On July 1, former Klein ISD Deputy Superintendent Jenny McGown took on her new role as superintendent, becoming the first woman to earn this title in the district’s 91-year history.

Prior to taking on her new position, McGown has served as both a teacher and assistant principal at Klein Collins High School, the founding principal of Zwink Elementary, the district’s executive director for student performance and the district’s chief learning officer.

She is also involved in several nonprofits, including Love146, an anti-human trafficking organization, and Bridging for Tomorrow, which invests in families in northwest Houston. She has two children with her husband, Brian.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you first begin teaching?

Originally I wanted to be an attorney. But I had the opportunity to go teach in Uzbekistan, and that really changed the course of my life. I just fell in love with the ability to influence students’ lives in a positive way—to not only change someone’s daily experiences but to really change the trajectory of their lives.

What are your main goals as superintendent?

I want to continue having a great, student-focused relationship with the board [of trustees]. We have an excellent school board at Klein ISD, and I want to make sure we always keep our focus on students.

As superintendent, I’m working hard to have a beginner’s mind. That means not making assumptions, listening to people and putting lots of different viewpoints around me.

I also want to organize in the right way to make sure that students are getting all their needs met. I don’t necessarily mean formal structures; I mean the energy and culture of our organizations—is it all organized in such a way that we are really focused on what’s best for our students?

What are some of the biggest challenges the district faces, and how will you approach them?

The obvious issue is the financial system. I’m really grateful for what our legislators did during the last session. House Bill 3 was a very important first step to more adequately fund public education, and we are going to need to see what happens in future sessions. We need to make sure that we continue building great relationships with all our representatives.

Also, with a district our size, one of the challenges is making sure we are all on the same page about what we are trying to accomplish. That’s an ongoing area that always needs attention and improvement.

Do you plan to implement any new programs or initiatives coming down the pipeline?

There’s a lot of really wonderful existing work that is taking place that is not yet complete, so we really want to make sure that we are doing an excellent job continuing to implement and monitor the things that we’ve started. My focus right now is just on listening and learning; it’s not coming in to add 100 new things to the equation. Any future plans are really about how to support folks in the things that we’ve started.

What are some learning curves you have had to overcome as the new superintendent?

One of the blessings and also one of the challenges is when you are someone who is part of the system, people can make the assumption that you already know everything. I am really being disciplined in making sure that I do a very powerful assessment on what is the current reality ... and that we really think carefully about what is best for our students, the 7,000-plus employees and the community.

So I think that the learning curve is just to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible, so that’s why I’m spending lots of time—basically every single day—with people. Being entrusted with the responsibility of keeping Klein a wonderful place to learn is something that I take very seriously, and I’m really grateful. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone.