A Colorado Department of Education official will become the next superintendent at Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8.
Keith Owen, who is finishing his fourth year as deputy commissioner at the CDE in Denver, will take over July 1.
Owen, 45, is a Colorado native who grew up in the Pueblo area.
"I have a special affection for the southern part of the state and am looking forward to returning," he said. "I'm also looking forward to working with the staff and principals, and meeting every kid and helping them prepare for success in life."
Owen was one of 27 applicants who responded to a nationwide search, said Ty Valentine, director of human resources for D-8.
The Board of Education narrowed the field to nine candidates, and Owen was the sole finalist.
"He's had such good experience at the state level, as well as school district level," Valentine said. "He's a southern Colorado guy, and he has a good track record. Everybody had great things to say about him."
Before taking the position at the CDE, Owen worked for three years as the superintendent for Durango School District 9-R, where he was credited with initiating a professional development program for principals in southwest Colorado and leading a community strategic plan that brought improvements to the school system.
Owen started his career in Pueblo City School District, working as a teacher, principal, director of reading programs, executive director of elementary education and chief academic officer.
He received his doctorate and Superintendent License in June 2004 from the University of Denver.
"We were looking for someone with good leadership experience, preferably superintendent experience and strong character," Valentine said. "We feel like it's going to be a smooth transition."
The changing of the guard at D-8 wasn't a surprise. Cheryl Serrano has worked for the school district for 27 years, the first 19 as the assistant superintendent for finance and auxiliary services and the past eight as superintendent.
Serrano, 55, said five years ago she made the decision to retire this year and informed the board three years ago.
"It feels very strange because the district has been such a big part of my life," she said Thursday. While she will continue to live in Fountain, Serrano said she plans to travel to Texas to visit her first grandchild, who will be born in July to two Fountain-Fort Carson High School graduates.
The school district is unique in that 70 to 75 percent of the 8,100 students are from military families, Valentine said. Enrollment increased 7.7 percent between 2010 and 2014, largely because of the growth of Fort Carson.
The military connection results in many students leaving during the school year or coming in from another district and not being on the same level of education. Students also face issues related to deployment of parents.
The district has had mixed results on standardized tests over recent years but rallied last school year to post "our best performance year in our history," Serrano said.
"While we still have a lot of work to do, we take each day and try to provide the best education we can to all of our students, no matter how long they are with us," she said.
During her tenure, Serrano has been involved in several efforts to assist military-connected students, including serving as the commissioner for Colorado on the Interstate Compact for Military Children. Colorado was one of 11 founding states of the group, which helps military students with school transitions. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now are members.
Serrano also said she's proud of the relationships that have developed between the district and the city of Fountain, Fort Carson and community agencies, as well as leaving D-8 in "a sound financial position."
"Military families from all over the world choose to come to the district, request to stay longer and even choose to retire from the military so their children can stay in the district - that is the highest compliment any district can receive," she said.
Owen said he's impressed with the way D-8 handles the high student mobility.
"Fountain-Fort Carson has a fabulous reputation," he said. "One of my goals is to continue to build upon the great tradition of excellence."
Owen's wife also is an educator, primarily working with English language learners. The couple has four boys, ages 14, 12 and 10-year-old twins. All will attend D-8 schools in the fall, Owen said.