Scottsdale school board candidates discuss superintendent qualifications

In recent weeks, the shape of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board political landscape has changed drastically, after one candidate was removed from the ballot and a local resident has since announced her campaign as a write-in option.

Two open seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board are up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Patty Backman and Jann-Michael Greenburg are the official candidates vying for the school board, as former candidate Mike Peabody’s campaign finance violations rendered him unable to run. Around the same time, former SUSD Governing Board member Christine Schild announced her candidacy as an official write-in candidate.

Ms. Beckman, a mother of twin girls at Mohave Middle School, has lived in Paradise Valley since 2002 and says her family has lived in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas since the 1950s. She has a background in finance with a degree from Arizona State University.

Mr. Greenburg is a 2012 Arcadia High School graduate, rising to be fifth in his class, he says. Following graduation he went to law school at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with a first class honors degree in law in 2016.

After passing the New York bar exam in July 2017, Mr. Greenburg joined his family-owned copyright licensing agency, Tresona. Mr. Greenburg runs Tresona’s business affairs department focusing on legal, financial and business development matters. He is expected to be sworn in as an attorney in New York on Sept. 12, he says.

Ms. Schild, a Scottsdale resident since 1993, has been an attorney for 35 years, she practiced until 1989 before retiring to raise her children.

She was elected to the Scottsdale school board in 2002, and served from 2003-07. In 2007, Ms. Schild opened a law practice but retired in 2014, she says.

She has a masters degree in urban ministry and works with underprivileged children. She serves the city of Scottsdale as a volunteer Downtown Ambassador, Neighborhood Services mediator and a former member of the Neighborhood Enhancement Commission.

The Independent is doing a question-and-answer series with the three candidates leading up to election day. Read below for the candidates’ second round of questions:

Jann-Michael Greenburg

Jann-Michael Greenburg

•On Aug. 30, the Governing Board agreed to the terms of a superintendent search firm. If elected to the board, what qualities will you look for in Scottsdale’s future leader?

The board must hire a superintendent who exhibits excellent communication skills, educational and instructional leadership skills that focus on the well-being of all students, and management skills that are defined by flexible thinking, collaborative decision making, and not an authoritarian who alienates the entire work force of educators, students, and parents.

The superintendent must be politically astute with a reputation that is impeccable as far as integrity is concerned because this individual will need to understand that our community is coming from the nadir of the Birdwell administration and the likely crimes that have been committed against the district, our students, the teachers, and our parents.

I believe it is important to be cognizant of the fact that the idea of a white knight who will ride in and instantly save a district that has been poorly managed for more than a decade is unrealistic, so the community, and in particular the new board, must make this choice carefully so that the new superintendent has the latitude to do his or her work with the Governing Board properly overseeing that work.

This will not be an easy task.

•Do you believe the superintendent search should be conducted nationally or locally?

I believe that Scottsdale Unified School District should conduct a national superintendent search. For the past few decades, public school districts have encountered two phenomena: (1) a decreasing applicant pool for superintendent positions and (2) an increasing number of superintendent job openings. Together, these have exasperated school districts’ candidate options for this post. A national superintendent search will hopefully provide an adequate number of candidates for teachers, parents, the wider SUSD community, and the Governing Board to interview and from which to choose.

It should be noted, however, that just because a search is conducted on the national level does not mean a candidate from another state or community will automatically be chosen. It simply broadens the pool of potential applicants and appears to be best business practice.

Generally, there are strong arguments for choosing local or in-house candidates who are familiar with the district, understand its challenges, and understand its history. Indeed, there is evidence from the private sector that hiring new “CEOs” from outside the company do little to improve it. However, given SUSD’s — and other Arizona districts’ — recent problems, the ability to hire from outside the District and state might prove useful.

Ultimately, I strongly believe that our community and the Governing Board will need to work closely together to establish a clear vision for our district and identify the qualities, characteristics, and qualifications we believe a superintendent ought to have. Once these and related matters are settled, the community and Governing Board will be able to better interview and analyze the applicants and choose the right one for our district.

• Is Dr. Kriekard the right leader to serve as acting superintendent?

At this time, I believe Dr. Kriekard is the right leader to serve as acting superintendent. Based on the meetings I have seen and the anecdotal evidence I have been presented, Dr. Kriekard is highly accomplished and accredited, diligent and proficient in his duties, is proactive in his dealings with the community and the Governing Board, has handled the tragic Navajo Elementary School fire as well as anyone could, and has brought a level of stability to a district that has been plagued by poor judgment, corruption, and negligence. The community and the Governing Board should be very thankful he has agreed to help stabilize the district.

The community and the Governing Board are on the right side of history for supporting and hiring Dr. Kriekard, and I stand behind them on this matter.

Christine Schild

Christine Schild

• On Aug. 30, the Governing Board agreed to terms of a superintendent search firm. If elected to the board, what qualities will you look for in Scottsdale’s future leader?

Scottsdale’s future leader needs to be an exceptional communicator. There is a lot of misinformation floating around the district especially with regard to the elementary school bond. The superintendent needs to provide our stakeholders with timely and accurate information. Additionally, the superintendent must recognize the need to hire qualified administrators and teachers.

Although it is difficult to find a superintendent that is both a business person and an educational leader, I would look for an individual who is strong in both areas. However, I believe Scottsdale needs an educational leader to restore academic excellence in all our schools. I also appreciated Dr. John Baracy’s decision to spend three months understanding each community’s needs and desires before making any major decisions. Anyone who steps into Dr. Kriekard’s shoes should be willing to do the same.

• Do you believe the superintendent search should be conducted nationally or locally?

I would prefer a national search. When the board I served on was tasked with hiring a superintendent, we conducted a national search and interviewed five excellent applicants. Although we hired Dr. John Baracy from Tempe, the other leading candidate was a superintendent from Shawnee Mission, Kan. A national search will provide the board with a larger pool of applicants from which to find the most qualified individual.

• Is Dr. Kriekard the right leader to serve as acting superintendent?

Dr. Kriekard is the right leader at this time. I have known Dr. Kriekard for over 15 years and have nothing but the highest regard for him. I believe his extensive knowledge of SUSD based on his years of employment in the district has allowed Dr. Kriekard to step in and quickly calm the storm that arose as a result of the Attorney General’s investigation. We had an excellent first day of school due in large part to Dr. Kriekard’s efforts. I have also found him to be extremely responsive to the community.

Patty Backman

Patty Beckman

• On Aug. 30, the Governing Board agreed to terms of a superintendent search firm. If elected to the board, what qualities will you look for in Scottsdale’s future leader?

The selection of a new superintendent is one of the most important decisions a school board can make. A quality superintendent will have a positive impact on student achievement, school culture, teacher morale, parental satisfaction, and the cohesiveness of a community.

Some of the qualities I feel an effective superintendent would possess are:

  • A strong commitment to public education;
  • A clear vision for raising student achievement and the direction of SUSD;
  • Established ability to set and achieve short and long term district goals;
  • A desire for community engagement and communication;
  • Experience with diverse populations;
  • Demonstrated community leadership;
  • Proven ability to motivate and collaborate with teachers;
  • A history of fiscal responsibility and transparency; and
  • Experience with a district of similar demographics and size.

• Do you believe the superintendent search should be conducted nationally or locally?

I believe we should conduct a national and local superintendent search. However, I strongly believe that our next superintendent must be willing to reside within Scottsdale Unified School District’s boundaries. It is extremely important that our leadership build relationships with all members of the community: including parents, businesses, neighbors without children and senior citizen groups. We need a highly qualified candidate who has vested interest in our SUSD community.

• Is Dr. Kriekard the right leader to serve as acting superintendent?

When SUSD began looking for an acting or interim superintendent I immediately thought of Dr. Kriekard. He is known for his long history of excellent leadership and love of Scottsdale Unified School District. Not only does Dr. Kriekard possess all of the qualities I would look for in an effective superintendent, but he also brings a calmness and trusted reputation to our district at a time when it is desperately needed. If you ask Dr. Kriekard why he came out of retirement to help SUSD get back on the path of excellence, he will say, “It was a decision of the heart, not of the head.” He is absolutely the right leader to serve as acting superintendent. My only disappointment is that we cannot keep him longer.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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