Tucson Unified School District reveals finalists, after court order

Identities of top four show candidates from Virginia, Texas, Wash.
2013-08-10T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:49:05Z Tucson Unified School District reveals finalists, after court orderAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

No current or past TUSD employees qualified for the final round of interviews to become superintendent of Tucson's largest school district.

None of the 35 applicants with TUSD, Tucson or Arizona ties - out of 67 total applicants - was among the final four granted an interview with the Governing Board.

In addition to H.T. Sanchez from Odessa, Texas, who was hired, the other three finalists, whose names were released by the district Friday under court order, were from Virginia, Texas and Washington.

The Tucson Unified School District initially withheld the names, claiming executive session privilege, but was ordered to release them last month after the Arizona Daily Star sued.

Although the district reported 53 percent of the applicants had district, city or state ties, it refused to provide any further breakdown.

The fact that no TUSD employees were considered for the post is not a reflection of the skill level currently in the district, said Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva.

"We went through a vetting process, and there were a small number of people we were interested in interviewing," Grijalva said. "It's not a reflection on whether someone in the district could do the job, but did people internally apply for the position."

Grijalva feels the district needs to work on growing its own leaders.

"We don't do as good of a job as we should in preparing people to take over other positions," she said. "That's been true for many years. There needs to be a focus on helping people that are interested in moving forward."

The TUSD Governing Board ultimately named Sanchez, a Texas native, the lone finalist to replace outgoing Superintendent John Pedicone.

Sanchez's résumé showed he spent the past 15 years moving from job to job in different Texas school districts about every two years, which he attributed to being called upon to serve by others. He had also never been a superintendent, aside from a three-month interim stint, which he left to come to Tucson.

Before appointing Sanchez, the district went to great lengths to conceal the identities of the candidates - who were interviewed in a closed-door meeting on a Saturday morning.

The parking lot was secured, with school safety officers and strategically parked box trucks that allowed candidates to leave their vehicles and enter TUSD headquarters without being seen by the public.

Before even being allowed to enter the parking lot, candidates had to verify their identities through the use of a prearranged number code.

Once inside, candidates were escorted to different holding rooms to keep them from seeing one another.

The finalists who interviewed to become TUSD's next leader were:

• Julie Fox Baker, chief academic officer for the Houston Independent School District: Baker is responsible for the design and implementation of the district's curriculum and assessment system, as well as creating innovative programming that led to higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, and prepared students for jobs and higher education. The Houston district serves 204,000 students - four times as many students as TUSD. Baker, who has been in education for 18 years, has never served as a superintendent, but has worked in high-level positions for education agencies that served thousands of students in Ohio.

• Timothy R. Jenney, assistant professor of educational leadership for George Washington University in Washington, D.C.: Jenney has been in education for 34 years, 28 of which were spent leading small and large school districts in Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan. He joined the school last year.

• Rochonne "Shonny" Bria, former superintendent of the Battle Ground School District in Washington: Bria - a 40-year educator - was asked to leave the district, which serves 13,000 students, prematurely after voters there rejected a maintenance and operations levy, according to The Columbian newspaper. She brokered a deal that resulted in a $400,000-plus payout, the newspaper said. Before her 15 years in Battle Ground, Bria served as superintendent of an even smaller district - Pendergast School District in Phoenix - for five years.

After the release of the names, Grijalva released a statement explaining that in order to attract the highest quality candidates, all were guaranteed that their applications would remain confidential.

"Confidentiality for the candidates was not provided to shroud a public process, but to allow the district the opportunity to engage top education professionals who otherwise might not have been willing to consider publically seeking out new opportunities," Grijalva said.

The Star attempted to reach the three finalists, but received a response only from Baker, who declined to be interviewed.

Search bill exceeds contract

The cost of the TUSD superintendent search turned out to be higher than expected, to the tune of an extra $5,207.13. The TUSD Governing Board approved a contract with Proact Search not to exceed $30,000. But the final invoice received in July pushed that up to $35,207.13. The price increase, according to Proact, was the result of higher costs for advertising and higher-than-estimated consultant and candidate travel expenses. Four finalists were flown in for interviews with the Governing Board. The board will vote Tuesday on whether to increase the contract amount.

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

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

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