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TUSD appoints Sanchez new sup't in 4-1 vote

On a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board appointed H.T. Sanchez as the district's new superintendent.

Boardmember Mark Stegeman voted "no," but said after the meeting that he would support the new superintendent.

Board Clerk Kristel Foster said she backed the choice of Sanchez because "his values are grounded in our community. He shares our values."

Sanchez is the "very best person" for the job of all who applied, she said.

He "has the roots that will be able to be planted here, and I do trust that he will stay ... if we welcome him," she said.

"I fully support him," said Boardmember Michael Hicks, explaining his vote. "The community is going to get behind him."

Before the vote, a handful of speakers spoke to the Board, an audience of 10 community members and nearly as many reporters.

"I support Dr. H.T. Sanchez. He has the willingness to work with employee groups," said TUSD teacher Marivel Roybal before the vote. "There have been both negative and positive comments, but I hope you vote yes."

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Speaking for the Tucson Education Association, Roybal expressed support for the choice of Sanchez.

"He is someone new, and someone with a different perspective," she said.

A former candidate for the Board, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, said, "I’m very sorry about the process of the appointment of this person. I'm sorry the community didn't have more time to to weigh in on more candidates."

"You guys are between a rock and a hard place; the timing is not good," she said.

Putnam-Hidalgo pointed out that many questions raised regarding Sanchez center on curriculum issues, and that courses are approved by the Board, rather than the superintendent.

Sanchez, who's served as an interim superintendent in Ector County, Texas, for three months, will take over the 50,000-student TUSD after contract negotiations are concluded. The Board will have to approve the contract, but Sanchez could be in place by mid-July.

Stegeman said, "I voted no because I felt his experience did not support his elevation to a job as difficult as this at this point in his career."

"Once the vote is taken, and now it has been taken, it's all of our responsibility to do everything in our power to make him successful," he said.

Board President Adelita Grijalva cited Sanchez's "knowledge and expertise" in explaining her support.

With TUSD having so many Hispanic students, it's important that they have a leader fluent in Spanish, "who can speak to them without an interpreter," she said.

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"This vote is really a vote for hope in the future of TUSD," she said.

Sanchez was announced last week as the district's sole finalist for the position. The TUSD Board winnowed a list of 67 applicants down to four who were interviewed. Sanchez was the only candidate announced; the Arizona Daily Star filed suit against the district Tuesday after TUSD officials refused to release the names of any other applicants to news organizations.

Sanchez was tapped as the last man standing last Monday night as the Board split 3-2 in narrowing down the list of candidates.

Grijalva, Juarez and Foster voted in favor of that move, while Stegeman and Hicks opposed it, citing concerns about the process.

Prior to the vote Tuesday, Hicks again expressed his reservations about the process, and questioned the low test scores by students in Sanchez's current district.

But Hicks said he was going to vote for Sanchez.

"I'm going to go for it," he said.

Heliodoro Torres "H.T." Sanchez has been the interim superintendent of the 28,000-student Ector County Independent School District since March 26. He was elevated from a position of chief of staff when the previous superintendent announced his retirement. Sanchez had served in that position for two years.

Sanchez has no other CEO-level experience. Working in education for 15 years, he has served as a district-level bilingual services director, executive director of instructional support services, and as an assistant superintendent for accountability and special populations. Previously, he was a middle school and high school principal, including two years leading a K-6 Catholic school. He spent two years as an assistant principal in an elementary school, and taught junior-high English for two years.

His resume doesn't include any position lasting more than two years. Although he has worked for Ector County ISD since fall 2010, his resume includes positions at three other Texas school districts.

Sanchez is also an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he teaches graduate-level education administration courses.

Last July, Sanchez withdrew as a finalist for the post of superintendent of Socorro Independent School District in El Paso. He was one of three finalists for that position.

Two-hour questioning

Last Wednesday, Sanchez appeared at a public forum in Tucson, 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 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.

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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.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Angeline Carbajal contributed to this report.

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have your say   

1 comment on this story

Jun 19, 2013, 3:44 pm
-0 +0

Board Clerk Kristel Foster said she backed the choice of Sanchez because “his values are grounded in our community. He shares our values.”

Sanchez is the “very best person” for the job of all who applied, she said.

Hmmm….maybe she can share with us who those people were? Maybe?

Board President Adelita Grijalva cited Sanchez’s “knowledge and expertise” in explaining her support.

With TUSD having so many Hispanic students, it’s important that they have a leader fluent in Spanish, “who can speak to them without an interpreter,” she said.

So, I guess TUSD isn’t teaching English anymore. I guess that’s not surprising since they dumped the history requirement, too, and allowed the reconquista indoctrination classes to substitute.

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Sanchez answered questions at a two-hour public forum last week.