Manassas schools system eyes changes, names superintendent

June 25, 2012

As Catherine Magouyrk packs her things in a suburb outside Atlanta, many eyes are on Manassas’s new school superintendent.

The small city’s leaders and parents have focused anew on schools, and the School Board and City Council have promised to increase graduation rates and test scores to better compete with their Northern Virginia counterparts.

Magouyrk, 58, has spent her entire career in schools in the sprawling suburbs outside Atlanta. Since 1979, she has been a teacher and administrator, most recently serving as an associate superintendent in Douglas County, Ga.

After completing a nationwide search, Manassas announced last week that Magouyrk will replace School Superintendent Gail Pope, who is retiring next week. The School Board considered more than two dozen applicants from nine states, according to a news release.

“She is collaborative, an effective communicator and, most importantly, she has consistently demonstrated an ability to increase student achievement for all students,” School Board Chairman Scott M. Albrecht said of Magouyrk in a statement.

Magouyrk said she worked in a similar-size school district in Marietta, Ga., and enjoyed the opportunity to build strong relationships in smaller settings.

“You build strong relationships with your staff and community,” Magouyrk said in a telephone interview.

She said that leaving Georgia is bittersweet and that she wants to be close to her family in Virginia. “It was time for us to move and get closer to family,” she said.

She’ll have plenty of expectations when she arrives. May’s election brought change on the School Board, and new members hope to push for big improvements.

Newcomer Ilka V. Chavez took 17.2 percent of the vote, the most of any candidate. She and fellow challenger Ellen M. Purdy knocked off incumbents Kermit Holmes Dance and R.J. “Jack” McGee among seven candidates for four spots. Albrecht and member Arthur P. Bushnell retained their seats.

Many are watching Manassas’s graduation rate. Douglas County had a graduation rate of 71 percent in the 2011 school year, according to state data. The graduation rate in Manassas is 77 percent.

Magouyrk said that although she knows many are focused on the numbers, graduation rates in a diverse community can often be tricky. The most important metric, she said, is to measure each individual student and to ensure that the student achieves all she or he can.

The graduation rate “is very important, but what’s equally important is we give them the academic programs so they can achieve,” she said. “It’s what happens in the classroom and who we hire that leads that classroom.”

Magouyrk said she enjoys working in a diverse school system “because it mirrors society . . . it’s what public schools are all about.”

In Manassas, 54 percent of 7,154 students qualify for meal subsidies and 41 percent have limited English proficiency.

Magouyrk said she has no specific plans for Manassas schools yet.

“What’s going to be very, very important is I make myself accessible to the community, to the students and to the teachers,” she said. “I plan to do a lot of listening and observing.”

Her first day will be July 2.

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