Navarro ISD officially hired its new superintendent.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, trustees approved hiring Pecos Barstow Toyah’s interim superintendent as Navarro’s incoming superintendent. Wendi Russell was chosen to lead the district following the departure of Superintendent Dee Carter in the coming weeks.
“I am excited to be there, I’m excited to be a Navarro Panther,” Russell said Friday. “I’m looking forward to helping the community grow. It’s a fast-growth district.“
In April, the board of trustees named Russell, a 30-year veteran educator, as the lone finalist for the job. Both sides waited 21 days before the offer could be made official.
Trustees liked what they saw during interviews and hired Russell after much consideration, Board President Greg Gilcrease said.
“Each board member had a lot of different questions we asked all the candidates,” he said. “As she answered questions, we thought wow she’s going to be a very good fit for us and she has the energy to put the time in to kind of put us over the top.”
Navarro ISD board members hope to see the district grow by leaps in bounds academically right along with the expected population growth, Gilcrease said. They think the district is already really good but could be much better, he said.
Russell will be tasked with making noticeable improvements.
“Really we expect to start progressing even more than where we’re at,” Gilcrease said. “We feel like we’re a good district but we’d like to be a great district. We felt like with her energy and knowledge, she’s going to be able to take us to that next level.”
Carter is retiring after this month. Russell is scheduled to begin work May 28, she said.
The incoming superintendent said she is prepared for the challenges ahead and she hopes to live up to the goals the board has rested on her shoulders. She likes the path the district currently is on and doesn’t plan on coming in and making any drastic changes to what she called premiere district, Russell said.
“They set high expectations for all students. They have a culture of learning I don’t want to change,” she said. “If we’re able to expand on it, it will be to find more opportunities for all students involved, whether it be through extracurricular activities for students or Career and Technology courses, looking at possibly expanding dual credit courses. Maybe we can partner with some universities but not changing anything.”
Russell said she plans to finish the school year at her current district and then move to this area. She has found a home and hopes to close on it within a couple weeks, which will give her time to get moved in and hit the ground running on her first day at work in Navarro, she said.
Once she arrives, she plans to start out by getting to know the lay of the land, meeting members of the community and building valuable relationships, Russell said.
The projected growth of the area means the district could be in line to go to voters with a bond for improvements and expansion, Gilcrease said. Russell could have to take the lead on such efforts, he said.
He sees her as the right person to do so and to improve on Navarro’s standing as one of the better districts around, Gilcrease said.
Russell’s entrance as superintendent is a far cry from what Carter inherited when she took the job, he said.
“We were in debt. We had problems keeping staff. We had problems hiring good staff,” Gilcrease said. “Dee came in and kind of righted the ship.
“Now that we’ve kind of gotten things cleaned up and headed in the right direction and are thought of as a very good school district, we’d like to be thought of as a very great school district and be the one people turn to and say we want to be like them.”