Dr. DeeAnn Powell will take the reins as Pasadena ISD superintendent on Feb. 1.
DeeAnn Durrett was a competitive kid, a source of high energy from her days as an elementary student in Pasadena ISD, on through Queens Intermediate and then Pasadena High School.
Memories of time spent on the playgrounds and basketball courts around Pasadena, recollections of those flashes of competitive spirit, come easily to her now.
Now she’s known to the community as Dr. DeeAnn Powell. And on Feb. 1 she’ll assume the role of superintendent of schools for the Pasadena ISD, one of the largest school districts in Texas.
She knows all too well the competition -- and the challenges -- are just beginning.
“I want Pasadena ISD to be the best school district,” she says, “one that is recognized for having the best educators, the best students, the best programs, the best initiatives and the best classroom instruction in the state.”
Dr. Rhonda Parmer, an associate superintendent for campus development in the district, says she’s confident that Dr. Powell will lead Pasadena ISD to those goals.
“I have faith that she’s going to bring us to heights we’ve never seen before,” Dr. Parmer says. “She’s reflective and proactive and her purpose is to create systems that are replicable. Best of all, she has a heart of gold for students.”
Dr. Powell says she never envisioned, early in her career as an educator, that she might one day rise to such a level of responsibility. In fact, she once doubted she would make it to her second year of teaching.
That career began in 1991 when she joined the Jackson Intermediate staff as a history teacher.
“One year in and I thought they may not even keep me around,” she recalls. “But the students challenged me, my peers challenged me and the administrators challenged me. After three years, I could see the impact I was making on kids and I knew I was going to make it.”
On Feb. 1, Dr. Powell will officially replace Dr. Kirk Lewis, Pasadena ISD’s superintendent since 2006. Dr. Lewis announced his retirement last spring. Dr. Powell was named his successor in early November by the Pasadena ISD Board of Trustees and has served as acting superintendent since Dec. 8.
Dr. Powell will make history the moment she takes the reins. She’ll become the first female superintendent in the history of Pasadena ISD and the first graduate of the district to hold the position.
After serving the past two years as a Pasadena ISD deputy superintendent, she’ll now supervise operations of the district’s 66 campuses and oversee educational opportunities for more than 56,000 students.
Dr. Powell comes from a family of educators. Her late father, Jerry, was a history teacher. Her sister, Kathy Harrington, has taught in Pasadena ISD classrooms for the past 27 years. Her father-in-law, Hollis Powell, was the founding principal at Atkinson Elementary. Her late mother-in-law, Carolyn Powell, taught elementary school in Pasadena ISD for 30 years.
Dr. Powell attended L.F. Smith and Williams elementary schools before moving on to Queens and then Pasadena High. She graduated from PHS in 1987 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology and history from Sam Houston State University. Later, she earned a master’s degree in educational management, and then a doctorate in educational leadership, from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“I played basketball in junior high, along with volleyball and I ran track,” she says. “I knew I had a competitive side, just not the talent for sports. I changed over in high school to focusing on drill team as part of the Eagle Escort.”
She aspired to be a family counselor, but discovered her passion for education when she began teaching.
“My plan was to teach for four years and go back for my master’s degree in psychology, but I fell in love with teaching and didn’t look back,” Dr. Powell says. “I thought if I could do this, then I could do anything.”
Her background in conflict resolution proved to be immediately beneficial. While juggling the typical demands of the classroom, she also experienced the challenge of keeping students in school while grappling with problems students faced outside the classroom.
“It was challenging as a young person out of college to teach at the intermediate level,” Dr. Powell says, “especially back then when teachers didn’t have the amount of resources available today.”
A talented teacher and a quick learner, she quickly moved into the administrative ranks at Jackson. She was named assistant principal in 1997 and principal in 2002. In 2005, she was named an associate superintendent of campus development for the district.
While at Jackson, she helped implement a strategy to encourage students to come to school focused on learning. Eighth-graders were split into smaller groups and core subject teachers were assigned to each group.
Adrian Castro, a former Jackson student who now teaches math and coaches at Queens, says he was fortunate to have Dr. Powell involved with his group.
“Gangs were such a big issue that not every eighth-grade student made it to the ninth grade,” says Castro, referring to the high drop-out rate. “But she made us want to come to school and be successful. She consistently greeted us at the door and talked with us about making good choices. We were treated like family.”
Castro says he was delighted to learn of Dr. Powell’s appointment as superintendent.
“I just know that if the passion is still burning like when she first started teaching,” he says, “she is definitely going to lead the district in the right direction.”
Robert Worthy, Dr. Powell’s principal when she was an administrator at Jackson, recalls her passion for working with children and her professionalism.
“I remember being blown away by how talented and determined she was at such a young age,” he says.
Dr. Troy McCarley, who worked alongside Dr. Powell as an assistant principal at Jackson and later as the two moved up the ranks as district administrators, says he has always admired her sense of humor, her ability to keep calm in stressful situations and her unwavering commitment to serving children.
“She’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of girl,” says Dr. McCarley, now an associate superintendent for campus development. “She also knows how to tell a story in the best way possible.”
Dr. McCarley recalls the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In the midst of the devastation, he says, Dr. Powell stayed focused on keeping students and staff safe and calm.
“We did not know what was happening in the world, but our main concern was the safety of the students,” Dr. McCarley says. “Parents came to the school to pick up their children and throughout this entire day of unknown, Dr. Powell kept her composure and we worked together to keep the students of Jackson safe.”
As her tenure as Jackson’s administrator, the school enjoyed a boost in standardized test scores -- and transitioned from a low-performing designation to being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2003.
“People from all over the state would travel to Jackson to see what our school was doing,” Dr. Powell recalls.
She was named Pasadena ISD’s principal of the year in 2003 – a well-deserved achievement, says Paula Sword, Jackson’s current principal and a former member of Dr. Powell’s faculty at the school.
“When I came to Jackson, I was not looking to get into administration,” Sword says. “But when I saw Dr. Powell in an administrative role and everything she accomplished, it inspired me to follow in her footsteps.”
While Jackson’s principal, Dr. Powell received the Sunshine Award from Channel 2 News, presented to educators who have made a difference in children’s lives.
“Dr. Powell had no idea what was going on at the time,” Sword says of Channel 2’s surprise visit to Jackson. “She was summoned to the football field over the radio. She rushed to the field, thinking a child was in trouble. Little did she know, Channel 2 was flying in on a helicopter to present the award. The look on her face was priceless.”
“It was,” Dr. Powell remembers, “hysterical.”
Off the clock
Twelve-hour workdays, weekly campus visits, bumper-to-bumper meetings, mountains of paperwork – Dr. Powell quickly learned that working as a district administrator would require around-the clock attention.
Her getaway, she admits, is the mall.
“She’s a power shopper,” Dr. Parmer says. “She knows her style. When she is at a store shopping for clothes, she does not browse. She sees what she wants and gets it.”
But Dr. Powell says she is the most at ease when she’s with family.
She is married to Lance Powell, a detective with the Pasadena Police Department. Together, they have four children: Andrew, who attends the U.S. Naval Academy; Mason, a Texas A&M student; Dawson, an eleventh grade football player; and Caitlyn, a freshman involved in theater and debate.
“My family motivates me to do well,” she says. “I am the type of person who goes home thinking about her job. But my husband and my children continue to be supportive of me. They are my backbone.”
The couple has learned to balance their busy schedules.
“We know what each other’s schedules are in advance,” Lance Powell says. “I pick up where she leaves off. We’re very flexible, but we definitely enjoy our occasional weekends off.”
When her husband learned that she had been named superintendent, he was not surprised.
“With anything she puts her mind to, she will be successful,” he says.
“From students, to staff, administrators and community members, we are all family,” Dr. Powell says of Pasadena ISD.
She has already taken on several detailed projects, including making a reassessment of the district’s teacher appraisal system. She’s also jumped into the process of pressing a district budget for the 2016-17 school year.
“Dr. Powell will need all of our support working through a very difficult budget year,” says Dr. Karen Hickman, deputy superintendent for the district.
As acting superintendent, she conferred with district stakeholders to outline major goals, all centered on the district’s recently approved five-year strategic plan.
“We conducted research and collaborated with district staff and the school board to establish the most effective plan that will ensure students and staff receive the best that Pasadena ISD has to offer,” Dr. Powell says. “I was part of the planning process and I want to see it come to fruition.”
Improving academic achievement on standardized tests is part of her vision.
“We’ve got work to do,” she says. “There are areas where we are at, or above, the state as far as the STAAR results are concerned, but there are still areas that need improvement.”
Dr. Powell says she plans to keep an open mind and an open door when it comes to finding ways to improve the district and meet the growing demands of education.
And her competitive spirit? She says she plans to make full use of it.
“I am truly excited to have the opportunity to be superintendent,” Dr. Powell says. “I’m ready to pull up my boots and get started.”
Dr. Powell participates in her first board meeting as acting superintendent. On Feb, 1, she will officially assume the role of Pasadena ISD superintendent.
The Pasadena ISD Board of Trustees approve employment contract for Dr. Powell during special called board meeting.