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TUSD Sup't Pedicone announces resignation
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TUSD Sup't Pedicone announces resignation

Search for new leader to begin immediately

  • Pedicone announced his resignation Wednesday, seated next to Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva. Seated in the background were Board members Cam Juarez and Michael Hicks.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comPedicone announced his resignation Wednesday, seated next to Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva. Seated in the background were Board members Cam Juarez and Michael Hicks.
  • Board President Adelita Grijalva spoke Thursday about Pedicone's resignation.
    Maizie Simpson/TucsonSentinel.comBoard President Adelita Grijalva spoke Thursday about Pedicone's resignation.
  • Pedicone answered reporters' questions at a Thursday afternoon news conference announcing his resignation.
    Maizie Simpson/TucsonSentinel.comPedicone answered reporters' questions at a Thursday afternoon news conference announcing his resignation.
  • Pedicone read from his resignation announcement.
    Maizie Simpson/TucsonSentinel.comPedicone read from his resignation announcement.
  • Hicks and Juarez listened as Pedicone and Grijalva spoke.
    Maizie Simpson/TucsonSentinel.comHicks and Juarez listened as Pedicone and Grijalva spoke.
  • Pedicone at an April 2012 school board meeting.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comPedicone at an April 2012 school board meeting.

John Pedicone, the superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, announced his resignation Wednesday.

He will leave his post on June 30, he said in an email to staff. Pedicone confirmed that he was stepping down at a hastily called afternoon press conference.

Pedicone denied that he was pushed out, although he has more than a year remaining on his contract.

"This is not a matter of someone fleeing a place," he told reporters. Governing Board members Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez each said that they had not supported removing the superintendent.

Board member Mark Stegeman said the move was "a big surprise to me. I'm sorry to see this happen." Stegeman said he learned of Pedicone's resignation on Tuesday.

"I stand behind his decision, but it is a great loss for the district," Juarez said.

In an emailed letter to staff, Pedicone said, "This decision did not come easily, but I believe it is in the best interests of the district that I do so. 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."

Pedicone, who has led the area's largest school district since 2010, has faced criticism for his handling of the state's challenge to TUSD's ethnic studies program, and opposition to school closures and other measures proposed to fill a daunting budget hole. The district has seen low student achievement and declining enrollment in recent years.

"It was terribly difficult for the community as we tried to proceed through the Mexican American Studies issues," Pedicone said.

"I would never have imagined that we would have encountered the community response that we had," Pedicone said Wednesday afternoon. "We're kind of wounded from things that happened."

"Contrary to what people think, this district is not as disabled as people make it to be," he told reporters.

"There's something alluring to see the train wreck," he said.

"We get awards that people don't recognize. We have got the number one school in the nation," he said. "It's not a daunting challenge that's insurmountable."

"It’s fashionable to watch TUSD have trouble," he said. "Stop making it really kind of cool to watch TUSD fail."

"We need to change that into positive thinking if we want to move forward," he said.

He said he expects TUSD's $17 million budget hole to be fixed by the end of June.

Pedicone said he's not considering taking the vacant chancellor's post at Pima Community College.

"Absolutely not," he said, laughing.

"When I was deciding whether to resign, what made the call for me was realizing that this Board needs leaders who are consistent as it works to form a new identity," Pedicone said.

The new Board "deserves to have ... a long-term superintendent that they can begin to work with, that they can cultivate a relationship with," he said.

Announcement moved up after Sentinel breaks news

TucsonSentinel.com broke the news Wednesday morning, prior to Pedicone's release of the letter.

Pedicone did not return a morning phone call, before the letter was sent out, and Governing Board members either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries regarding his resignation prior to the email.

Appearing with him at the press conference were Board members Michael Hicks and Juarez, and Board President Adelita Grijalva.

"I hope we can continue on the trajectory that we have," Grijalva said.

"It really isn't supporting the administration, it's supporting the vision that we have," she said. "We have to continue to think about the future. We haven't done that as well as we can."

Grijalva said the last few years have been "one of the most negative times I've been a Board member."

Speaking of the state Legislature and Attorney General Tom Horne's targeting of TUSD's MAS courses, she said, "A bill that focused on one district and one department should send red flags. But we have to move past that."

A news conference had been scheduled for midday Thursday for Pedicone to announce that he's leaving his post. That announcement was quickly moved up to Wednesday after TucsonSentinel.com broke the news that the superintendent was stepping down.

"The plan that was tomorrow we would have a press conference and all the board members planned to attend, but because we wanted to get out in front of any misconceptions of anything that has been written, because it is inaccurate and we wanted to give him the opportunity to tell all his staff rather than hear it through the news," Grijalva said.

Dismissal reports denied by Board members

Sources had indicated that Pedicone might be facing dismissal from Board members Grijalva, Juarez and Foster.

Foster, the board's clerk, disputed that account Wednesday.

While declining to comment on the resignation prior to Pedicone's announcement, she said, "There have been no conversations about his dismissal."

"The rumors that we were trying to oust Pedicone were just not true," Juarez told reporters. "I never dreamed that we'd be replacing Dr. Pedicone."

Others TUSD insiders said Pedicone was prompted by the Board's continuing refusal to consider outsourcing blue-collar jobs. Only Hicks and Stegeman have backed proposals to contract with outside companies for some services.

Grijalva, speaking to reporters, also said that the move was not prompted by any Board members, who "reluctantly accepted his resignation."

"I think this Board specifically understands that we have to work together to move forward," Grijalva said Wednesday.

"We're five members of one board," she said. The superintendent is the "only employee we have any influence on, and that's one person. If we understand that, we have limitless potential."

In a decade on the Board, Grijalva said she has seen five different superintendents in Pedicore's seat.

Prior to Pedicone, the TUSD superintendent's chair was filled by Stan Paz, Roger Pfeuffer, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and interim chief John Carroll.

Pedicone's $211,000 annual contract was extended by the previous Board — which included Grijalva, Stegeman and Hicks — for an extra year in 2012, to run through June 30, 2014.

Pedicone will resign before the end of his contract. When he took the superintendent's job, he indicated he would stay for three to five years.

"When I came in, I made it pretty clear that I wasn't here for the long term," he said Wednesday.

The move will leave two holes at the top of the district's roster. Maggie Shafer, the assistant superintendent for preschools, elementary and K-8 schools, has submitted her resignation, effective June 28.

Grijalva said that a national search for both replacements will begin immediately and might cost $25,000. "I'm just throwing that out there," she said. The search process that resulted in Pedicone's appointment cost $10,000, she said.

Pedicone's predecessor, Celania-Fagen, also left the district early in her contract. She resigned from TUSD in 2010 after less than two years on the job, citing Arizona's cuts in education budgets for her move to a superintendent's post in Colorado.

"It's fair to call it challenging," said Stegeman when asked about the difficulty in finding a replacement superintendent.

Pedicone's resignation is "a bad outcome" for the district, Stegeman said. "But it's not fatal."

"We'll support the teachers and staff and cabinet as much as we can" during the transition, he said.

Grijalva said the Board will seek out a new superintendent who "won't tear up everything we've gained."

Hicks echoed support for Pedicone.

"For selfish reasons, I'd like him to stay on longer. We had our differences, but I truly believe he was the best man for the job," he said.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Maizie Simpson contributed to this report.


Pedicone's resignation letter

March 20, 2013

Dear Faculty and Staff,

After much consideration, I have submitted my resignation to the Governing Board effective June 30, 2013. This decision did not come easily, but I believe it is in the best interests of the district that I do so. 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.

I want to let you know that I am very proud of the work that we have done together. There have been numerous difficult challenges we have faced as a team, but I am always gratified by the resiliency you show and the passion for excellence that guides what you do. We have made significant progress toward making our vision our reality. We have experienced the transformation of our culture which recognizes that together we can accomplish anything. This district is a special place and it is so because of the spirit that drives our mission on behalf of the children and families we serve.

It is a source of personal pride that in the past two and a half years, we have put the district on a positive trajectory – improving student achievement, fixing inefficient business practices, and showing those we serve that TUSD occupies a place of respect in our community.

We have begun to transform TUSD through significant improvements, including:

  • Implementing a district goals process that focuses on student achievement and accountability.
  • Increasing the number of students meeting or exceeding AIMS requirements and improved schools labels by doubling the number of "B" schools and reducing the number of "D" schools by 40% in 2011-12.
  • Improving achievement at the district's two persistently lowest performing schools through the turnaround model, resulting in Palo Verde showing a 22% improvement in AIMS math scores and Rincon showing an 11.3% improvement in passing grades. Every indication suggests these schools will continue to improve.
  • Adopting rigorous mathematics and language arts curriculum that is based on Arizona's Common Core standards.
  • Raising the quality of instruction, training 4,000 administrators and teachers in the Essential Elements of Instruction to establish a common research-based instructional model. This promises to continue to pay dividends as continued training and mentorship programs are initiated.
  • Launching full-day kindergarten at every elementary school, improving the opportunities for all students and increasing kindergarten enrollment by 12% in 2012-13.
  • Creating business practices that will reduce systemic obstacles and improve efficiency and effectiveness of operational procedures.
  • Being released from Court oversight by successfully completing the requirements of the Consent Judgment related to the procurement action brought against the District by the Attorney General.
  • Implementing an E-Rate federal funding plan, resulting in the District receiving more than $10 million in funding, the first time the district received such funding in a decade.
  • Launching a technology initiative to bring the district up to 21st Century telecommunications standards by replacing all wide-area and local-area networks, replacing more than 100 mission-critical servers, upgrading phone and data systems, replacing 7,300 aging school computers, and adding campus-wide wireless networks to every school site.
  • Launching a customer service plan to provide a high standard of service to the community.
  • Establishing a transportation efficiency and accountability management system to ensure all eligible and requesting students are scheduled and routed one week prior to the start of school. Significantly reduced complaints and problems related to transportation.
  • Directing resources from closed schools to support quality across all remaining schools and departments.
  • Developing a Unitary Plan that will guide the district forward in support of student equity and opportunity.
  • Developing community partnerships with local businesses to support student success.
  • Developing a set of values and a vision for action through a collaborative approach that defines who we are and what our focus must be - "Delivering Excellence in Education Every Day…Grow, Reach, Succeed!"

These are meaningful improvements that have come to TUSD through the hard work we have done together. I want to express my appreciation to each of you for the energy and expertise you exhibit each day in pursuit of providing a quality educational experience to our students. We are motivated by a common purpose and linked by our desire to do what is right for the thousands of students in our care.

It has been an honor to serve with you and get to know you. I thank you for all you have done and will continue to do in the months and years ahead. I have been pleased to be a part of the TUSD family and will remember the time we spent together with fondness and gratitude.

I know that you will continue to put students first and work as a team to ensure that our efforts to lift our district will continue in order to create the organization that our children, families and community deserve.

Sincerely,

John Pedicone

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