When Gary Nine accepted the position of interim superintendent for the Florence Unified School District, he walked into turmoil.
The previous superintendent, Richard Sagar, abruptly resigned in January, and in February the district’s governing board decided not to renew contracts of three of its six principals. In addition, assistant superintendent of instructional services Joel Knorr is leaving at the end of June.
Some frustrated parents have threatened to recall board members, and others are pulling their children out of the district in favor of Edu-Prize charter school, due to open a new campus along the Hunt Highway corridor.
“If this would have been an easy job, I wouldn’t have taken it,” Nine said.
His goals include improving communication and restoring trust.
Nine spent his first week meeting with administrators, department heads, principals and board members, individually and in groups.
Next on his agenda is to meet with parent and faculty groups at each school and ask each school to hold a community meeting.
“(I’ll) be honest with them about what we’re going to have to do,” Nine said. “There’s a lot of turmoil, but there’s a lot of opportunity. Kids can’t suffer because the grown-ups are arguing.”
Nine, who retired in 2005 as associate superintendent of the Apache Junction Unified School District, agreed to the interim position through the 2007-08 school year while the board searches for a permanent superintendent.
With a new school opening in the fall, the district has four principal positions to fill. Nine said they will hire veteran, high-quality, principals and offer them three-year contracts.
“There has been an abject lack of continuity in the principalship,” he said. “So our communities deserve principals with expertise that they can count on that they can do a great job for their kids. Given the political realities, the district can’t afford to do otherwise.”
Amy Fuller, governing board president, said in an email board priorities include improving student achievement and “laying a foundation of trust and integrity in order to foster an educational environment of collaboration and team building.”
Fuller did not provide specifics on the board’s decision not to offer contracts for next year for principals Kacy Lewis of Anthem K-8, Barbara Sanchez of Copper Basin K-8 and Bob Meko of Skyline Ranch K-8, but said the board looks at a variety of criteria when making “such difficult decisions.”
Those included whether administrators follow policy, meet academic and social needs of students, what types of leaders they are, their relationships with teachers, students, community members and other administrators as well as education, experience and professional development.
Fuller said Sagar resigned because of “philosophical differences.”
Janiece Fowler, a parent with three children attending Walker Butte K-8, has decided to enroll her youngest at Edu-Prize next year and said if the charter school offered seventh and eighth grades, she would have enrolled all her children.
Fowler said many parents are upset over the principals’ contracts not being renewed and some have threatened to attempt a recall of board members. She thinks there will be a “mass exodus” of students to Edu-Prize in the fall.