Sole finalist named for TUSD top post

Odessa, Texas, educator chosen in 3-2 board vote
2013-06-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:48:25Z Sole finalist named for TUSD top postAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tucson Unified School District named only one finalist for superintendent.

H.T. Sanchez, interim superintendent of the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, was approved by the TUSD Governing Board on a split vote Monday night.

Governing Board members Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks voted no, while Adelita Grijalva, Cam Juarez and Kristel Ann Foster supported the move.

Sanchez will be in Tucson Wednesday to tour the district, interview with the board and TUSD Cabinet members, and participate in a public forum at Catalina Magnet High School, 3645 E. Pima St., from 7 to 9 p.m.

The forum will also be streamed live at tusd1.org

While Sanchez is the sole finalist, the board affirmed that no final decision has been made.

Sanchez was selected from a group of four candidates who were interviewed by the board behind closed doors on Saturday. The board refused to release the names of the others.

Stegeman opposed naming only one finalist, saying, "I think we had some good applicants, and I think we should bring two for the community and the board to look at."

Aside from his stint as interim chief of the Ector County school district, which began March 26 on a 4-3 board vote, Sanchez has not served as a superintendent before. He was previously chief of staff at that district, which has been searching for a permanent superintendent.

Sanchez, whose full name is Heliodoro Torres Sanchez Jr., has worked in public education for 15 years in Tyler, Waco and Odessa, Texas, and has been an elementary, middle school and high school principal. He also has served as a district-level bilingual services director, instructional support services executive director, and as an accountability and special populations assistant superintendent.

TUSD Governing Board member Juarez agreed with Stegeman that the candidates they met "really stood out." But Sanchez "stood head and shoulders above some of the other applicants that we had," Juarez said.

Added Foster: "I would like to echo that as well and say, if I didn't believe that, we wouldn't take this risk. I'm confident that the community will appreciate meeting the candidate."

Grijalva said that many of the challenges TUSD is facing already have been dealt with in the Odessa district.

"I really am optimistic that when he has an opportunity to speak to the community that they'll be excited like we are," she said.

Grijalva noted the split vote, saying she hopes it's not seen as a sign that Sanchez lacks support. Rather, there was a difference of opinion as to the number of candidates that would be brought forward by the board, she said.

The superintendent position has been advertised with an annual salary ranging from $190,000 to $215,000.

Sanchez said his current salary is $190,000, including stipends and benefits.

Sanchez, a husband and the father of two children, ages 2 and 6, said Monday night that he is honored and humbled by the opportunity.

"This is a great community with tremendous potential," he said in a telephone interview.

Though Sanchez hasn't been at the helm of a school district for long - a smaller one, at that, with fewer than 30,000 students compared with TUSD's 50,000 - he said he isn't overwhelmed by what lies ahead.

"I've done my research and gotten perspective," said Sanchez, who earned his doctorate in educational administration from Texas A&M Commerce. "It's really a matter of taking a look at challenges as opportunities," he said.

And at 38 years old, Sanchez said he plans to invest a significant amount of time in ensuring that the community's vision for TUSD comes to fruition.

"That's not something you do in one, two or three years. It happens over an extended period of time. It takes five to eight to 10 years," Sanchez said, noting, "I'm not retirement age; I'm far from it."

Last year, Sanchez withdrew his name from consideration for superintendent of an El Paso-area district, Socorro Independent School District, after one board member there questioned whether he has been jumping too quickly from job to job. Sanchez said then that he was looking for a long-term home for himself and his young family.

TUSD, Tucson's largest district, has been on the hunt for a new leader since March 20, when John Pedicone unexpectedly announced his resignation a year before his contract was set to expire.

His resignation is effective at the end of this month unless the board is unable to find a replacement.

Pedicone came on board in 2011. His exit is consistent with a pattern of short-tenured leaders in TUSD; the next superintendent will be the sixth to serve in the last 10 years.

The district has been plagued with declining enrollment, low academic achievement, budget woes and a long-standing desegregation case.

TUSD hired a professional search firm, PROACT, to conduct a nationwide search at a cost not to exceed $30,000.

For the TUSD position, 67 applications were submitted to PROACT, and they were narrowed down to a group of 10. That was then whittled down to the group of the four who were interviewed.

"That's not something you do in one, two or three years. It happens over an extended period of time. It takes five to eight to 10 years. I'm not retirement age; I'm far from it."

H.T. Sanchez, candidate for TUSD superintendent, on the time it may take to realize the community's vision for the district

By the numbers

Ector County Independent School District, Texas

• Budget: $197.1 million

• Employees: 3,399

• Schools: 39

• Students: 28,000

Tucson Unified School District

• Budget: $606 million

• Employees: 8,500

• Schools: 83

• Students: 50,000

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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