Eagle Mountain-Saginaw superintendent suddenly retires

FORT WORTH -- Eagle Mountain-Saginaw schools Superintendent Cole Pugh unexpectedly retired Monday night after overseeing the fast-growing district for four years.

Board President Dick Elkins read a statement at a board meeting saying Pugh and trustees agreed that his leaving would be in the best interest of all.

"The board extends its best wishes to Pugh in his future endeavors," Elkins read from the statement.

Pugh, 60, declined to comment about his departure. The board did not appoint an interim superintendent.

Since January, Pugh had been a candidate for at least four other superintendent posts, including in Lincoln, Neb., the Little Rock area and in Louisiana.

Former Trustee Ed Willkie, who was board president when Pugh was hired, said he was shocked to learn that Pugh was leaving. "He's a good man," Willkie said. "He's brought the grades up and brought great recognition to our district. He's done everything we asked of him."

The district is expected to receive the state's second-highest rating of "recognized" this summer for the first time in several years, officials said. The ratings are largely based on how well students do on state tests.

Five campuses had been rated recognized when Pugh came to the district in 2006. Officials expect 17 of the 21 district schools to be rated recognized or to receive the top rating of exemplary.

The district has increased by about 4,000 students to more than 16,000 during Pugh's tenure. Pugh oversaw the passage of a $394 million bond program in 2008 that included two new elementary schools, a middle school, a career and technology center, and a high school. The district was recognized by the Texas comptroller's office as a high-performing district with low operating costs. It is the only school district entirely in Tarrant County that is below the state tax cap of $1.04 per $100 of assessed property value.

Pugh also focused on better communication by creating employee and community advisory councils, such as the Student Attendance Boundary Advisory Task Force Committee, officials said.

Pugh began his career as a teacher and coach in East Texas in 1973. He has been superintendent in six school districts, including San Angelo.

"It's disappointing that the board and superintendent cannot work out their differences," resident Patrick Farr said. "He did a fantastic job." Farr ran unsuccessfully for the school board in spring 2009 and 2010.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700