After 20 years helming two school districts in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Superintendent Daniel King is now set to retire on Sept. 30.
King announced his retirement via a letter to the district’s trustees in executive session during a school board meeting Monday. He has held his current position since July 2007, and previously led the Hidalgo school district for eight years prior to coming to PSJA.
With 42 years of experience as an educator, King has working in various positions, from a teacher, principal and associate superintendent across different Valley school districts.
These last three months will be “to a certain extent, business as usual,” with budgeting and staff positions for the upcoming academic year, he said. With the three months notice, he said he hopes this time will give the board an opportunity to search for a successor with a “direct handoff” without going through an interim superintendent.
The 65-year-old educator has been contemplating leaving for the last two to three years but a motivation to find solutions kept him in his position, he said.
“I’m always looking for problems to solve, innovations, ways to do things different, change, mostly try to have a great impact on students,” King said. “There’s a part of me that’s always like, ‘OK, I gotta be there to see this through to the next point and the next point.’
“No one is indispensable, and it’s time for fresh eyes, it’s time for other people to step up. … I have every confidence that they’re going to continue going forward.”
The school board will consider a search firm in an upcoming board meeting, board president Jesse Zambrano said.
Zambrano said it will be challenging to find a replacement for King, but supports his decision.
“We truly appreciate the work Dr. King has done for the PSJA community,” Zambrano said in a news release. “Although there is still much work to be done, the programs and processes that have been set in motion over the last 12 years will have a long-lasting effect on PSJA ISD and the entire PSJA community for many years to come.”
The superintendent compared his departure similarly to a graduation, many of which he has attended over the years, King said.
“In this case, I think we are both graduating, as an educator … I watched thousands of students graduate every year. When your child graduates, you’re celebrating, but you’re also a little nervous, sometimes you’re a little sad, as they’re moving on to the next stage of life,” he said.
“PSJA is a strong district. It’s in good shape to move on,” King added. “I’m graduating as well. I think I’m in good shape to move to (wherever) else I can make a difference in this world, especially here in the Valley.”
After retirement, King said he wants to continue having a presence in assisting the community.
“I plan to stay engaged in some way in helping people, helping the community, helping schools as needed,” King said.
King received honors both nationally and on a state level for his school leadership. The American Association of School Administrators named him 2013 Texas Superintendent of the Year, according to the school website. He was also honored as the 2006 Superintendent of the Year for the Texas Association of School Boards, according to the school website.
During his time as a college student, King remembered a former educator who inspired him.
“I wanted to have that impact on other students, on other young people,” King said.
Initially, he did not always see himself in an administrative position, he said.
Teachers are “critical” in the education field, but as a principal, he saw the role the position played on impacting the whole school. As current superintendent, he sees the impact he made on the “whole system” and how the district became a model for others statewide, he said.
King earned his bachelor’s degree in 1976 and a Master of Education in 1977, both from Pan American University (now UTRGV). In 1996, he received his Ph.D in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Austin.
The soon-to-be-retired superintendent said the district has come a long way since his tenure.
During his tenure, on-time graduation rates increased while dropouts declined.
Spanish is celebrated through bilingual language programs in an area where it was historically discriminated against in schools, he said. Fine arts, career and technical education, and special education are other programs offered by a district “focused on all students,” he said.
Zachary Holzworth, president of PSJA’s chapter of Texas American Federation of Teachers, said he felt surprised by the superintendent’s planned departure but understood that King has worked as an educator for a long time. Holzworth said in his position as AFT president, King was “always … willing to meet” with his organization and lend an ear to their perspective.
“I personally and the PSJA AFT do wish him the best in retirement … he’ll now have time actually for himself because he’s always so busy working on behalf of the district,” Holzworth said.
King said he hopes his successor will take time to listen to others, hearing what the district is successful in and what should be improved.
“This has been an incredible experience for me, the students… the dedication of the teachers, the administrators, the board, and community and everyone. I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of help, support, responding to the challenge, can-do attitude,” King said. “As educators, we’re supposed to value lifelong learning, and I think I love learning, I love challenges and I just have to thank everyone.”