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Irving Superintendent Finalist Hailed For Small Town Appeal, Big Picture Approach

Irving ISD
Jose Parra is the lone finalist for Irving superintendent. Irving school board members will vote in December to appoint him.

The Irving school board is expected to hire a new superintendent next month. The lone finalist is Jose Parra, the superintendent of Lockhart ISD, a much smaller Central Texas school district south of Austin.

Lockhart Superintendent Jose Parra begins each day at a different school. Before even heading to his office, he’s on a campus greeting teachers by their first names and talking with students.

That works well in a district with 4,700 kids. But Irving’s got nearly 35,000. Still, board president Steven Jones says Parra told him Irving’s got the feeling of a small town.

“We didn’t want to lose that,” Jones says. “We interviewed people from larger districts than Irving but we like the hometown feel. We like the small town feel and the student focus…that is an advantage in my mind for Dr. Parra coming from the smaller district to the larger district.”

Parra comes into a district that’s had some turmoil the past few years. His predecessor, Dana Bedden, resigned in July and took a buyout after friction with the school board. He’d been with the district three years.

Parra’s not talking to the media until his contract’s approved. He’s a native of New Braunfels who’s first language was Spanish, Jones says. Having six older siblings in the school system helped him learn English. Bedden says that makes him a good candidate for the Irving schools job because he understands the importance of learning English quickly. He also points to Parra’s attention to individual students.

“Many times districts will focus on sub populations of students based on race or something like that. Dr. Parra doesn’t see kids in groups like that. He sees them all individually,” Jones says. “And that’s how he goes to work at raising student achievement and raising graduation rates is focusing on each child.”

Lockhart school board president Rick Womble touts Parra’s communication and team building skills.

“You can look at our test scores and see the improvement,” Womble says. “You can look at the graduation rate and see the improvement. And that’s all across our district.”

State education data show Lockhart schools have indeed seen improvement under Parra’s tenure. The graduation rate when he started there, for example, was almost 74 percent. It rose to nearly 94 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, the most recent report available.

Parra is in his sixth year at Lockhart. News of his impending departure has hit some there pretty hard. Jones said one principal cried when she learned he’d been picked for the Irving job. Womble says he’s easy to get know and talk with regardless of the topic.

“The thing that impresses me about Dr. Parra is his ability to stay big picture. Because sometimes regardless of what type of organization you’re leading, it can be a real challenge to stay out of the details and to continue to focus on those big picture items,” Womble says.

Irving residents may get a chance to meet Parra when he attends a special meeting on Dec. 12. That’s when board members will decide whether to make his new job official.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.