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Updated Jun 13, 2013, 12:03 pm Originally posted Jun 13, 2013, 9:24 am
H.T. Sanchez, the sole finalist for TUSD superintendent, answered questions at length at a public forum Wednesday night, speaking for two hours before an audience of about 90 at Catalina High. Sanchez gave his take on issues facing the district, including qualified support for Mexican American studies, a rejection of guns in schools, and a willingness to grapple with charter schools.
Sanchez answered dozens of questions, frequently giving detailed answers.
"I'm a straight-shooter," he said, leavening his talk with humorous asides and references to his faith.
Speaking from the stage of the Catalina Magnet High School auditorium, the 38-year-old began his responses to moderator Larry Aldrich's questions — many submitted by audience members — with generalities, but moved to more specifics as the evening wore on.
Sanchez said he is familiar with desegregation cases such as the court order TUSD remains under, and said dealing with such situations is a matter of "honoring the dignity" of those who have been violated. "They feel that they've been wronged, that they've been denied something."
Sanchez called for an "honest conversation" about resolving desegregation issues, "rather than paperwork or facades or hollow programs."
"Education is the civil right of the 21st century," he said.
He offered qualified support for TUSD's Mexican American Studies program, but expressed concern about students "being indoctrinated."
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"I don't have enough information" to judge the now-cancelled program on its merits, he said.
Sanchez said the history of all ethnic groups should be taught, not just that of a single group.
"It needs to be in there, but so does everybody else's story," he said.
Sanchez said it's a teacher's responsibility to empower students to think critically, not to tell them what to think about political issues. He used the example of his knowledge of events at the Alamo expanding as he learned more history.
Sanchez did offer support for teaching creationism, and termed climate change a "point of view."
"Speaking as a dad, and as a potential superintendent of this district, my opinion is very simple: our job is not to indoctrinate students," he said.
"I believe our job is to teach them how to read, teach them how to write, teach them mathematics, and you present them with information. You empower them to think critically, and they'll come to their own conclusions," he said
"Evolution, creationism, global warming; they're all perspectives," Sanchez said.
The superintendent candidate acknowledged that he has only three month's experience leading his own district - on an interim basis - but pointed to his years of educational leadership and his relative youth as a plus, saying he'll have the energy for the long hours required.
He also deflected concerns about being picked because of his ethnicity with a joke.
"They call me a Hispanic," he said. "Well, I don't hiss and I don't panic."
Sanchez said that children of undocumented immigrants are "passive participants" in any violations of the law, and that schools are not allowed to discriminate against them.
Sanchez said he would purchase a home in the district, and that his children would attend TUSD schools.
He grew animated responding to a question about charter schools.
"It's part of my character to be very upfront," he said. "I hope and pray that I don't offend anybody who believes in charter schools."
"Whatever charters offer, I believe we can offer better," he said to audience applause. "I believe that we do offer a better product."
He said Common Core standards are "not the ceiling, that's the floor."
"There's something noble in wanting to make sure every American knows at least these things, but we should never allow ourselves to be limited by those things," he said.
Education is difficult work, Sanchez said.
"There are no silver bullets out there, there are no panaceas," Sanchez said. "You don't chamber that silver bullet, shoot it and kill the ugly werewolf of low performance," he said.
Retired teacher Georgia Brousseau said Sanchez "gave a very favorable impression," but told members of the Governing Board who attended that "I just wish I cold have someone to compare him to."
The Governing Board members present — Kristel Foster, Michael Hicks, Cam Juarez and Mark Stegeman all listened to Sanchez, with some submitting questions of their own — all declined to comment at length on the decision to present the public with only one finalist to lead the district.
The Board members cited confidentiality, but several said they wished they could have brought forward other candidates.
Stegeman and Hicks were the most outspoken on that topic.
"I wish there'd more of a selection" for the public to question, Hicks said.
"I like (Sanchez), but I'm not sold yet," Hicks said, saying he wants a superintendent "who's here for the long haul."
Foster described the candidate as "humble, politic and intelligent ... those are keys to relating" to the public.
Sanchez showed "values that are grounded in our community," Foster said.
Like the other Board members, Foster declined to say if she'd vote to appoint Sanchez next week.
"I want to hear people's concerns," she said — a statement echoed by the other TUSD leaders.
Juarez said that although he was impressed by several candidates, "I forgot everybody else" when Sanchez was interviewed by the Board.
Stegeman, who with Hicks cast a protest vote Monday when the Board voted 3-2 to put forth just one candidate, indicated that he was impressed by Sanchez's performance Wednesday, but that he wanted to hear from constituents before making up his mind.
"I am a veteran teacher and prior to this tonight I have felt that I wanted to get out of teaching at my 20 years," said Celeste Aho, a kindergarten teacher at Sewell Elementary School who attended the forum. "And listening to him re-instilled in me the fact that there is hope and this district can come around and that I enjoy my job."
"I appreciated Dr. Sanchez's candor, I am encouraged by the notion that he is going to be here for a significantly longer tenure than any previous superintendents that I have been under and I have been in the school district for 13 years," said Jason Freed, a math teacher at Alice Vail Middle School. Freed said he was concerned about Sanchez's lack of experience but "optimistic .. about his willingness to learn."'
Not every attendee gave Sanchez high marks.
"All I heard was a lot of repetition. Communication, communication, but there wasn't any actual definition about how he was gonna do the communication to the public or to the teachers," said Marivel Roybal, who teaches kindergarten at White Elementary School.
"It's great to hear his positivity he wants to bring in and that he's going to listen, but what are you going to do after you listen?," Roybal said. "He's so young that he's not set in his ways and that's a good thing."
"He's a great speaker, but there are some questions he didn't answer," said Lisette Barragan, a University of Arizona student who attended TUSD schools. "He's young. He's energized. He might have the drive to actually get things done. I agree with what he said about education, I just really hope he follows through."
As for Sanchez?
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"I think it went well. There were ... some really great question and it gave me an opportunity to let the community know who I was and where I stood on those tough questions," he said after the forum.
TucsonSentinel.com’s Ryan Revock and Molly Baker contributed to this report.