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No deal, yet: TUSD Board recesses, will consider new sup't contract Fri.

Citing the need to continue negotiations with possible new superintendent H.T. Sanchez, the TUSD Governing Board recessed a special meeting Thursday after about 90 minutes in executive session. Boardmembers will meet again Friday afternoon.

Members of the Board were mum about the state of negotiations, upholding a legal requirement to not disclose what occurs in an executive session.

"We're negotiating," was all Boardmember Kristel Foster would say.

Thursday's meeting hurriedly broke up, as members of the Board cited a need to attend summer graduation ceremonies.

Boardmember Cam Juarez echoed the concerns of other TUSD leaders. "Sorry, I've got to go; we need to show support for the kids," he said. "You should come, too."

The Board recessed and will reconvene at 4:30 p.m. Friday, after holding an executive session that began Thursday at 5 p.m.

That special meeting followed a lengthy executive session that was part of a Tuesday meeting of the Board.

TUSD attorney Martha Durkin said the Board can recess the meeting and resume within 24 hours without posting another meeting notice, as the agenda will remain the same. The only items on the agenda are a contract for a new superintendent, and two-week consulting agreements with the outgoing superintendent, John Pedicone, and deputy superintendent Maria Menconi, who is also leaving the district.

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Two weeks ago, Sanchez appeared at a public forum in Tucson after having been announced as the sole finalist for the position, 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.

If negotiations are successful, Sanchez, 38, would leave the 28,000-student Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, where he has been interim superintendent since March 26.

He would take over the 50,000-student Tucson district, succeeding Pedicone, who is stepping down after two years with the district.

In a decade, TUSD has seen five different superintendents. Prior to Pedicone, the superintendent's chair was filled by Stan Paz, Roger Pfeuffer, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and interim chief John Carroll.

Long resumé of short stays

At Ector County, Heliodoro Torres "H.T." Sanchez 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

At a lengthy public forum two weeks ago, 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.

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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."

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.

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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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Durkin, not Menconi, was negotiating a temporary consulting contract with TUSD.


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1 comment on this story

1
1770 comments
Jun 28, 2013, 11:14 am
-0 +1

Well, when you make the mistake of naming Sanchez the only finalist, he certainly is in control of the negotiating process. Sanchez is certainly able to hold up TUSD for way more than he is actually worth, and if Sanchez has been reading the papers around here for the last three years or so he knows that TUSD will be stupid enough to buckle to his unreasonable demands.

Don’t believe me? Wait until the details of his contact is announced…then compare those to similar contracts of Sup’s in like-sized school districts.

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Ryan Revock/TucsonSentinel.com

Sanchez appeared at a public forum June 12.