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Diane Zamora

Diane Zamora

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Editor's note: This profile was originally published in the Star-Telegram on April 9, 2006.

MANSFIELD -- The Mansfield coaches always did a lot more than lead their teams to playoffs and state titles.They helped build the district, literally.In the 1970s, a group of coaches � including a young defensive-backs coach named Vernon Newsom � built the irrigation system for the football field and helped construct the field house at Wester Middle School."We all pitched in and did a variety of different jobs no matter what job we had," Newsom said.As superintendent for the last decade, Newsom has kept on building.

Mansfield, no longer a small farming community, has more than doubled its school district enrollment since 1996, from 10,202 students to 25,710.

The district grew from 11 campuses to 28 in that time.And Newsom, 58, has led the district through some of its worst growing pains � opening new high schools, changing demographics and even a notorious murder.Newsom, a former Mansfield High School principal, left the district in 1987 to become an administrator for the new Wimberly school district.

In 1996, he returned to Mansfield and had to play catch-up on constructing new schools.When he returned, district voters had not approved an entire bond proposal in about 10 years.

Three failed outright.

In others, voters approved money to build schools but not to buy furniture and irrigation systems.Since Newsom became superintendent, voters have approved all five bond packages, totaling $579.3 million, that have been put forward.

One package even included a new stadium and a natatorium, facilities that other school districts have had trouble getting approved.

Another bond package is on the ballot in May; it includes money for six new schools and for renovations.Michele Purgason, a longtime parent volunteer, said the district had a difficult stretch before Newsom.

It had seen seven superintendents in the 15 preceding years.

But Newsom worked hard to earn parent and voter trust, she said.Newsom gave taxpayers regular updates describing how money had been spent and got community members to join district committees."He was able to get that [natatorium] passed, and we had people from all over the state calling asking how in the world he did it," she said.

"But Mr.

Newsom, he�s been able to maintain that trust in the community, and they voted for it."ChallengesDrive down any major street in the district, and it�s obvious that Mansfield is growing fast.What is not so visible behind the sleek new schools and landscaped campuses is the emotional strain that comes with growth.For almost a century, Mansfield was a one-high school district.

Most people in the community eagerly supported the Tigers in football, basketball and other sports.Then in 2002, the district opened Summit High School in south Arlington.

The break with tradition upset some people, but many parents and educators credited Newsom and Principal Donna Grant with smoothing the transition.The next split, however, was not so easy.

Attendance lines were drawn for the third high school, Timberview, in 2003, and some parents accused district leaders of trying to keep Mansfield High a white, elite school and make Timberview a minority-majority campus.Newsom drafted a plan that would have balanced the racial makeup of the three schools� enrollment more than what had been considered, but trustees adopted a previously considered map.

Even so, trustees drew the bulk of the criticism.Rezoning is "a no-win situation in a sense that somebody is not going to be happy," said David Harry, a former Mansfield mayor and school trustee.

"But he�s done a fair job of involving the campus and community representatives and keeping them well-informed of what the intentions are."While superintendents can expect to deal with growing pains, it�s the unimaginable that can really test leadership.In 1996, former Mansfield High student David Graham and his girlfriend, Diane Zamora, were accused of killing Mansfield student Adrianne Jones.

Zamora and Graham were convicted of Jones� murder in 1998.

The case, which came to be known as the "cadet murder" because Zamora and Graham had gone on to military academies, attracted worldwide interest.
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