A few months of searching to find a permanent leader for the district concluded on Feb. 11 with the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board’s vote to hire a new superintendent, although the decision came amid controversy over the process.
The person selected by the board to become the district’s next superintendent is Christina Kishimoto, who accepted the board’s offer on Feb. 12. According to a statement released by the district, Kishimoto currently serves as the superintendent for Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, and she will take over the Gilbert position effective July 1.
Kishimoto’s hiring completes a process that began when former superintendent Dave Allison retired from the district in July 2013. The district then hired Jack Keegan to serve in the role on an interim basis.
“I had to go with my conscience, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in this district, and I think it will be a good chapter,” said board member Julie Smith at the Feb. 11 meeting.
Controversy over the process
Smith’s explanation of her vote for Kishimoto, who was one of two finalists along with Phillip Hickman, came as a response to the controversy surrounding the decision that came in a tight 3-2 decision. Board president Staci Burk and clerk Daryl Colvin voted against the hiring, and neither board member said they were interested in hiring Hickman either; instead the two wanted to hire one of the other candidates the board interviewed – attorney Dwayne Farnsworth.
His inclusion as one of the candidates — the board began with 16 presented by search firm Ray & Associates before interviewing eight semifinalists — created uproar among community members who attended the Tuesday meeting. The complaints lodged against Farnsworth stemmed from his lack of educational background and a Facebook post in which Colvin described Farnsworth as a friend.
Speaker Angie Draper stated during the Feb. 11 meeting that Farnsworth, the cousin of state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, was unqualified to serve as the district’s superintendent, and chastised Colvin for focusing on the candidates’ political leanings.
“I’m just absolutely disgusted; I think you guys have just gotten so far off track,” she said. “I’m not pleased with any of the candidates. But Farnsworth? I will be at every meeting if I see his name on that ballot, and you will (recuse) yourself from that, because you have no business voting on a personal friend.”
“Are you the kinds of people we turn our children over to who exhibit this kind of behavior?” Colvin said in response.
Farnsworth’s inclusion as a candidate
When called two days after the meeting, Farnsworth said he has some experience in education, including occasions in which he served as a substitute teacher in Spanish classes and as a college adjunct. But his main contention was that an absence of traditional education experience provides him a different perspective that could benefit the district.
“This is a CEO position; it doesn’t require a teacher or a technician,” he said.
He also referenced Liam Neeson’s character in the movie “Taken,” saying he had a set of skills that could translate to the education field.
Farnsworth also initially said Colvin was a loose acquaintance of his, as the two had worked together at community events and had bumped into each other from time to time.
“I would consider Daryl Colvin a friend, but he’s not a long-lost friend,” he said, adding that his wife knew Colvin better and campaigned on Colvin’s behalf when he ran for Town Council.
He did, however, have a familiarity with three of the other board members prior to the vote. Farnsworth said he had spoken with Burk on a couple of occasions prior to the superintendent process – she echoed his sentiments on their relationship – but knew board member Jill Humpherys through her husband and church, and he said his wife carpools with Smith to take their kids to school on weekdays.
Just making it on the list of candidates for the position came was unexpected, as Farnsworth said he didn’t apply for the position until Ray & Associates President Gary Ray contacted him in December, saying the district wanted to include an untraditional candidate.
“I was surprised he was on my cell phone,” Farnsworth said.
Farnsworth added he would not apply for any other superintendent position besides the one for Gilbert Public Schools.
Before the final board was presented the final 16 candidates, Farnsworth said he had spoken with Colvin on a couple of occasions requesting the district hire someone with a strong fiscal background. He also said he didn’t try to become a candidate himself during any of those conversations.
“Daryl probably put a bug in their (Ray & Associates) ear; that’s what I suspect,” he said.
Colvin was Farnsworth’s strongest proponent due in large part to his background and his status as an untraditional candidate, but Burk said post-vote she also wanted to hire Farnsworth. One of the reasons she mentioned was his willingness to work for the district on a $1 annual salary and to hire consultants to help him run the district.
Farnsworth, however, said while he would have worked for the $1 salary, he said he would not have hired consultants to work with him; instead, he said he would have taken education classes out of his own pocket.
Burk said her main reason for wanting to postpone the vote was driven by a search process she said went too quickly. That, she said, meant the board members lacked a sufficient amount time to process all 16 candidates, let alone the final selection.
“We had a lot to look over in a very, very short time. A very short time,” Burk said.
Gilbert Public Schools frustration
The meeting on Tuesday came shortly after Keegan and other high-level district administrators tendered their resignations. One, district athletic director Mark Cisterna, took a similar job at the Maricopa Unified School District earlier in the week.
Those decisions, combined with the search process and other issues across the district, led many audience members to speak out during the meeting’s call to the public section.
“Gilbert Public Schools is in a state of crisis, and that crisis is at the leadership level,” said Gilbert Education Association President Diane Drazinski. “How else can we explain the exodus of committed, top-level administrators who have made their careers and their homes in Gilbert?”
The crowd’s reacted strongly to the speeches, initially applauding before Burk told them to stop. The audience members reacted by shaking their hands in the air whenever they agreed with one of the speakers.
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