If contract details are finalized, Susan Enfield would start her new job as Highline schools superintendent July 1.

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The highly anticipated question of where Susan Enfield would next be superintendent was all but resolved Tuesday with a surprising answer: Highline Public Schools.

Enfield, the popular interim chief of Seattle schools, announced her intent to move one district south in a morning news conference with Highline School Board President Angelica Alvarez.

Although the agreement was dependent on contract negotiations, a background check and an official School Board vote, Enfield and Alvarez framed those steps as formalities.

“I will not let this community down,” pledged Enfield, looking around at the assembled group of district staff members in the lobby of Highline district headquarters. “I will work tirelessly on behalf of the students and staff here.”

Alvarez praised Enfield’s experience and passion for equity.

The job would start July 1, the day after Enfield’s position in Seattle ends — a commitment she said she plans to keep. The contract would be for three years; salary terms have not yet been finalized.

In choosing Highline, Enfield dismissed advances from Bellevue School District officials, who as late as Monday night were exploring an accelerated interview process with her for their superintendent vacancy.

It’s unclear why Enfield chose Highline over Bellevue (or Seattle, for that matter — her December announcement that she would not seek the Seattle superintendency on a permanent basis surprised many in the community).

With about 18,000 students, Highline is roughly the same size as Bellevue but significantly smaller than Seattle, which has some 48,000.

It’s much more diverse than either — Highline is 73.2 percent minority, while Bellevue is 50.1 percent and Seattle is 53.7 percent. The district, which includes Burien, Des Moines and White Center among other communities, also has significantly lower test scores — only 52.1 percent of fifth-graders passed the state reading test last year, while 70.9 percent passed in Seattle and 78.6 percent passed in Bellevue.

At the news conference, Enfield said she was impressed by Highline’s School Board and blown away by her visit to the district to interview last Friday.

“It was the most enjoyable interview process I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I don’t think it’s so much what Highline has that Bellevue doesn’t. I just thought the fit (was better).”

Enfield said she was looking for a smaller district and a place where she could settle down. Her husband, who now lives in Portland, is planning to move to the area, she said.

“We can’t wait,” she said.

Enfield has led Seattle Public Schools on a temporary basis since March 2011, when a financial scandal led the Seattle School Board to fire Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Before that, Enfield served as the district’s chief academic officer.

Just four months before coming to Seattle, while serving as chief academic officer for Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., Enfield applied to be Bellevue’s superintendent. But that district ultimately chose her friend Amalia Cudeiro. The tables were turned this time around, as Enfield rejected an opportunity to try for a chance to succeed Cudeiro.

Bellevue School Board President Paul Mills said that he was disappointed with Enfield’s decision but that the board would move on. A meeting was scheduled for next week to discuss the process.

“Congratulations to Highline,” he said. “It’s good for them. I think she’ll be a terrific leader.”

Also on Tuesday, the Lake Washington School District announced that its current deputy superintendent, Traci Pierce, will take over the top job July 1, replacing departing longtime Superintendent Chip Kimball.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.