Tim Steller: 2 carpetbaggers hang their hats in Tucson

2013-06-19T00:00:00Z 2013-06-19T12:40:18Z Tim Steller: 2 carpetbaggers hang their hats in TucsonTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Embrace the carpetbaggers. That's the message sent last night by the boards of Tucson's two biggest school districts, both of whom made new commitments to superintendents.

The Tucson Unified School District board approved hiring H.T. Sanchez by a 4-1 vote.

The Sunnyside Unified School District board approved extending Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo's contract by two years, through the 2015-2016 school year.

Sanchez's hiring was met by the restrained enthusiasm befitting a troubled school district like TUSD: people applauding with crossed fingers.

Isquierdo's contract extension sat just well enough with the overflow crowd at Tuesday night's meeting that police were not called in. In other words, they hated it.

I hope both superintendents do wonders for their respective districts. However, I can't help seeing in them Tucson's status as a cherished destination for job-hoppers.

We're a sunny, mid-sized city where you can prove yourself and move on to a big city. Or if you don't prove yourself, you hang around in a place where people are thrilled to retire. Win-win for the carpetbaggers.

Robert Hendricks warned us about these guys. Hendricks, an emeritus professor of education at the UA, wrote a guest column for the Star in April, warning of four types of superintendents to avoid:

• The barnstormers, who have one or two big ideas for the district that end up being restrictive and damage progress.

• The shoppers, who like to apply for a lot of jobs but never take the leap to leave their comfortable position.

• The escape artists, who manage to flee old jobs just before their misdeeds catch up to them.

• Carpetbaggers, who move quickly from one district to the next, often before their contracts run out.

With TUSD's recent history of burning quickly through superintendents, it was natural that would be perhaps the greatest concern about Sanchez. Memories of Liz Fagen's great escape for Colorado are still fresh.

Hendricks looked at Sanchez's résumé and saw the signs of a carpetbagger that he worried about in print. TUSD's next superintendent switched districts seven times since his education career began in 1998.

"When you divide that into his career age, it's a lot of places," Hendricks told me Tuesday.

Hendricks, by the way, was superintendent of the Flowing Wells school district for 13 years, ending in 1996. He still lives here, and in his semiretirement he runs an educational consulting business that does superintendent searches.

Isquierdo's carpetbagger bona fides are clear, though he has been here for six years, a relative eternity for a superintendent.

He bounced from jobs in Texas to California before arriving in Tucson, carrying his one great idea (remember the barnstormers?): a "tech-savvy district."

Graduation numbers increased under his management, along with computer access, which brought him to his next and final leap - the San Antonio Independent School District. Isquierdo was lined up to make what might have been the last big leap in his career, running that Texas district, when journalists began reporting on his personal finances.

The district reversed course, and Isquierdo "withdrew his candidacy."

But he made his point of view on his career clear in a Q-and-A session with reporters after Tuesday's meeting. Asked whether staying at Sunnyside was in essence a "backup plan," Isquierdo said:

"If all of you got an opportunity to go to a bigger market, you can't tell me you wouldn't do it."

Actually, I can. For some people - most people? - there are bigger considerations in taking a job than market size.

But not so for carpetbagger superintendents.

Let us embrace them. They are ours. At least for a while.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter: @senyorreporter.

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