Despite TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez’s claim the mother-in-law of board president Adelita Grijalva was the top candidate for her new principal position, records show that was not the case.
Scoring sheets from both the Myers/Ganoung Elementary School and TUSD central administration interview committees placed Olga Gómez third among all the applicants.
Also, email records show Grijalva introduced Gómez to Sanchez almost three months before her June 24 appointment. That’s contrary to what Sanchez told the Arizona Daily Star in a previous news story — that he wasn’t aware of the connection until Gómez revealed it in a final, one-on-one interview with him.
Gómez’s hiring drew questions from other board members, after the fact, because Grijalva did not tell the full board that it would be voting on the appointment of her mother-in-law. The board unanimously approved the hire. Grijalva abstained, offering no public explanation.
Since then, Grijalva has said that she elected not to make the connection public out of fear that some would vote against the hiring simply because Gómez is related to her, rather than considering her qualifications.
Gómez previously served as principal of Palominas Elementary School in Hereford, where she successfully turned around a struggling campus. Steve Poling, the former superintendent in Hereford, who Gomez worked under, describes her as an “outstanding principal.”
“She is one of the finest principals I have had the pleasure of working with or supervising,” he said. “She is focused on students’ needs and works well with staff and parents to help students be successful.”
Gómez interviewed with a committee from Myers/Ganoung, as well as with Sanchez’s cabinet before making it to the final interview.
She emerged as one of three candidates recommended by the site committee. But Gómez was placed at the bottom of the list with the fewest strengths of all of the applicants and the most weaknesses. This included: not answering some questions thoroughly, getting off topic, being too soft spoken and not liking to speak in public.
The three site-recommended candidates, along with three others, were then interviewed by a deputy superintendent and three assistant superintendents, who also rated Gómez third out of the bunch.
The top-ranked candidate was appointed to lead another TUSD school before Gómez’s appointment was voted on.
Unlike Gómez — who would later get a one-on-one interview with Sanchez — the second-place candidate did not receive further consideration because she was from out of state, and on a temporary certification that was going to expire in December, Sanchez said.
While nothing would have prohibited her from taking the position — and TUSD recently hired another principal from out of state to run Tucson High Magnet School — the candidate was instead encouraged to get her credentials for consideration in the future.
“I don’t like to put a person on a site who doesn’t have the full certification, especially in Arizona where it is difficult to get re-certified,” Sanchez said. “It’s always optimal to have the credentials required for the job.
“The bottom line is, (Gómez) was the best candidate because when you look at the other candidate, her certification was temporary and her experience wasn’t in Arizona. We had a candidate with experience in Arizona and full Arizona certification, not temporary.”
Sanchez said on Monday he did not recall telling the Arizona Daily Star he only learned of the relationship between Gómez and the head of he TUSD board in a final interview shortly before the appointment. His comments appeared in an July 9 Star news story.
In an April email to Sanchez, Gómez mentioned their meeting at a rally honoring civil rights leader Cesar Chavez in March, saying she and Sanchez discussed her experience as a principal.
Grijalva confirmed she probably did introduce Gómez and Sanchez at the march. She declined to comment further on the appointment.
“You asked me to email you if I decided to consider the possibility of becoming part of the TUSD family,” Gómez wrote. “After serious consideration I decided to apply for job posting #15-0000. Please know I do not want nor do I expect any special considerations.”
The job Gomez was referring to was the Myers/Ganoung principal position. She went on to ask that Sanchez not share the information with Grijalva, saying she would “like to be considered as a viable candidate and hopefully be hired based on my own merit.”
Sanchez obliged, thanking Gomez for the email and promising to keep her confidence.
Sanchez maintained on Monday the hiring process was fair, that Gomez was the best candidate, and that she got the job on her own merit.
“I really respect the fact that she asked to have no special consideration, and I honored that.”
TUSD Governing Board Member Mark Stegeman has had reservations about the appointment and the process since he learned about the connection. According to Stegeman, the interview results were not provided to the Board to assist with its decision prior to voting.
“I am concerned that neither the interview results nor the family connection were disclosed to the board, especially when the interview results did not match the final recommendation,” he said. “This only reinforces doubts about the origin of the recommendation.
“The board cannot exercise its responsibilities effectively when it is held in the dark.”