The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board doesn’t seem to have any idea who will replace the superintendent, whose resignation was accepted at the Feb. 28 meeting in a 3-2 vote.
The board hasn’t had a chance to discuss the matter, said the newest board member Rachael Sedgwick. She added that they’ll probably hire an interim first, and they’re collecting names of potential candidates.
“People have been reaching out, letting me know they’re interested, and they know of other people who are interested or qualified,” she said. She wouldn’t specify who these people were or what fields they’re in, only that they’re very familiar with TUSD.
The now former-superintendent H.T. Sánchez’s job was in question ever since a last-minute agenda item was added to the regular Feb. 14 meeting by Sedgwick and backed by Board Member Mark Stegeman. Community members filled the Duffy Community Center for three consecutive Tuesdays, voicing their concerns for and against Sánchez, with notably more people speaking in his support.
Sedgwick said they’re looking for someone who will focus on “instruction,” which she clarified to mean raising student enrollment, student achievement levels and the percentage of TUSD funds spent on the classroom.
The qualifications she’s looking for in a candidate includes being a “superstar” and “fabulous instructional leader,” Sedgwick said, as well as a strong relationship with the business community, the faith-based community, the legislature and community leaders.
Frequent traveling to the Arizona legislature in Phoenix was one of the things Sedgwick cited, during a Feb. 15 interview with the Tucson Weekly, as being an issue she had with Sánchez.
Before he was sent packing, Sánchez seemed to foster those relationships Sedgwick finds important. Among his supporters were Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who sent the board an email in support of Sánchez prior to the resignation, and Mike Varney, CEO and president of the Tucson Metro Chamber, who spoke at the Feb. 21 board meeting.
Varney listed things he believed Sánchez achieved, including reducing class sizes, enrollment declines, dependence on desegregation funds and administration costs while raising graduation rates. He ended with a bit of advice to the board.
“It is easy to nitpick and find fault,” he said. “How about doing some real work by coming together and uniting instead of constantly shuffling the deck.”
Stegeman said the board hasn’t had a chance to discuss the future much because they’ve been occupied with discussing Sánchez, but he hopes they have a list of possible interims by Tuesday’s meeting.
“Time is of the essence,” he said. “People need clarity.”
He said there’s no absolute list of qualifications a candidate for superintendent must have but that knowing about the district, the schools and the people is important. These are also qualifications Sánchez seemed to have down.
Many supporters at the meetings leading up to his resignation recounted times they saw him at school events and times he had personally helped their children.
There was also a party of TUSD employees thrown in his honor, four days after he resigned. According to Board Member Kristel Foster, one of his vocal supporters, there were only three out of the district’s 87 school principals not present at the party where he received a standing ovation.
The district was not achieving as it should be, said Stegeman. But he doesn’t blame Sánchez. He blames the board.
“The board is ultimately responsible for everything,” he said. “The buck stops with the board.”
Some of the things he sees as issues include overspending on central administration, over-management of schools, low student achievement, student discipline problems and poor customer service.
Stegeman would like to see an interim superintendent in place by March 14, and ultimately find someone who has “institutional, cultural values that align with the board.”
“In six months, the district will be in a better place,” he said.