Keene ISD officials said they aren’t worried about the baggage that comes with the new superintendent’s family.
Richard Stephens, Mineola High School principal, was named lone finalist for KISD superintendent last week.
He said is aware that people will talk about his wife’s past, but said she is not a threat to anyone.
Former Mineola Elementary School teacher and coach Jo Ann Stephens was arrested in late 2010 after Child Protective Services received a tip that she was having an improper relationship with a high school student, according to the Longview News-Journal.
According to the News-Journal, she surrendered in March 2011 after being indicted on charges of online solicitation of a minor, improper relationship between an educator and a student and sexual assault of a child, among others.
The student was 15 years old at the time the relationship began and had graduated several months before Jo Ann Stephens was arrested, the paper said.
In exchange for four felony charges being dropped, Jo Ann Stephens pleaded guilty to a second degree felony of improper relationship with a student. According to the News-Journal, the court dismissed allegations that Jo Ann Stephens had been with the student before he graduated.
She was not required to register as a sex offender, Richard Stephens said.
“I totally understand it being an issue that can’t be blown off, but at the same time, it’s an issue that is in the past,” Richard Stephens said on Friday by phone. “We made it through it and are still are a family. Obviously it’s a part of my life. There is nothing I can do about that.”
Richard Stephens said his wife served some jail time and remains on probation. According to the News-Journal, Jo Ann Stephens was sentenced to 180 days in the Wood County Jail and five years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, probated to 10 years. She also had a fine of $1,000 plus court costs.
Keene ISD Superintendent Wanda Smith said she knew about Jo Ann Stephens’ charges but declined to comment further, directing questions to school board President Sheri Hadley.
“As far as hiring him on his accreditation, he was a good choice,” Hadley said. “We discussed it and rediscussed it. We felt it wasn’t enough of a hindrance to not hire him.”
She said Richard Stephens talked openly with the board about the arrest and charges.
“He’s just a great guy,” she said. “The way he spoke to us about it, open and honest, spoke from the heart. Everyone was just like, ‘Wow.’”
Mineola ISD Superintendent John Fuller said losing Richard Stephens will be difficult for the district, because he is a strong, Christian leader.
“I think everybody feels that individuals make mistakes but there has been no hiccup in his administration,” Fuller said. “The tough thing is going to be finding someone that the staff accepts, The community is going to miss him. He is great at forming relationships.”
Fuller said that although he was not superintendent when the relationship was brought to light, the Stephens were now a “happily married family.”
“We’ve been really blessed that the Lord wrapped his hands around us through it all,” Richard Stephens said. “I’ve been given the opportunity to touch peoples lives that, beforehand, I would not have been able to, because I have walked through the fire. But if I had the choice, I would have rather not gone through the fire.
“ ... One thing about it is, none of it had anything to do with me. She was employed [at MISD], but she was not employed at my school. As far as unease about me or my family going there, she’s under no restrictions.”
A request to speak with Jo Ann Stephens went unreturned.