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Denton ISD names first woman as superintendent finalist, and she’s an alumna

 Denton ISD's J.W. "Bill" Giese Professional Support Services Building
DRC file photo
Denton ISD's J.W. "Bill" Giese Professional Support Services Building.

Jamie Wilson, the current superintendent, announced his retirement on June 18. The school board named Susannah O’Bara the acting superintendent at Wilson’s retirement announcement.

Susannah O’Bara
Denton Record-Chronicle
Susannah O’Bara

Wilson will serve as the emeritus superintendent through Jan. 31, 2025.

O’Bara is a lifelong Denton resident. She comes to the position with more than 20 years of experience in public education. She went to Borman Elementary School and what was then Calhoun Junior High School (now Calhoun Middle School). She graduated as a Denton High Bronco when the campus was located on Fulton Street.

She built her career in Denton ISD.

As the assistant superintendent of academic programs for three years, she oversaw the academic programs and operations at all 43 of the district’s campuses. She also collaborated with district and campus leaders to refocus and energize efforts ensuring all Denton ISD graduates are prepared for college and careers. She also developed Denton ISD’s leadership profile, which serves to identify and build on various traits the district seeks in members of its leadership team.

More recently, O’Bara helped design and establish a vision for new elementary schools built in the district and for its fifth high school, which will be built in Cross Roads as a result of the 2023 bond referendum.

O’Bara is a sought-after assessment consultant in the region, and she has worked in a number of states to develop and implement assessment practices that aim to build hope and achievement on campuses. School board President Barbara Burns said some might worry that O’Bara has spent her career in Denton ISD, but Burns said she has watched O’Bara lead educators all over the state and across the country in key areas of public school administration.

“Susannah’s heart is here,” Burns said. “It has always been here, and even though all of her experience has been in Denton, she has been a consultant all over the country. She brings ideas. When she has been in an administrative role, she has brought in those ideas and made huge improvements, because her biggest concern has been student outcomes.”

Before her tenure as assistant superintendent of academic programs, O’Bara served as area superintendent of the Guyer High School zone for four years. She expanded her skill set there, too, supervising the zone’s health services and fine arts departments. Before that, O’Bara served as the principal of Hawk Elementary School from 2006 to 2015. She was a finalist for the Texas National Distinguished Principal Award in 2013.

School board member Charles Stafford said some leaders might have expected O’Bara to coast a little as the principal at Hawk, which was a campus of students from higher-income students and parents who were invested.

“But even then, she was at Hawk, grinding it out, because she knew things could be even better,” he said. “That’s who she is.”

O’Bara received her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of North Texas and her master’s degree in educational leadership from Texas Woman’s University. She completed her doctoral studies at UNT in 2023.

O’Bara said her years with the district have given her an edge to take the reins in a system with bounding growth and historic neighborhood expansions.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see part of our district grow and then settle, and then the next area grows,” she said. “So I think, for example, as our Braswell zone continues to grow, I said to my team, ‘We’ve done this before.’ We did this when we grew to the south, in the southern part of our district in the Lantana area. We grew rapidly. We rezoned frequently. Those changes are difficult. You’re welcoming people to your community who don’t know the history of your community. So, I’ve experienced what we’re experiencing on U.S. 380 before. I think there’s every reason to believe we’re going to experience this north of Denton out toward north of C.H. Collins [Athletic Complex], as well as in our Cole-Hunter [Ranch] area as that grows. We’re going to keep replicating this process. I think we made some things, like our rezoning process, more efficient.”

O’Bara said she see a future for the district that builds on tradition but prepares students for an economy that will move fast and demand creative thinking.

“I say a lot that we are a people-first system,” she said. “We have a lot of expectations for high performance. We have a lot to accomplish.”