animated and energetic but appeared tired — not unexpected for someone who has just moved across the country with two young kids only to meet a wave of opposition.

Fagen was chosen in May by the Humble ISD school board to replace former superintendent of Guy Sconzo, who has retired.

Fagen has been the superintendent of various large school districts for nearly a decade, including Tucson Unified School District beginning in 2008 and Douglas County School District in Colorado beginning in 2010. In Douglas County, some parents publicly rejoiced when they learned she would be leaving the district.

The announcement that Fagen had been chosen to run Humble ISD inspired protest and petition among parents in the district. On Facebook, parents criticized in the comments sections of official posts from Humble ISD and Douglas County. KHOU also reported on the outcry only days after the board’s decision was announced.

“It was never the students who cared,” junior Kyle Neel said, about the community’s reacting to Fagen’s appointment. Neel’s mom, Michelle Neel, has been teaching in Humble ISD for roughly 10 years and currently teaches junior-level English at K-Park.

“It was always the parents and the teachers and the staff of the school and all that,” he said. “Students go to school, want to get an education, then want to leave.”

Some Humble ISD parents, on the other hand, have been extremely vocal in their dislike of Fagen as the choice for superintendent.

One week after the board’s announcement, parents lined the road outside of the Humble ISD Administration Building in protest.. The parents held signs reading phrases such as “Fire the Humble school board” and “Who hired Fagen??? Follow the money.”

On June 8, the school board held a special meeting to address the community’s concerns about Fagen and answer questions, and again parents protested outside the building. An online petition asking for the board not to hire Fagen has been signed by over 2,000 people.

We firmly believe this is not in the best interest for our children’s education and future,” reads the letter attached to the petition, started by Humble ISD parent Vanessa Fuentes. “Her recent track record as the superintendent in Douglas County does not give us the reassurance that this is the best decision for our children.”

The primary cause of the protesting has been some of the controversial programs introduced to Douglas County School District in Colorado, where Fagen was superintendent for six years before coming to Humble ISD. In 2011, The Supreme Court of Colorado ruled that a voucher program that would allow the district to use taxpayer money to send children to private schools was unconstitutional.

As reported by the Denver Post, teacher turnover rates in Douglas County also increased during the time Fagen was superintendent. In March, only a month before it was announced that Fagen would be taking the Humble ISD job, Douglas County high school students walked out of their classes to protest the number  of teachers leaving their jobs at their school. Community members there believe teachers left due to  the lack of support within the school administration for the teacher’s union, as well as the implementation of a widely disliked teacher evaluation system.

However, in an interview in July, Fagen implied that not all the blame should fall on her for some of the decisions made in Douglas County.

[As a] superintendent, you’re the face of the district,” she said. “And board members come once a month for a meeting, right. And I think sometimes people maybe just don’t understand the way that that all works, and so a lot of the ire against a political position or a philosophical position is placed on the superintendent.”

Fagen said that she did not then have plans to make any changes in Humble ISD. The way she works as a superintendent, she said, is not to come in with plans to make big changes.

A good leader should not come into a new situation with ideas already formed, said Fagen, noting that her method is to learn all she can about the thing she in in charge of, and then make decisions based on what she thinks is best for the specific situation.

“I don’t come to the table saying ‘the best thing in the world is blue walls, we’re painting all the walls blue.’ No. I didn’t appreciate that as a teacher, or as a principal,”Fagen said. “I didn’t think it was the right way to lead then, and I still don’t believe it is.”

Some changes have already been enacted in Humble ISD since Fagen has become the superintendent, including certification as  as a District of Innovation. However, the plan had been in the works well before Fagen accepted the job in Humble ISD.

District of Innovation certification allows local districts to control their districts pretty much as they please, as long as they are meeting certain academic and administrative standards. Fagen said. The only reason Humble ISD decided to pursue District of Innovation status was to continue to be able to have late start and early release days on Thursdays, according to Fagen.

Fagen knew that with the controversy around her parents were going to be suspicious of the District of Innovation certification, especially due to its vague title.

“They’re going to think it’s a smoking gun,” Fagen said. “As superintendents, we’re always going to do what’s best for the district, for the students and the staff, even if it’s inconvenient, or the name is problematic, and in this scenario that’s just what it is.”

K-Park calculus teacher Jim Dang has not as of yet noticed any changes in the school district this school year. Dang is is the K-Park campus representative for the Association of Teachers and Professional Educators — a statewide education-workers organization — the closest thing that Humble ISD has to a union.

“I have not seen any changes at all,” he said. “Our administration team is doing a fantastic job doing what they have to do to ensure the safety and welfare of our students.”

The ATPE community at K-Park, which includes an estimated 50 teachers, is supportive of the board’s decision to hire Fagen, Dang said.

“I cannot speak for others, but I do think we need to allow her to settle in before anyone makes a decision,” he said. “Sure, there were plenty of concerns from others, but once she has settled in at her position, most of the comments were positive.”

Most students will only become concerned if unwelcome changes begin to personally affect their lives, Neel said, and as of yet nothing like that has occurred.

“I’m not anxious,” Neel said.  “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to give it a chance before you judge it. Because you don’t know how well or how terrible she’s gonna do.”