Friday, June 21, 2013

Mark "The No" Stegeman: 'Give Dr. Sanchez Our Full Support'

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Tucson Unified School Board member Mark Stegeman, who was the lone no vote when the governing board voted 4-1 to hire Ector County Independent School District's interim superintendent H.T. Sanchez. And of course with that kind of decision making, Stegeman issues a letter to his constituents, which you can read below the cut:

June 20, 2013

Dear supporters and correspondents,

As many of you already know, on Tuesday the TUSD Governing Board voted 4-1 to appoint H.T. Sanchez, the interim superintendent of schools in Ector County, Texas, to be TUSD’s next superintendent. I spent most of the past few days, between the board’s decision to name him the sole finalist and Tuesday’s vote, studying his record and talking to people here and in Texas.

I cast the dissenting vote on Tuesday for various reasons that have mostly already been discussed in the press. Dr. Sanchez has switched jobs and districts frequently, including numerous lateral moves. (He also, last year, pulled out of one superintendent competition after being publicly named as a finalist.) Partly because of the many moves, he has no clear track record of success or failure, and he has only several months experience as an (interim) superintendent. His current Ector County district is smaller than TUSD, though growing because of local economic growth, and it differs from TUSD in important ways (e.g. no K-8 schools, no significant competition from charter schools, no statewide adoption of the common core). Student achievement in Ector County, as measured by Texas’s standardized tests, has recently been low and declining, though this surely has many causes and it would be unreasonable to blame much, or perhaps any, of this performance on Dr. Sanchez. Finally, the TUSD community encompasses diverse religious viewpoints, and many persons have said that the extent of the religious references during last week’s public forum made them uncomfortable.

TUSD followed the original fast timetable for announcing the superintendent decision, but we did not use all of the days that had been reserved for additional visits and forums. Hicks and I both expressed our concern, prior to last week’s 3-2 vote for a single finalist, that we brought only one candidate forward to meet the public. My preference, on Tuesday, would have been to postpone the decision and consider options.

Many persons have correctly pointed out that the final decision belonged only to the board (it is not a community “vote”), but the board benefits greatly from the informed and thoughtful input of TUSD’s families, employees, and taxpayers. I am grateful to the many persons who took the time to send comments to the board and to me personally. Some of the comments raised points that I had not previously considered.

From this point forward, it is important to draw a line under these concerns and to give Dr. Sanchez our full support.

Reasons for optimism.

From what I can see, Dr. Sanchez is intelligent, energetic, creative, and — very important for TUSD — willing to drive change. He clearly has some strong supporters in Ector County, who would argue that his aggressive moves to improve Ector County schools will produce results over time. Dr. Sanchez has emphasized that before developing his agenda for TUSD he wants to listen to the board, the staff, and the stakeholders. That is important and does not always occur with new superintendents. He has the outsider’s advantage of arriving without (apparent) loyalties to people in TUSD or in Tucson generally, so that he can assess the situation without preconceptions.

For these reasons, and if he spends time gathering information and analyzing TUSD’s complex circumstances before making major decisions, Dr. Sanchez has the potential to be an excellent superintendent. I will offer him my full support through that process and ask the community, including his skeptics, to do the same.

It will be important for everyone to remember that Dr. Sanchez is (obviously) not responsible for any of TUSD’s existing shortcomings, which can be fixed but in many cases neither easily or quickly. He starts with advantages inherited from Dr. Pedicone’s administration, including improved test scores, an improved IT infrastructure and bus system, the near-completion of a major round of school closures, and greater clarity in the desegregation case following February’s court order.

Each member of the board makes a unique and useful contribution to district governance and I expect the board and Dr. Sanchez to form an effective team. Sometimes changing one member of a team creates an opportunity to make it stronger.

The contract.

The last step in the process will be to negotiate a contract. In general, I think it makes sense to negotiate the contract before making a strong public commitment to a specific person, but the pattern of negotiating the contract after making the commitment fits TUSD’s historical pattern.

I will advocate for a contract that is simpler and more transparent than TUSD’s recent superintendent contracts and includes incentives not to leave early.

The search firm.

I think that the search firm, PROACT, did a good job, and I would be comfortable using the same firm again (with some adjustments to the process). The timing of the search surely affected the applicant pool, because many successful sitting superintendents would not enter a process that would require leaving their own district with very little warning or in the middle of the academic year.

PROACT’s handbook on searches says, “The ideal is for the outgoing superintendent to announce his or her departure just before or just following the Christmas holidays. This provides the board with a good six months to conduct the search, select and negotiate a contract with their new superintendent, and plan a smooth transition prior to the traditional July 1 start date.”

Nonetheless, we did get (as previously reported) 67 applicants, including some strong applicants.

Thank you for your interest in TUSD. As always, my comments reflect my own views and not those of the district or the board as a whole.

- Mark

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