Scottsdale school board advocates slow-burn search for next superintendent

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

The elected leaders of the Scottsdale Unified School District would like to quickly find an interim superintendent, a recent Governing Board discussion suggests.

On Thursday, April 12, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, during a special meeting, discussed both the interim superintendent and permanent superintendent selection process.

Public comment was allowed during the interim superintendent search, where a handful of invested community members spoke about qualities that would be important to them in the next district leader.

Providing an open, slow process was a top priority for the speakers, as well as utilizing someone with experience in Arizona. Some speakers suggested names and advice for going about their search.

Robert Haws of Gust Rosenfeld attended the conversation to answer legal questions about the searches, but did not present a preferred option for the Governing Board to take in its search.

Overall, the Governing Board directed district staff to put together a job description for the interim superintendent to be publicized prior to a Tuesday, April 17 meeting, based on the desires listed by the Governing Board and public comment.

The job description doesn’t require a board vote before it’s posted, but the Governing Board wants the item to be discussed at its public meeting.

The board desires to have two parallel searches going on – one for interim and one for permanent superintendents — with different timelines for.

The job posting will be released on SUSD’s job site, as well as with Scottsdale-based Educational Services, Inc. — also referred to as ESI — and a request for proposals is to be drafted too. The district already has a contract with ESI, according to Mr. Haws.

When discussing the consortiums that SUSD is affiliated with, Governing Board member Pam Kirby — and a couple of the public speakers — requested that the purchasing cooperative 1GPA not be used.

Pam Kirby (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

1GPA was used in the procurement of architecture firm Hunt & Caraway earlier this year, which has led to alleged procurement violations and an ongoing Arizona Attorney General’s investigation. 1GPA stands for 1Government Procurement Alliance.

“If it’s 1GPA we need to know that, it’s a deal breaker for this board member,” Ms. Kirby noted when discussing the cooperative purchasing groups that the district is associated with.

According to ESI’s website, the staffing firm has contracts with 1GPA and Mohave Educational Services Cooperative, which SUSD has also done work with in the past.

The Scottsdale Unified School District most recently hired an interim superintendent in January 2016, Dr. Denise Birdwell, who received a permanent contract soon after. Dr. Birdwell was dismissed from her position in March, after being placed on administrative leave in February.

Her dismissal comes amidst the investigation and myriad other community outcries, including nepotism with another senior administrator.

This time, the district leaders want an interim superintendent candidate who is not interested in the permanent position.

The vetting process for both an interim candidate and a permanent candidate appeared to be a top priority for everyone in the room.

“We’ve not had a stellar experience with 1GPA doing the vetting,” said Governing Board Vice President Kim Hartmann.

“But let’s understand that also we want a pool of candidates that we’re going to vet. They don’t vet the candidate, they just have tentacles into the community and we want to see as many candidates as possible.”

The question came down to who is responsible for doing the vetting of job applicants, and at what point do the names of candidates become public.

Sandy Kravetz (photo by Josh Martinez)

“That brings up a good point — who is supposed to vet the candidates if we were to use that process?” Governing Board member Sandy Kravetz asked. “I guess I’m thinking more in terms of background check, skeletons in the closet kind of background check. So that we’re not caught unaware.”

Ms. Kirby says the district’s best vetting process is its community.

“I think everyone would agree that the best vetting process that we have in Scottsdale unified is our community,” she said. “At what point for the interim is it required or is it best practice that the candidates, their names become public?”

Mr. Haws says once there is a list of finalists, that’s generally when their names become public.

Ultimately the Governing Board made three unanimous votes approving two requests for proposals from search firms to assist in both the interim and permanent superintendent search, and instructing staff to seek candidates.

Community voices

The community members who came to Mohave District Annex at 3 p.m. to give their input on the next superintendent was comprised of some of SUSD’s most involved parents. Only one teacher spoke during the public meeting.

Scottsdale resident, Jann-Michael Greenburg was the first to speak, suggesting a Washington state document that outlined best practices for a superintendent’s search. Mr. Greenburg has filed his paperwork to run for Governing Board in November.

Jann-Michael Greenburg

“I didn’t prepare a set statement only because I wanted to hear what it was that you had asked, and had answers to those questions. And, I think, I have a little bit of trouble following the process here,” he said.

“Frankly, yes, you can hire a vendor to explain their process to you, and how that works. But the reality is there are plenty of materials online that thoroughly discuss that matter.”

Scottsdale resident, Tonalea K-8 and Coronado High School parent, and Governing Board candidate Mike Peabody suggested three firms that can conduct a national search for superintendent.

“A friend of mine brought up three different professional teams — one is Jim Huge, McPherson and Jacobson is another, and ECRA is the third. They’re all national search companies that can bring us a national candidate. Somebody maybe outside of the state, maybe would be good to have fresh eyes on this,” Mr. Peabody said.

Mike Peabody

“We need to properly vet. We need you, the Board to look into every aspect that you can. Google searches, LinkedIn – find out all the information you can for the superintendent coming in. Because with Dr. Birdwell, I believe all of you were warned in advance that there were problems, there were red flags coming up.”

Mr. Peabody suggested SUSD’s Executive Director of Support Services, Dr. Milissa Sackos, for the interim position.

Scottsdale resident and former SUSD employee Rose Smith spoke on her priorities for interim superintendent, and suggested Scottsdale resident and long-time educator John A. Kriekard.

“This district has suffered humiliation and disgrace due to reports of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism by our leader. We need a leader dedicated to re-affirming our standard of excellence, we need someone who believes in who we are, and knows our potential,” she said.

“We need a leader who will model respect and honor to our teachers, students, families, and community members. In selecting our interim superintendent to serve until summer 2019 I believe we an do no better than to request the leadership of John Kriekard.”

Edmond Richard

Scottsdale resident and SUSD parent Edmond Richard suggested hiring a firm that primarily does background checks.

“Board members, this is very simple. You obviously have a group of people (who) are upset in the community – you guys don’t have any job or ability to vet,” Mr. Richard said.

“One of the things you should be discussing is an RF-whatever for a company which vets everyone. Think about it, when you look at the people sitting at the table, how many are temporary or felons? Every time you put someone up there, they’re going to be attacked.”

Mr. Richard says without having a professional group checking-out the candidates, they will continue to run through district leaders.

“I know for at least 12 years we’ve been going through superintendents like they’re fall fashion lines. We need to stop this,” he said.

“You need to hire someone that can look into their background and say ‘look, person A has these qualifications, person B has these marks against them.’ Then when the public gets to it, it won’t be a surprise when the audience says ‘oh look I used Google and found this.’”

Former Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board member Christine Schild listed her priorities, which included a person who can work with a diverse population.

“SUSD is made up of five very distinct groups with different needs and desires that frequently collide due to scare resources,” Ms. Schild said.

“The superintendent must be able to communicate and balance each complex’s needs that the majority of our community finds acceptable.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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