Steven Unowsky's colleagues at the St. Paul public schools describe him as a high-energy guy with a passion for urban education.

Those traits were equally obvious to members of the Richfield school board, who on Wednesday tapped Unowsky to be the diverse district's new superintendent.

"He's had a very good experience in St. Paul and seems to have a good worldview," school board Chairman Todd Nollenberger said. "It's clear he is passionately committed to providing equitable opportunities to all students."

Unowsky, currently an assistant superintendent in St. Paul, will replace retiring Superintendent Robert Slotterback, who has been with the district since 2008.

Unowsky, 43, inherits a district that has recently had seen success at narrowing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

School leaders say they hope to have a contract with Unowsky finalized in the coming weeks. The advertised salary for the position was $170,000 to $185,000

When the Minnesota Department of Education released new graduation rate data last week, Richfield had the highest percentage increase from 2012 to 2013 of any metro area district.

Similarly, its Sheridan Hills Elementary, once dubbed a failure under the state's old accountability system for schools, has experienced a remarkable turnaround, skyrocketing up in new school rankings.

"This experience has been wonderful," Unowsky said of his early foray into Richfield's schools. "Everyone has been so welcoming and so positive."

Before his current position in St. Paul, he was director of leadership development and academic support as well as an elementary and middle school principal in the district.

"Steve is a dynamic, can-do leader," St. Paul public schools Superintendent Valeria Silva said. "His energy is boundless, and he knows how to create the kind of structure students need to learn."

He has also worked as an assistant principal in Saudi Arabia and as an assistant principal and teacher at Annunciation School in Minneapolis.

Unowsky is enrolled in an educational doctorate program at St. Mary's University. He has completed administrative licensure programs at St. Mary's as well as at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and holds master's and bachelor's degrees from the University of Minnesota.

He is married and lives in southwest Minneapolis. He has an 8-year-old daughter who attends Armatage Elementary.