January 17, 2012

Dansby is lone finalist for Fort Worth school superintendent

Career educator Walter Dansby grew up in Fort Worth's Stop Six neighborhood and started work with the district as a teacher-coach in 1974.

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FORT WORTH -- School trustees unanimously named career Fort Worth educator Walter Dansby as the lone finalist for school superintendent Tuesday.

Dansby, who grew up in Stop Six and started work with the district as a teacher-coach in 1974, has been interim superintendent since June, when he took over after Melody Johnson resigned.

There was no discussion of salary or other details of his contract. By law, the school board must wait 21 days before the selection can be made final and a contract approved.

Dansby, 61, is the first African-American chosen for the top Fort Worth school post.

"I pride myself on being African-American, but that's not the qualifying thing about me," Dansby said.

"It's what I stand for. It's not what I say. It's what I do. I leave that up to you to judge moving forward."

Trustee Judy Needham said she will hold Dansby to his aim of turning the district around academically in one year and will work with him toward that goal.

"There are many things that are going to happen, and we are a new team," Needham said.

Of the largest districts in Texas, Fort Worth has the highest percentage of schools not meeting federal and state academic standards.

Twenty-two schools are rated academically unacceptable by the state.

Trustees conducted a national search for a superintendent and received about 30 applications. They interviewed six candidates this month.

Trustee Norm Robbins said the search was going smoothly until last week, when one of the two final candidates could not make the second round of interviews because of a previous commitment to attend a meeting in Washington.

Robbins said the board should have rescheduled the interview or brought in another candidate so that the process would be truly competitive.

"I thought that made our process less than it could have been," he said, adding that he will work with Dansby.

Trustee Carlos Vasquez, Dansby's most vocal supporter on the board, said he kept an open mind throughout the interviews.

"After seeing what's out there, we really have the best right here," Vasquez said.

An optimistic goal

Dansby began his career in Fort Worth in 1974 at Rosemont Middle School as a teacher and coach. He later coached at Southwest and Paschal high schools and served as an assistant principal at Paschal.

After becoming principal of O.D. Wyatt High School, Dansby twice turned down a central administration job.

When he did accept a position as an area director of instruction in 1995, parents and students circulated a petition to keep him at the southeast Fort Worth school.

He became deputy superintendent in 2001.

Dansby said the superintendent's job is the only one he has applied for since he first joined the district.

Among the challenges facing the 83,000-student district are dwindling state funds, changing accountability standards and an often contentious school board.

Dansby said he has already begun work on addressing financial and academic needs.

He will meet with administrators Saturday to review a recent audit of a $13 million staffing mistake and to discuss how to change the process.

Turning the district around in one year is an optimistic goal, he said, but everyone must work toward it.

"There's no reason why, working together, we can't change the conditions of our children," he said.

Dansby's current salary is about $270,000.

Johnson had been one of the state's highest-paid superintendents, with a salary of $328,950 and annual performance bonuses that paid for credits in the Teacher Retirement System of Texas worth $45,185.40 a year.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

Twitter: @fwstayala

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