Mesa school district's Associate Superintendent Michael Cowan said he is ready to lead the largest school system in the state if given the chance later this year.
The Mesa Unified School District governing board announced Tuesday night it will begin the search for a new superintendent by interviewing Cowan.
Superintendent Debra Duvall said last fall she will retire in June. Shortly after, she endorsed Cowan as the next Mesa superintendent.
Duvall has been superintendent since 2000. Mesa has a track record of keeping superintendents in place for a number of years.
Cowan started as a teacher in 1988. He has been the district's science and social studies specialist, director of science, social studies and world languages and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. He was named associate superintendent in 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and master's and doctorate degrees from Arizona State University.
"Mesa public schools has a rich tradition of quality education program for students, supported by a community that understands and values education," Cowan said Thursday. "I would hope for the opportunity to continue providing assistance and leadership to this school system as we wade through some significantly challenging times."
Public schools across Arizona are holding their collective breath as the Legislature tries to find ways to cut $1.6 billion from this year's state budget due to a decline in revenue. Next year's shortfall may be bigger - as much as $3 billion.
Mesa has already lost funding because it is losing students. The district has about 69,700 students. It has lost nearly 5,000 students in the last five years.
The five-member governing board, which has three newly elected members, will make the final decision on the next superintendent. The board met in closed session prior to Tuesday's open meeting to move forward in the search process.
"In the past this district has hired from inside the district and also from outside," governing board president Michael Hughes said after that meeting. "We believe at this point in time it is prudent for us to begin our search by first looking internally. We will begin by interviewing the Associate Superintendent Michael Cowan. We will keep you abreast of where that takes us."
Hughes said the decision to interview Cowan came about for two reasons: Cowan's position in the district and the cost of conducting a nationwide search.
"We thought it was best to go internally first to see where that takes us, mainly because of the expensive cost to go national; secondly because of what we feel is his experience and his preparation," Hughes said. "We thought, 'Let's look at one of our own candidates first and make a decision. If that's the person ... we'll go from there. If not, we'll open it up.'"
In his role as associate superintendent, Cowan has a pulse on the direction the district is taking. He is part of a group developing a strategic plan for the district.
"In the forefront of my responsibilities has always been the importance and value this school system puts in meeting the needs for the student," Cowan said. "As we continue to meet a challenging time for our schools and community we support, foremost in my decisions will be the sustaining of quality programs and services to the children and the families we serve."
Cowan said his interview is in about two weeks.
Also Tuesday, the board approved the retirement of Ken Salas, assistant superintendent of the district's west area.