In what he said was an effort to bring stability to Tucson's largest school district, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone unexpectedly announced his resignation Wednesday - more than a year before his contract expires.
With Pedicone's resignation effective at the end of June, the Tucson Unified School District has about three months to find a new leader to take over what has long been known as a complex organization.
TUSD has been plagued by a continuous decline in enrollment, low academic achievement, major budget woes and an ongoing state challenge to its ethnic studies program.
The national search for Pedicone's replacement is expected to cost about $10,000.
Though Pedicone made it clear from the start he could not commit to more than five years, the announcement caught many by surprise.
His departure is consistent with a pattern over the last decade of short-tenured superintendents. Pedicone has served since 2011.
The next superintendent of TUSD will be the sixth in 10 years.
Previous superintendents include:
• John Carroll (interim) 2010
• Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, 2008-10
• Roger Pfeuffer, 2004-08
• Stan Paz, 2000-04
In explaining his decision, Pedicone noted there are two new board members in place, and when his contract expires at the end of June 2014, two seats will be up for election.
He also expects the district's biggest issues will be resolved or well on their way toward resolution, including the $17 million budget deficit, the implementation of the Unitary Status Plan and the closure of 11 schools.
"This decision did not come easily, but I believe it is in the best interests of the district that I do so," Pedicone said in a letter to the staff. "The timing is right. It makes sense to allow our newly elected board members to work with a superintendent who will be in place for the duration of their first board terms.
"The sooner that happens, the more likely it will be that you will have a leadership team that provides long-term consistency and the stability that you deserve."
In working toward that stability, the decision has had the opposite effect, said Frances Banales, president of the Tucson Education Association, which represents TUSD teachers.
"Anytime you have an abrupt change like this, more uncertainty follows," Banales said. "I respect the decision, but it does have a big impact - we need continuity."
Though Banales feels the timeline is short, she is hopeful that the hiring process will be thorough, thoughtful, and will involve TUSD employees, the TUSD community and the community at large.
The TUSD Governing Board reluctantly accepted Pedicone's resignation Tuesday night, said board President Adelita Grijalva.
"It is a reasonably short period of time, but we've made strong gains and have laid a foundation for our continued success," Grijalva said of Pedicone's tenure. "Make no mistake, this is not something we wanted Dr. Pedicone to do.
"I believe this is a loss for the district."
The revolving door of superintendents is an indication, according to Banales, of how complex TUSD is.
"To run a district of this size, and this diverse in so many ways, is clearly a difficult path," Banales said. "We've got a culture and a reputation, and we can only move forward by working together."
The reputation is perhaps one of TUSD's biggest challenges, Pedicone said.
"Over time - perhaps in some cases justifiably, in other cases not justifiably - it's become fashionable for the community to feel negative about this district," Pedicone said. "I can't change the person's tendency to want to see the train wreck.
"This is the city's district. The city should embrace it and take it seriously that we have the opportunity together to make this district what I believe it can become."
He added that contrary to what people think, the district is not as "disabled" as it is perceived to be and there are more positives than negatives.
Positives include: a reduction in D-rated schools and an increase in B-rated schools; development of a Common Core curriculum; improved measures to assess student performance and to predict student success on AIMS; increased access to high-level courses for all students; and adoption of a plan to bring racial balance to TUSD schools.
Pedicone is confident that the district will continue on a trajectory of improvement under strong leadership, and said his departure is not to be taken as him cracking under pressure.
"It's not a daunting challenge that is insurmountable," Pedicone said. "Quite the opposite. I found it to be reasonable, and it just requires that we do it together."
Pedicone's base salary is $211,000, plus benefits and additional allowances for his vehicle, civic responsibilities and technology.
He took over for Elizabeth Celania-Fagen who fled from the district in 2010 - less than two years into her tenure - citing state budget cuts to K-12 education as part of her reason.
Join John Pedicone for a live Q&A about his decision and his days at TUSD at noon Monday at live.azstar net.com
John Pedicone over the years
• Served as vice president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council for four years. He is also the master's degree program coordinator, educational policy studies and practice, in the College of Education at the University of Arizona.
• Worked his way through the Flowing Wells Unified School District, starting in 1982 as an assistant principal of Flowing Wells Junior High for one year before becoming principal of Flowing Wells High for four years. That was followed by 11 years as assistant superintendent of the district and six years as the superintendent.
• Has taught at the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, the University of Phoenix and the University of Wisconsin.
• Has a bachelor's degree in English, a master's in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate in educational administration.
"Over time - perhaps in some cases justifiably, in other cases not justifiably - it's become fashionable for the community to feel negative about this district. I can't change the person's tendency to want to see the train wreck."
John Pedicone, TUSD superintendent
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea