Seasoned education leader Katrise Perera will replace Jim Schlachter as superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District.
She was recently chosen by the district's Board of Directors to take over from Schlachter, who is retiring.
"She brings a lot to the district," said Kris Howatt, board member and head of the superintendent search committee. "In her last superintendent job, she improved student achievement and in just four years brought the graduation rate up from 41st to 14th in the state."
Her focus is on all the children," Howatt added. "Our demographics have changed over the years, and we need to meet that challenge."
After her introduction at the May 4 Gresham-Barlow School Board meeting, Perera said, "This district is known across the state for delivering quality education to students. I am extremely honored to be here."
Perera was up against 58 other candidates to lead the state's 10th largest school district. "We couldn't have gone wrong," said John Hartsock, school board member, of the strong pool of candidates.
Most recently Perera was an educational consultant in the Houston area and the national director of the urban markets division for textbook publisher McGraw Hill Education. Prior to that, she was superintendent for the Isle of Wight County Schools in Smithfield, Va., for four years and was named 2015 Superintendent of the Year by the National Association of School Superintendents during her time there. Before that, she was an area superintendent at Houston Independent School District, the nation's seventh largest, with more than 200,000 students.
Perera has been a top candidate for several other superintendent jobs recently, including positions in Huntsville, Ala., Bridgeport, Conn., and Bellevue, Wash.
In the Huntsville application process, school board members received anonymous and unsubstantiated reports that Perera plagiarized parts of her job application, a charge she denied to local media outlets.
Howatt said the Gresham-Barlow board was aware of these allegations. "They are serious, but we found out that there was nothing behind it. We are comfortable, because it's not true."
Perera introduced herself to Gresham as a "Louisiana bayou girl." The mother of 20 year-old twins said, "Because I am a mother, I think I am a better educator."
She earned her doctorate in education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, took graduate classes at Virginia Commonwealth University and earned a master's degree from Mary Baldwin University. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
The new superintendent comes in just as district is beginning the many school construction projects that paid for by the $291.2 million bond voters passed in November. The school district, like others around the state, also is facing budget constraints.
Perera is currently looking for a home in the Gresham area.
Schlachter announced in December 2016 that he would retire June 30. He served as Gresham-Barlow superintendent for seven years and worked in the district for 20 years. Before becoming superintendent, he served as as assistant superintendent and was responsible for guiding the district's learning initiatives and overseeing its five middle schools and three high schools.
Schlachter's career in education included serving as principal and assistant principal, including as an adjunct professor at Concordia University-Portland, and teaching science at the middle and high school levels.