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Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District trustees unanimously voted to approve new superintendent Douglas Killian’s contract Thursday, concluding a large leadership shake-up in the Houston area’s second-largest district.

The board’s approval of Killian, the current superintendent of Pflugerville Independent School District near Austin, is one of the first major decisions it has made since voters ushered in three new Republican-backed trustees last month. A strong majority of conservative trustees now fill the seven-member board.

Killian will take the helm of the 117,000-student district after former superintendent Mark Henry retires Dec. 31. Henry led Cy-Fair for 12 years.

The vote marks a harmonious end to an unusual superintendent search.

Cy-Fair board members named Killian as the lone finalist for the position in late November, two weeks before the three new board members officially replaced more-moderate trustees on the board. The timing of the search prompted uncertainty from some community members, who were nervous that the election would bring an ideological shift to the board and new trustees wouldn’t agree with a superintendent finalist chosen before their terms began.

However, the new trustees were allowed to participate in the tail end of the hiring process following the election. They have publicly supported Killian’s selection.

“I am overjoyed, proud and honored to be part of such a great district, and looking forward to serving the community and just getting to know everybody and doing the best I possibly can to make the school district continue to do great,” Killian told the Abdelraoufsinno.

New Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District superintendent Douglas Killian speaks about his approval for the role Thursday in Cypress. (Marie D. De Jesús / Abdelraoufsinno)

Trustees did not discuss Killian’s approval at length Thursday, but board members have spoken highly of him. In a mid-November social media post, Trustee Christine Kalmbach said she was thrilled about Killian’s selection and believes the board will work well with him.

Board members did not discuss terms of Killian’s contract Thursday. Henry earned the highest salary in the state — $521,000 — as of October 2022, according to data published by the Texas Education Agency.

Killian has spent 20 years as a superintendent, including six years leading Pflugerville. The roughly 25,000-student district has kept a consistent B grade under the state’s A-through-F academic accountability rating system in recent years. Killian was one of five finalists for the Texas Association of School Boards’ Superintendent of the Year award in 2022.

In Pflugerville, Killian advocated for more state funding and blamed the district’s financial challenges on the Texas Legislature. Killian proposed closing several Pflugerville campuses last school year, though families successfully pushed him to backtrack. Residents of Pflugerville voted in November to raise the district’s tax rate to fund staff raises.

David Mahon, the parent of a Cy-Fair high schooler, said he’s approaching Killian’s leadership with a “wait and see” attitude. A supporter of the more-moderate trustees who ran in November, Mahon began coming to school board meetings in the lead-up to last month’s tense election.

“Every district is different. Everybody's funding issues are different, how he's gonna react, the decisions he’s gonna make,” Mahon said. “But he comes from a small district where his answer to funding issues was school closures.”

Cy-Fair has generally been led from a politically moderate position, but the recent change in leadership could change the board’s priorities. Six board members have embraced ideas generally supported by Republicans and more-conservative education advocates.

The shift has stoked fear among some residents and staff that the district — which received an A accountability rating in 2022 — will get involved in hot-button political issues like book bans and gender identity policies. The board’s supporters believe it’s long overdue that trustees start leading from the right side of the political aisle. Several trustees campaigned in the past few years on a “back-to-basics” approach to education and keeping topics like race, gender and sexuality out of schools.

Killian said the board looks like it will be a “great team,” and trustees have the “right focus.”

The board also selected Trustee Scott Henry, who was elected in 2021, as the board president. Before the vote, several community members urged trustees to nominate Julie Hinaman — the lone remaining trustee with support from local Democrats and a grassroots community group, Cypress Families for Public Schools.

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A native Michigander, Miranda studied political science pre-law and journalism at Michigan State University....