This week's cover story, on stands tomorrow, may not have had the best timing, but we went forward with interviews with people who work with H.T. Sanchez, the Tucson Unified School District finalist from the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa, Texas.
TUSD's governing board decided to present the community only one finalist rather than a small group as it has done in the past and it appears the board will move forward with hiring Sanchez tonight—despite nagging questions about Sanchez that piled up after last week's community forum, where he talked about his faith, creationism, climate science, and evolution. He didn't make Mexican-American studies supporters too happy with his continued use of the word "indoctrination."
Yeah, if it wasn't for the fact that he was the lone finalist and board member Mark Stegeman took exception to that, Sanchez could be considered an Arizona Daily Independent wet dream.
Tonight, at 6 p.m., the governing board convenes for a special meeting, first going into executive session to talk personnel issues and the superintendent search. The board is expected to vote on Sanchez, but that won't happen until after 8 p.m., following call to the audience.
We had asked former TUSD school board candidate Betts Putnam Hidalgo what she thought of the school board's selection process and Sanchez. Unfortunately, that interview didn't make it into the story, but this is what Putnam Hidalgo had to say:
I didn't much like the process for the superintendent search or selection. The fact that the search committee focuses on people who are working already as superintendents means that they get candidates who are willing to leave a job midstream in order to look for a better opportunity. I wanted more public input from day one. I am sorry that the board did not present other candidates — even understanding the rushed timetable — I think it gives the wrong message to the community about the valu of our input. I also think that the small number of people who attended the forum was very disappointing, and I await the day that the board recognizes that Catalina is not really a good choice of location for a very big part of our demographic. I am also very concerned about the short-term nature of his previous jobs, and I don't think we have any guarantee that he will stay for long here at TUSD ...
Finally, I am concerned about his definition of indoctrination — seems to allow for teaching creationism (yes, a perspective) while disallowing teaching global climate crisis (no, not a perspective, but a scientific truth) ... all of that said, his record does seem to indicate that he can deal with issues that deeply affect the majority of our student population. I do not say this lightly, but I think the majority of our populations need that energy, instead of the trend towards marginalization that has been occurring even as our "minorities" become our "majorities." It seems that he might be effective on issues ranging from dual language programs to the value of project-based learning and to desegregation issues. I would be interested to know if he is planning to work with the current cabinet or will be replacing many of them. As a parent, I would like as little disruption of the functioning of the district as possible during the transition.
That doesn't mean I don't want to see change, it means that I'd like to see purchase orders still be able to go through, classroom supplies still be able to be order, etc.
Here's a snippet from our cover this week, in which Sanchez tries to explain what he meant on creationism and climate science:
Sanchez just got back to Odessa from Tucson when we talked to him. He was trying to spend some time with his two-year-old son and mow the lawn.
On the questions at the community forum, Sanchez said he through they were fair. On opinions that his interest in TUSD is based on the political make-up of the new board majority, Sanchez said the board discussed doing a national search, but he doesn't have an ego thinking there couldn't be anyone better than him for the Odessa position.
Regarding criticism of the CSCOPE curriculum, Sanchez said hindsight is 20/20, and he learned something during the process. To counter that, this summer he found money to pay teachers to come in and help rewrite the district's curriculum — identify only teachers who did well on the state certification test.
“It's easy to defend what we did and say, 'Everyone was wrong,' but instead we acknowledged we could do things better. This was our first week revising and rewriting our curriculum. That's where we are right now,” he said.
But what about the things that Sanchez said during the forum, specifically on creationism and climate science?
“What I said was my faith is really important to me and I also believe in the separation of church and state. What's in the state and national curriculum is what we will teache. I don't have the desire or time to spend time to bringing in creationism (or climate science),” Sanchez said.
“There's so much work to do, the focus needs to be on those fundamentals rather than creationism and climate science.”
There's the likelihood that Sanchez will be approved by the TUSD board with a 3-2 vote, and obvious split most new superintendents hope to never experience. “I definitely want to be the right person for the job. I'd be honored, still I would hate to leave Odessa. I love it here … but you have to go where you are needed and where you're called”