Mar 29, 2013 8:35 PM
Editor's note: The following is a letter signed by TUSD board members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman:
March 29, 2012
Dr. John Pedicone Superintendent, Tucson Unified School District
Dear John, During your short time as superintendent, TUSD has taken many important steps forward. You have also increased many persons’ confidence in TUSD’s future.
We were thus surprised and concerned about your sudden request to be released from your contract as of July 1. We believe that this would create serious risks for the district.
We understand that your request was not presented as an option or item that was open for discussion, but we nonetheless hope that you will reconsider it. The annual hiring cycle for superintendents has mostly passed. When the district hired Dr. Fagen as superintendent in 2008, on a typical timetable, the Board chose her as its next superintendent on March 12.
In the current situation, TUSD would not even start its search until April. Most successful superintendents of large school districts will not enter a search process that would cause them to announce sometime in May or June that they are leaving their districts leaderless for the next school year. Assistant superintendents may be easier to move but we believe that many of them, as well, would not feel free to give their districts such late notice. Applicants will surely appear and some may be excellent, but we think it is important to be realistic.
Everyone (certainly including the Board) understands that leading TUSD is a great challenge, because of political pressures, funding cuts, and the many internal problems that TUSD must solve before it can regain the widespread esteem that it commanded decades ago. This means that the superintendent of TUSD needs special skills, at least in the near term, and the district needs every advantage in the process of searching for that superintendent.
The district can hardly afford to exclude much of the potential field simply because of the timing of the search. Last August, when you and the Board were considering the extension of your contract by one year into 2014, we both had concerns about the prudence of doing so before the election, which could have changed three of the five Board members.
Waiting until after the election could have increased the collective and everyone’s personal commitment to the new team, while preserving the option of a timely search if the contract was not extended. A counterargument was that locking in the contract extension in August would increase stability and preempt a scenario in which a new Board would immediately be making decisions about the superintendent.
That decision was defensible, and we have no criticism of the past and present Board members who supported it. You and the Board showed courage in making that commitment last August, knowing the uncertainties and the chronically challenging environment facing district leadership. With respect and appreciation for your service so far, we respectfully request that you call to mind the commitments of last August, allow the contract now in place to run out, and not place the district in the position of making an off-cycle and rushed search for a long-term leader.
While we would all hope for a successful search, an unsuccessful initial search could taint the district’s second effort with the air of desperation. A well-planned and carefully executed search for a leader to begin in academic year 2014-15 has, however, an excellent chance of success. In August you clearly felt that you had important things left to accomplish, and many important projects are at critical stages: the transition to the Common Core and the PARCC tests; preparation for the Move on When Reading mandate; implementation of the Unitary Status Plan; implementation of the new teacher assessment process; finding the best solution to the flawed Lawson project that affects so much of TUSD’s operation; successful execution of the school consolidations.
A sudden and unexpected change in leadership creates the risk of broken continuity and disruption to these projects, though we have no doubts about the commitment of the Board and current staff to seeing them through to fruition. Most of the tens of thousands of families who entrust their children to us care little about who is on the Board or in central administration or about the discussions that occur in those circles.
Our primary task and responsibility is to look outward and provide a stable and supportive environment for the schools, their staffs, and those thousands of families and their students. This will best be accomplished through continuity in leadership, leading into a careful search on a conventional timetable. We are personally committed to doing what we can to promote harmony among the Board and staff during what will be, in the best of circumstances, a challenging transition. Sincerely, Michael Hicks Mark Stegeman