NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News Public Schools’ acting superintendent Dr. Michele Mitchell was named superintendent of the school division Thursday after a months-long search to fill the position.

In a 7-0 vote by the Newport News School Board at a special meeting, Mitchell received the nod of the board. The vote was followed by a standing ovation.

“She really cares about the division. She understands it enough to care about it,” said board chairwoman Lisa Surles-Law.

Surles-Law said in the seven months she was interim, she kept the bus on the road and helped them navigate through obstacles.

She also said Mitchell is committed to the safety, culture and academics of NNPS.

One parent told 10 On Your Side she took the division out of a dark place.

“Dr. Mitchell did a very good job coming in at a difficult time and leading us out of the darkness,” Michele Nordeen said.

Mitchell had been named acting superintendent of the school division in January following the firing of Dr. George Parker III. The severance payment of the district’s former leader sparked criticism as he was owed more than $500,000.

Those events followed the shooting of a teacher at Richneck Elementary School in January that made national headlines.

Parker was terminated by a 5-1 vote back on Jan. 25, with a majority of school board members saying the “decision is based on the future trajectory and needs of our school division.”

Mitchell told the packed crowd she’d continue leading the school system.

“I remain focused on my commitment to rebuild and advance Newport News Public Schools,” she said.

As acting superintendent, Mitchell has, according to a news release from the school division, worked to rebuild trust and positive relationships among families, students, staff and the community through the establishment of three new advisory committees to enhance family engagement, school safety and student rights and responsibilities – employee roundtable discussions, listening tours and community meetings.

Mitchell is no stranger to NNPS. She has been with the division for 29 years. She served as a teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, director of special education and interim chief academic officer.

She began her teaching career in NNPS at South Morrison Elementary School, serving for three years before leaving for a position in Fairfax, where she was a teacher and crisis counselor for 11 years.

Mitchell then returned to NNPS as a teacher and later became an administrator, spending the past 29 years with the school division.

Dr. James Graves, President of the Newport News Education Association, thinks she’s a good fit.

“She fits our vision. She fits the survey we did with the teachers,” he said. “We wanted someone approachable. Someone who has the interest of our students, staff and parents involved.”

The Newport News School Board contracted the Virginia School Boards Association to conduct a national search to fill the superintendent position. The search brought in 54 inquiries and 35 applications from 24 states, including 12 from Virginia.

The board held multiple public hearings to hear what the community wants in a district leader, they also sent out surveys.

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