The congratulatory hugs and handshakes that followed the hire of a new Tucson Magnet High School principal and the former principal moved to a different administrative position would have seemed normal and downright jovial if not for the public comment that followed, questioning why the district's flagship high school didn't have a place for an African-American or Latino in its top administrative job.
At the Tuesday, July 8 TUSD governing board meeting, Daisy Jenkins told the board that a group of 35 to 40 African-American community leaders and members had met with TUSD superintendent H.T. Sanchez and assistant superintendent Adrian Vega to share their concerns for African-American students and the removal of TMHS principal Clarice Clash.
The "lack of black administrators on school campuses" throughout the district needs to be addressed, Jenkins said, adding that she was there speaking before the governing board not on behalf of a particular group, but as an individual.
"While I certainly applaud Dr. Clash's assignment it means we now have zero African-American (high school) principals," Jenkins said.
"... We may be small as a community, however that should not be a factor and we expect the same amount of representation and accountable results in terms of African-American student performance and diversity in hiring ..."
The other issue Jenkins brought up is that Clash was "vilified in one of the local newspapers," a story she referred to printed in the Tucson Weekly (See "Too Little, Too Late?" March 13, 2014), about an investigation requested by a group of TMHS staff, their difficulty communicating with Sanchez and the legal department, ongoing safety issues at the high school and what staff members saw as a conflict in the district's own legal counsel conducting the investigation rather than an independent entity as requested.
Jenkins wondered what happened to the investigation and if the results could exonerate Clash publicly. "Please make us aware of that."
Gloria Copeland, a former governing board member and an African-American representative in the ongoing district desegregation case, told the board she was disappointed in what took place, too—that in a school that's 75 percent Latino, Sanchez could have placed a Latino or another African-American in the principal position, but chose an Anglo from outside the district.
"You only interviewed one African -American and three Anglos. Tucson High is only 14 percent Anglo," she said. "If anybody needed a principal of color those kids do. It's unconscionable. You didn't even interview a Latino. ... (The Latino candidate was) told their application wasn't going to be looked at."
Before the vote took place that night to hire a new principal for the high school and hire Clash for a new administrative position, Sanchez told the board that the principal candidate before them was the result of a national search. And as the vote to hire Karyle Green as TMHS's new principal for the 2014-2015 school year, governing board member Mark Stegeman mentioned a controversy that existed in hiring the former superintendent of an Indiana district without further explanation except "I read a lot of press reports and internal files. ... This is a very important appointment for us. She looks to me like quite a strong candidate and I have no hesitation in supporting it."
Governing board member Michael Hicks abstained, while Stegeman, Kristel Foster and Adelita Grijalva voted yes.
The controversy Stegeman refers to are reports of Green's resignation as superintendent of the East Allen County Schools district in Indiana last year. Some critics of the hire said it wasn't Green's race that was problematic, but that she left her district under similar pressures and issues allegedly facing Clash at TMHS. The result of an audit showed dissatisfied parents, district employees and a community critical of how the district was run, in particular district leadership and Green.
Shortly after the vote to hire Green, Clash was hired as director for curriculum development—the governing board vote was unanimous. "Let's meet in the middle," Grijalva said, asking all the board members go down from the dais and take a picture with Clash on the floor of the board room.
The investigation Jenkins referred to in her comments was initiated by a complaint given to Sanchez by six TMHS staff members about a month after he was hired as the new superintendent in August 2013. After months of requests and the complaint seemingly lost after being given to Sanchez, the district didn't initiate an investigation until eight months later in March 2014.
Some of the complaintants, frustrated, reached out to the Weekly just before the district initiated the March investigation—frustrated that their requests went unanswered for weeks, then the lost complaint and then the fact that the investigation would be handled internally and not by an independent representative outside the district.
The complaint and those who met with the Weekly outlined concerns that Clash was treating African-American students differently, possibly less harshly, then Latino students. It also outlined complaints about discriminatory hiring practices—favoring African-American hires over others. There were also issues brought up on campus safety from a change in how school liaisons were used, lessening their presence and discipline authority on campus.
According to emails and documents provided to the Weekly, the THMS investigation was provided to Sanchez on April 4, 2014, but after several requests, it wasn't provided to the complaintants until May 13, 2014.
The 21-page investigation report, accompanied by 14 exhibits, didn't favor the complaintants allegations against Clash and safety issues.
"The ultimate conclusion of this investigation is that Dr. Clash has not violated any Governing Board Policies in her leadership at THMS. Although she did not follow the proper Human Resources process for hiring her Office Manager and instead appointed a higher level individual to perform these duties, she obtained approval from Finance to continue this throughout the end of this fiscal year. Unfortunately, because of how this process was perceived by the rest of her staff, Dr. Clash will have to work to rebuild staff faith in her hiring practices," the report stated.
In response to the investigation, on May 29, 2014, complainants submitted an eight-page letter to the governing board, focusing on how the complaint was initially treated by the administration and how the investigation was handled.
"The Fort Lee Bridge-gate scandal in New Jersey, in which Governor Chris Christie had his legal counsel investigate wrongdoing, are much like the recent investigations ordered by TUSD Superintendent Sanchez," they stated.
"Christie's legal counsel conducted the investigation and issued a report that found no wrong-doing on his behalf, as did the investigation into any wrongdoing pertaining to Superintendent Sanchez' ties to a particular consultant who was awarded a $92,000 contract shortly after Sanchez got the board to double the ceiling for contracts he could issue on his own to $100,000."
In this investigation, they added, it wasn't much of surprise that legal found no wrong-doing.
"Our plea for an independent and neutral investigation was ignored."
The full story on the investigation can be found at daily.tucsonweekly.com, along with documents discussed in the story.