D.C. Public Schools officially welcomed Diana Parente as its new athletic director Monday, ending a nearly year-long search for a permanent replacement to lead the city’s interscholastic athletic department.
Parente spent the past four years as a top deputy in the New York City Public Schools Athletic League and assumes control of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association at a time when it is still dealing with the aftermath of recent controversies related to financial mismanagement and student-athlete eligibility.
“I know the person who takes on this position needs to know what they’re doing,” Parente said in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday afternoon. “I wouldn’t want to take on this job if I couldn’t do it.”
Parente, 33, is the daughter of longtime New York Jets senior vice president Bob Parente and served as the Title IX coordinator in New York’s PSAL since 2012. She was later promoted to deputy director of the organization. The Syracuse graduate began her career as a social studies teacher and soccer coach at a New York City high school.
Parente said her signature achievement working with the PSAL involved eliminating the gender participation gap in New York City through the introduction of new sports such as badminton, double dutch and cricket. DCPS implemented similar measures in recent years by instituting sports such as bowling and flag football following a Title IX complaint three years ago prompted by the large disparity in boys and girls participating in interscholastic athletics.
Parente’s role also included overseeing the PSAL’s $34 million operating budget, revamping eligibility standards, launching a new website and developing leadership councils with administrators across the system, among other endeavors.
PSAL Executive Director Donald Douglas could not immediately be reached to comment.
Parente will head a department that oversees athletics at all of the District’s public elementary, middle and high schools in a school system with a total enrollment of nearly 49,000 students, according to the DCPS website.
“I was raised in sports,” she said. “I’m really going to draw heavily on those [previous] experiences to help me navigate it when I see it in DCPS.”
The Long Island native applied to become DCPS athletic director just a few months after giving birth to her first son when her husband noticed a job posting online. Within 15 minutes of her sending in her materials, DCPS called to set up an interview.
She went through an initial interview in late June with a panel of selected athletic directors, coaches and parents and then met with various DCPS administrators, including outgoing chancellor Kaya Henderson and interim chancellor John Davis, in two subsequent interviews this summer.
DCPS also spent $66,500 to hire Illinois-based executive search firm Witt/Kieffer as a consultant during the hiring process, according to documents provided to The Washington Post through an open-records request.
Parente takes over the DCIAA at a tenuous juncture. Her predecessor, Stephanie Evans, resigned last December in the midst of a city review of the league’s finances that revealed gross mismanagement during her four-year tenure. The City Council is also considering legislation that would overhaul the governance of interscholastic sports within the city and address whether the DCIAA or the D.C. State Athletic Association will determine student-athlete eligibility going forward.
This fall, meanwhile, Theodore Roosevelt’s football team is embroiled in an alleged sexual assault investigation and Coolidge already fired its football coach. Former Coolidge boys’ basketball Coach Vaughn Jones has also filed suit against DCPS for wrongful termination.
Reginald Ballard had been serving as DCPS interim athletic director since Evans went on maternity leave following the 2014-15 school year.
Parente noted the biggest consistent concerns she heard during the hiring process related to community relations and budget implementation.
“For the first three months, it’s a listening and learning tour and getting to know all the players and understanding the district, Parente said. “Then, once that’s established, coming up with some sort of vision to address what these are.”
Her first day was like a lot of first days on the job. She got a key card to the building, set up her new email address and went the wrong way off the elevator. She only moved to the District on Friday and hadn’t even met her new staff yet.
But the self-described “tomboy” eventually sat down at a computer downtown and her first decision was a simple one. She decided to attend the football game between Dunbar and McKinley on Friday.
“I wanted to see when I could get myself out to games because that’s the best part of my job,” Parente said.