Wednesday, June 12, 2013

10 Questions You Need to Ask TUSD Super Finalist H.T. Sanchez at Tonight's Q&A Forum

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 4:26 PM

The Tucson Unified School District voted 3-2 Monday to select Heliodoro Torres Sanchez as the sole finalist for the position of superintendent. Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman opposed having only one finalist to chose from.

The district is hosting a forum from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight at Catalina Magnet High School with Sanchez so community members can ask him questions.

Here's our immediate take (this is, of course, not knowing who the other candidates were since those names were not been released by the district): We're just not sure about Sanchez.

He has no significant CEO/superintendent experience. His resume doesn't reflect the qualifications outlines on the job description. This is a board, a district and a population that, frankly, eats superintendents alive for breakfast. It puts Gov. Brewer and her scorpion chow to shame.

Sanchez looks like a nice guy and seems smart. We talked to some folks in Odessa who told us the father of two young children is a devout Christian who likes to work on classic cars. His wife was just made principal of an district school in the Ector County Independent School District.

But before he was named interim superintendent of EISD upon the prior superintendent's retirement, Sanchez worked as chief of staff, and his resume reflects someone who has jumped from job to job.

Those who've been covering school districts for some time wonder if this is a short stop resume padding for Sanchez—kind of like Elizabeth Celina-Fagin, who was only here for less than two years, went on to a district outside of Denver, Colo. and is in the midst of not-so-happy populace that doesn't like most of their schools being turned into charters.

Here's a little more about what we know about Sanchez (and don't forget to read next week's issue for additional information): The EISD in Odessa did something we've never been able to do. They passed a $125 million bond. They also recently settled a desegregation complaint. The racial make-up is similar to TUSD, in that the Texas district has 65 percent Latino student population, though its student population is around 30,000. TUSD has gone from 70,000 to 50,000 in about five years, so who knows? We could be getting close to 30,000 pretty soon.

The bond money the Odessa district approved is going to build middle schools. Right now, they have a model where high schools include grades 10-12 and middle schools are grades 7-9. But there are have been issues with test scores. The public may have also not been happy that the district spent $100,000 on a positive "news" advertising campaign.

That may be why a majority of the district's board was replaced this year. Citizens elected new faces after a campaign in which the issues included poor test scores and how the district dealt with a new curriculum many felt wasn't presented to the schools correctly, and the training offered to the teachers. There were also accusations of bullying associated with the curriculum—bullying by administrators toward teachers.

Some board members were supposedly surprised that Sanchez was looking for work elsewhere. The 38-year-old interim administrator was working on strategic planning with the public and board—signs folks took that he was preparing himself to apply for the job. As a source suggested, maybe Sanchez just wasn't sure he could get the votes he needed to be hired with a new majority on the board.

At one school in Odessa where test scores were particularly bad, all the ninth graders were taken out and bused across the district to a different school. That, we were told, made a lot of people mad. Ninth grade was returned to that school, and then the middle school announcement was made to go with the bond.

So, what are you going to ask Sanchez at tonight's forum? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do you feel you are leaving your last school district better than you found it?

2. Are you familiar with the Mexican-American studies issue in Tucson and what are your thoughts?

3. How do you plan to work with a board that is often split 3-2 in its votes and doesn't have a lot of trust behind that sacred dais?

4. Why have you gone job to job, and how can we guarantee that you are going to stay here more than two years? How about sticking around for at least 10, even when we give you a lot of shit?

5. What are your thoughts on turning around TUSD's reputation? More money to marketing and advertising as was done in Odessa?

6. Are you a fighter, brother, because we could really use a fighter?

7. What are thoughts on charter schools and would you like to see the district expand into this area even more?

8. This is a fractured community that has been through so much — from classes closed, curriculum and books banned, to school closures and the death of the neighborhood. Any suggestions on how to make things better?

9. What did you learn about the desegregation complain in Odessa that you think will help you understand TUSD and what we've been dealing with the past 40 years?

10. Why should we feel that despite your lack of experience that you should be hired?

Read the constituent letter than went out his morning from Stegeman. Sanchez entirely his pick either, although he sent a follow-up email letting folks know he still believes the board can do what they need to do — because, yeah, they've always shown that to be the case, right?

It is important to add that I believe that all members of the Board are acting sincerely and in good faith according to what they perceive to be the best interests of TUSD and its students.

And of course I hope it is completely clear that I will work with and support whomever the Board ultimately selects as the superintendent.

Here's Stegeman's entire letter:

Dear supporters and correspondents,

It is a cliche but true that a school board’s most important decision — by far — is its choice of superintendent. This decision requires great care, time, and thoroughness.

Therefore, I am concerned that, less than a week after getting its first look at the applicants and with input only from the search firm, the TUSD Board on Monday announced a single finalist. The vote was 3-2 (Hicks and I dissenting).

To choose the chief executive officer of an organization having almost 7,000 employees, the Board (in my opinion) did only a fraction of the work that it should have done, reviewing and analyzing in detail the candidates’ records and references. It has had only a brief opportunity to meet candidates. It chose the single finalist without any input from the superintendent’s cabinet or internal and external stakeholder groups. Unlike in the past, no local committee of volunteers had reviewed applications. There had been no public forums, public postings of the candidates records, or opportunities for public input.

The final decision is only the Board’s and properly so. But additional time with the candidates and the chance to receive others’ useful insights would have been invaluable to the Board as it worked to reduce the field to one.

The Board majority has emphasized that choosing the finalist is not the final decision, that it will study the input received after Dr. H.T. Sanchez’s visit today. But it is hard for people to evaluate a candidate next to an unknown alternative.

How would the university and community react if the Board of Regents, after a brief hidden process, unexpectedly presented a single candidate for President of the University of Arizona? Even the TUSD Board’s internal schedule had been arranged to accommodate visits by up to four finalists.

Dr. Sanchez, the lone finalist, has a record somewhat similar to what Dr. Fagen had when TUSD hired her in 2008. He has changed jobs frequently and has only about 3 months of superintendent experience, at his smaller Ecktor County (Texas) school district. After Ecktor’s superintendent announced his retirement last spring, the Ecktor Board appointed Dr. Sanchez, on a 4-3 vote, to his current position as interim superintendent.

None of this implies, of course, that Dr. Sanchez would not be an excellent superintendent for TUSD. It does show that he has a thin record, relative to the magnitude of the TUSD superintendency.

Dr. Sanchez will appear in a community forum from 7-9 p.m. tonight at Catalina Magnet High School. The district has said that attendees will be able to submit questions to Dr. Sanchez and that he will have time to respond. The forum will be audio-streamed through TUSD’s usual channel (“Audio of Meetings”) at

I will write soon concerning the district budget and, separately, with a post-mortem on the school closure process.

Thank you for your interest in TUSD.

- Mark

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