New superintendent hired in Harris County

The Harris County Board of Education conducts a called meeting June 28, 2018.
The Harris County Board of Education conducts a called meeting June 28, 2018. mrice@ledger-enquirer.com

During a called meeting Thursday night, the Harris County Board of Education hired interim superintendent Roger Couch as its next superintendent.

The 7-0 vote made official what increasingly had been clear the past several weeks as the board approved Couch's recommendations to hire three assistant superintendents and two principals: Couch would continue to lead the Harris County School District.

Board chairman Shane Lipp confirmed that notion Wednesday, when he acknowledged in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer that "the board named Mr. Couch as the sole candidate under consideration for the position of superintendent at the meeting on June 14."

Couch was principal of Harris County High School from July 2001 until retiring in December 2015. He has been a professional educator for more than 30 years, including 15 in Harris County. He was a counselor at R.E. Lee Institute from 1983-1987 and an assistant principal there from 1987-1990. Then he was principal of Bremen High School from 1990-1998 and principal of Villa Rica High School from 1998-2001.

Thursday's unanimous vote to hire Couch as superintendent came after a closed session of approximately 30 minutes. The board returned to open session and conducted the vote without public discussion of the motion. Only two Harris County residents who aren't HCSD employees were in the audience, and neither spoke for or against the action during the meeting.

After the meeting, Lipp declined to tell the Ledger-Enquirer how much the board will pay Couch, but he did say the contract will be for one year, starting July 1. Couch and Lipp said they and the rest of the board will determine during the next year whether to extend the contract.

Asked why the board hired Couch to be superintendent, Lipp said, “We’ve been pleased with Mr. Couch’s leadership and the direction as interim, and we feel like he can continue to lead the district with excellence.”

Couch was the only candidate and the job vacancy wasn’t advertised, Lipp acknowledged.

“We focused our efforts on Mr. Couch,” he said.

The board didn’t seek other candidates, Lipp said, because "we were pleased with the job he was doing, and we felt confident he could lead the district.”

With the start of the new school year less than two months away, Couch noted, "This isn't a really good time to conduct a search for a superintendent, and I think that had a big impact on how this whole thing jelled."

Couch will suspend his retirement to return to serving HCSD full time. He said retirement was “boring” and he missed being involved in education.

“I’m pleased and excited to do this,” Couch said. “I’m looking forward to working with the people who are going to be working with us.”

His goal, Couch said, is to “make sure our students have every opportunity to succeed as much as possible, academically and otherwise, just as I’ve been doing for a long time in this system.”

Couch replaces Jimmy Martin, who resigned May 10 as superintendent, effective immediately, amid an unspecified dispute with the board. The Ledger-Enquirer reported two weeks ago that, according to documents obtained via the Georgia Open Records Act, the board agreed to pay Martin $173,893.75 to not be superintendent for 15 months and to relinquish the final year of his contract, which had been extended in May 2017 to run through June 30, 2020.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE