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Denair Unified hires new superintendent
Terry Metzger will lead the Denair Unified School District as its newest superintendent starting July 1. - photo by Contibuted

After an extensive search, Denair Unified School District has found the woman they would like to lead as their next superintendent.

With over two decades experience as a leader in education, Terry Metzger hopes to make an impact within DUSD and the surrounding community. It was announced she would take over the helm of the district at Thursday night’s Board of Trustees meeting, where President Ray Prock Jr. described her as the “No. 1 choice” to succeed Aaron Rosander, who will leave in June after four years as superintendent.

“This seems like a tight-knit community, and that’s where I want to be,” Metzger said.

While Metzger has been the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Rincon Valley Union School District in Santa Rosa since 2012, she is no stranger to the Central Valley. She has two degrees from Stanislaus State – a master’s in education administration and a doctorate in educational leadership – and she has also taught classes at the university as an adjunct faculty member.

In addition to her time spent in Turlock, Metzger has also been a teacher and elementary school principal in Galt, has taught various grade levels in Lodi and Stockton and has served as a principal coach for the Education Leadership Institute in Sacramento.

She was drawn to her new role as superintendent in an effort to make as big of a difference as she possibly can, she said, and Denair happened to be the perfect fit.

“In my current position I make a big impact, but there is something different about being a superintendent. At every stage I ask myself, ‘Am I making the biggest impact I can make here?’” Metzger said. “I’ve been checking out districts and have been very picky, but Denair really stood out.”

Prock said that Metzger emerged as a front-runner after a widespread search that included in-depth interviews of the four finalists by trustees, as well as a committee made up of staff and community members.

Community involvement is one thing that Metzger already admires about Denair, though she doesn’t officially start work in the town until July 1. She has worked in small towns before, she said, and is looking forward to once again getting to know a community that has each other’s backs.

“I know the small-town experience and I like that experience. It’s how I raised my kids,” she said. “This job is about the relationships you build, and I like relationships that are deeper than surface level. That’s what you get in a small town.”

In preparation for her new position, Metzger anticipates visiting Denair often until she can move into the community permanently, she said, and during those visits she hopes to “get a lay of the land” by seeing what issues are most important to the district.

“The budget is stable and enrollment looks like it’s becoming stable. Really getting a good picture of the financial situation will be critical, because I don’t want to make decisions about teaching, learning and innovative programs without having a full understanding of the budget.”

DUSD is dealing with declining enrollment at Denair Middle School, though it has been steadily growing at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. Next year’s projections also anticipate growth at Denair High School and Denair Charter Academy.

The district’s financial woes have lessened over the years, improving upon time during the Great Recession which reduced state funding, forcing DUSD to cut salaries for all employees by up to 11 percent. Pay raises over the past two years have restored some of employees’ pay, but work still needs to be done to close the gap.

In order to address these issues, the Board unveiled a plan in February which calls for a new charter covering all grade levels and a parcel tax ballot measure for district voters. As an educator coming from a district with five charter schools and as an advocate for retaining quality teachers, Metzger is in favor of both ideas.

“A district charter is a very promising way to tackle some of the things that I have learned through discussions with the Board, which is that finances are still fragile and have just been stabilized,” she said. “The parcel tax will go a long way to help with teacher retention and teacher salaries. High quality teachers delivering a well-planned curriculum is going to make the most impact on student achievement.”

Voters within Metzger’s former school district approved a parcel tax in 2016, she said, and she believes that Denair voters will do the same.

“In my experience, the public really does support education – they just want to be sure what the money is going to be spent on,” Metzger said. “If the community trusts the district to be a good steward of their money they will support it, and as DUSD has stabilized their finances, they have regained the confidence of the community and the community wants to see that continue.”

Metzger’s experience has helped her become well-versed in programs related to English-learners, intervention services, science, libraries, arts, gifted and talented education and teacher support, and while she is looking forward to continuing those successes in Denair, she is most excited about being closer to her grandchildren.

With some grandchildren in Modesto and one in Manteca, Metzger already has the 20-minute drives from Denair all mapped out, she said. In between visits with her family, she will be hard at work making DUSD its best come July.

“I have roots here,” she said. “I’m not exactly sure yet what Denair is going to need from me, but it seems like we’re well-matched.”