Interim Scottsdale Schools leader given permanent nod

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meets on Nov. 22 for a regular board meeting at Coronado High School. (photo by Josh Martinez)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meets on Nov. 22 for a regular board meeting at Coronado High School. (photo by Josh Martinez)

Dr. Denise Birdwell will soon remove the “interim” from her superintendent title as the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted to begin negotiating a contract to officially make her the district superintendent.

The decision came at the board’s Tuesday, Nov. 23, Governing Board meeting at Coronado High School.

SUSD governing board Vice President Barbara Perleberg and board member Kim Hartmann have been appointed to oversee contract negotiations.

The vote to move forward with Dr. Birdwell came despite a failed motion by SUSD Board President Bonnie Sneed to continue the search for a new superintendent. Ms. Sneed made a motion to hire an executive recruiting firm to continue the district’s search, but the motion failed due to a lack of a second.

“If I were to go forward with that process — moving forward with an RFP — it would just be nothing more than a political move to try and straddle both sides of the fence or to make everybody happy and to try and placate some of you,” Ms. Kirby said during the meeting.

“In the end, I would feel like I was doing a disservice to the community if I were to move forward with that path because I would be running away from the decision that in my heart, in my head and in my gut I feel is the best decision to make today.”

The majority of public comments made during the meeting were in support for Dr. Birdwell, citing her work over the past 10 months as reason for moving forward with contract negotiations.

Dr. Denise Birdwell. (photo by Josh Martinez)

Dr. Denise Birdwell. (photo by Josh Martinez)

Dr. Birdwell has been the interim superintendent since January 2016. She was appointed to the position temporarily while the district conducted a nationwide search for a replacement to Dr. David Peterson, who had abruptly resigned in December 2015.

“For once we have a superintendent — even with the name ‘interim’ attached to it — who’s actually going to (give us) positive momentum. That is something you can’t ignore,” SUSD parent Edmond Richard said.

Later in the meeting, each member of the board had a chance to give their opinion on the status of the superintendent search.

Ms. Hartmann admitted change can be challenging, but said she has seen a significant amount of support from students, parents, teachers and the community.

Ms. Kirby followed and spoke of noticing a renewed engagement in SUSD as she received emails for and against moving forward with contract negotiations.

Some of the feedback, Ms. Kirby said, centered on some liking Dr. Birdwell but still wanting the board to move forward with a national search and “see if she still bubbles to the top.”

Board member George Jackson said he is impressed with how Dr. Birdwell has worked over the past 10 months as a thought-leader and as a superintendent.

“She has, in a very short period of time, analyzed our district; she has determined some areas that need attention and she has put together a plan for student achievement that I think makes a lot of sense and I’m very excited about,” Mr. Jackson said.

Ms. Perleberg followed and said she isn’t voting for Dr. Birdwell because she thinks she can instantly solve the district’s problems, but rather she can give it strength for the future.

“For 10 months, the conversations I’ve had, that I’ve seen our district have show to me her dedication and passion for all the hard work that is absolutely necessary to make SUSD strong so that we can heal ourselves,” Ms. Perleberg said.

“I sit here tonight incredibly hopeful that we still have it in us after years of a tough go. That we still have it in us to heal ourselves as a district. I think we do and my vote is one of optimism and hope.”

Ms. Sneed was the final board member to speak on the issue, saying everyone in the district — from parents to teachers to board members — needs each other in order to move forward and improve. This, she feels, will be the key to Dr. Birdwell’s success as superintendent.

She also said she wanted to make sure that the board wasn’t just looking for anyone “other than our previous superintendent,” but rather to put some thought into selecting a new superintendent.

(photo by Josh Martinez)

(photo by Josh Martinez)

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at or at 623-445-2738

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