Scottsdale school board appears primed to offer Birdwell permanent post

The Scottsdale Governing Board at a recent school board meeting. (file photo)

The Scottsdale Governing Board at a recent school board meeting. (file photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board during its Nov. 17 study session addressed what one board member referred to as the elephant in the room: What to do about hiring the next superintendent.

Entering the evening hours in south Scottsdale at Coronado High School, only a handful of district employees and community members sat in for the conversation that has been building up for 10 months.

After weighing the options of spending time, money and resources on a national search — or move forward with Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell — board member Pam Kirby proposed an idea that could resolve the issue at the board’s next regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Ms. Kirby suggested the board vote at that time to enter into contract negotiations with Dr. Birdwell.

Dr. Denise Birdwell has been interim superintendent since January 2016, after Scottsdale’s previous superintendent, Dr. David Peterson, abruptly resigned in December 2015.

Last spring the board publicly decided to defer the superintendent search until this fall. In a 4-1 vote, the board wanted to wait to competitively participate with other districts seeking a new leader in order to get the best option.

“At this point there is one big question mark, an elephant in the room in front of us,” expressed Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board Vice President Barbara Perleberg, at the study session. “Because we’ve had an interim superintendent interviewing for this position for 10 months.”

Vice President Perleberg feels strongly about the leadership team and priorities Dr. Birdwell has identified, as well as the conversations and dialogue that have been opened since Dr. Birdwell started.

“All of our community has been craving these things, and our interim superintendent has been showing us that for 10 months,” she said.

In attendance at the study session were two outside experts, Susan Segal with Gust Rosenfeld and Caroline Brackley, with the Professional Group of Pubic Consulting, as well as the district’s in-house council and human resources.

By law, the board is not required to do a search for a new superintendent, Ms. Segal told the board.

Ms. Kirby says those in the district can feel the momentum gained under Dr. Birdwell — and she isn’t willing to risk losing that.

“What happens to the momentum we have happening right now in the Coronado complex? What happens to the momentum we have going with gifted? And the list is very long, quite frankly, and I’ve been asking myself am I willing to risk losing that momentum? And the answer is I’m not,” said Ms. Kirby.

Board members say they have received a lot of feedback — positive and negative — in the 10 months sinice Dr. Birdwell stepped into the role, which makes them feel comfortable moving forward with her.

The contract will be added as an agenda time for the Nov. 22 meeting. The board welcomes any other input before they prepare for a vote.

Governing board President Bonnie Sneed expressed concerns heard from employees of the district.

“My fear, I’m going to be very honest, is there are employees — the employee group — I have heard that they’re afraid to talk to us and that concerns me deeply,” she said.

“They’re concerned for their own jobs and they’re concerned for their principals’ jobs. And while I am very impressed with a lot of the things that have happened, I, in the back of my mind, have to question can we have both accountability and more flexibility allowing all of our stakeholder groups to talk to us freely?”

President Sneed and board member George Jackson are both at the tail-end of their term on the governing board. Two new members, Sandy Kravetz and Allyson Beckham will be installed in January.

“The one question I get asked all the time, is am I committed to Scottsdale? I’m more than committed to Scottsdale,” Dr. Birdwell told the board and the audience. “And I know you’re debating the next superintendent step here; if you’re next step is to say ‘Dr. Birdwell would you like to stay here and continue this momentum?’ The answer is yes.”

The Nov. 22 meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. To contact the governing board members, visit

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

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