AASA Superintendent of the Year finalists named for 2024

"They are prime examples of what it means to be a superintendent in today’s post-COVID world," AASA says.

The four Superintendent of the Year finalists named by AASA comprise a diverse group hailing from these states: Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Texas. Boasting a collective 30-plus years in the superintendency, they are

  • Joe Gothard, Saint Paul Public Schools, Minn.
  • Martha Salazar-Zamora, Tomball Independent School District, Texas
  • Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, Contoocook Valley School District, N.H.
  • Frederick Williams, Dublin City Schools, Ga.

“Our honorees took their respective school districts and their entire school communities to higher heights of excellence,” said David R. Schuler, executive director, AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “They are prime examples of what it means to be a superintendent in today’s post-COVID world.”

The Superintendent of the Year finalists were chosen based on achievements in the following categories: leadership for learning, communication, professionalism and community involvement. Here is a snapshot of each of the finalists:

Joe Gothard, Saint Paul Public Schools: Gothard has served since 2017 as superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS), Minnesota’s second-largest and most diverse district with 33,000 students and over 6,000 employees. He launched the SPPS Achieves strategic plan in December 2018 to set goals for student achievement, guide decision-making and focus on long-term student outcomes.

Throughout the pandemic, he has prioritized community well-being, equity, and fiscal sustainability. He was previously superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, Burnsville, also in Minnesota and an assistant superintendent for secondary schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.

Martha Salazar-Zamora, Tomball Independent School District: Salazar-Zamora has been an educator in Texas for over 36 years and Tomball ISD’s leader since 2017. She is the Houston-area district’s first female and first Hispanic superintendent. “My leadership philosophy is centered around decision-making that puts students first,” Salazar-Zamora told District Administration in July.

“As the world continues to rapidly change around us, it requires us to be progressive and innovative,” she said. “I continually push my team to create strategies and initiatives that progress us into the future so that our students are ready.”

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She was previously the chief academic officer of the rapidly growing district, which is among the highest-achieving school systems in Texas. She has led the implementation of Tomball Star Academy, the District’s early college high school, Tomball ISD’s Two-Way Dual Language Academy, the District’s first P-TECH focused on healthcare, and a Pre-K Center for young learners.

Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, Contoocook Valley School District: Saunders has been Contoocook Valley’s superintendent since 2015 and has worked as a New Hampshire educator for 28 years. As a teacher and adjunct professor, she taught students from sixth grade to graduate school, in classrooms from North Carolina to New Hampshire.

She has also served as an administrator in New Hampshire’s Londonderry, Hollis-Brookline, Winnisquam and school districts. At national and regional conferences, she has presented on on curriculum and instructional improvement, student retention and drop-out prevention, equity, high-school redesign and adequate funding of education. She has also been a strong supporter of women in the superintendency.

Frederick Williams, Dublin City Schools: Williams has been Dublin City Schools’ superintendent since 2015, using his strategic plan as a guidepost to prepare “all students to be effective communicators, problem solvers, and lifelong learners.” Under his leadership, the high school graduation rate has increased by 27.4 points, with the rate reaching a record high, 97.7%, for the class of 2023.

He began his career in 1993 as a health and physical education teacher in one of Dublin City’s elementary schools and also coached for the Dublin High School Football Team. He has since served the district as assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent. Dublin City Schools has consistently earned the Exemplary Board Status Award through the Georgia School Boards Association from 2015 to the present. He and his team have also been recognized for their work in advancing literacy and community engagement.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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