When Steve Flores was named the lone finalist to be the next superintendent of the Round Rock school district, more than 150 people packed the board room and gave him a standing ovation.
The district closed the deal on Thursday night, unanimously naming Flores, 48, the superintendent of the 46,000-student school district, the second largest in Central Texas. The 50 attendees rose to their feet in applause.
It will be a bit of a homecoming for Flores, who worked as an assistant superintendent in Round Rock in 2004 and 2005, as well as in the Pflugerville school district. He begins his new job Oct. 1, replacing Jesús Chávez, who announced his retirement in January. The board decided Thursday to keep Chávez as an adviser to the superintendent through the end of the year, when he’s retiring.
Flores will earn a base salary of $260,000 and his contract runs through June 30, 2017.
“Round Rock has been very good to me and my family,” Flores said, “and I want to be very good for Round Rock.”
In some ways, Flores is following in Chávez’s footsteps; Both men served as superintendent in Harlingen. Both men also are popular with their business communities and known in education circles for their leadership skills.
Flores will return to Round Rock with a track record for improving graduation rates for low-income and Hispanic students.
Since he took the helm in the Rio Grande Valley district of 18,500 students, graduation rates climbed from 69 percent in 2008 to 84 percent in 2012, the most recent year available.
Of those students, 83 percent of Hispanic students graduated and 84 percent of low-income students graduated. The district also graduated 88 percent of those students on the more rigorous recommended graduation plan.
By comparison, Round Rock also has a 94 percent graduation rate, but the district’s Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students lag behind: 89 percent of Round Rock’s Hispanic students graduated in 2012 and 87 percent of the district’s low-income students graduated that same year. Eighty-two percent graduated on the recommended plan.
Round Rock has received accolades in recent years, with three high schools named among the country’s best by Newsweek and 12 campuses named higher performing schools by the National Center for Educational Achievement.
Chavez’s administration has run smoothly, for the most part. In 2011, controversy over a standards-based grading system prompted Chavez to step in and tell campuses to abandon the grading scale. Boundary changes in 2012 also prompted outcry by a group of parents, and some questioned the $25 million price tag of an alternative high school program.
He leaves a board that has been fractured at times, but some trustees said choosing Flores brought their board together.
Trustees call him a consensus builder, a trait he’s known for in Harlingen.
“He may be the smartest person in the room but he asks what you can do to make something happen,” said Harlingen school board president George McShan, who has served on the board for 26 years. “He can make the decisions, but he won’t do it without getting input.”
Flores said the Harlingen district has put in place several strategies to lift graduation rates, but he plans to get input from the Round Rock school board, parents and the community before he puts any new plans in place.
“What I do want to focus on in Round Rock is the opportunity to listen, to learn and to lead,” Flores said. “Round Rock is a first class district in this state. I think we could make it a world class district. We can collectively.”