Dave Allison is a former Canadian school superintendent who moved his family to Gilbert 15 years ago to work in the Gilbert Unified School District. He’s known as a humble, private man who’s proactive in his job and the community.
His supporters say that he is an excellent choice as superintendent for the Gilbert district, and he’s a fair, approachable guy.
However, some parents who want to see change in the district are concerned that by hiring from within the district, everything will remain exactly the same.
The Gilbert district governing board unanimously voted last week to name Allison superintendent after an internal search that took about three months. Allison will officially take over July 1.
Superintendent Brad Barrett, who is retiring from the district after seven years in the top position, said the main challenges for his successor will be hiring enough teachers to keep up with rising graduation requirements, adapting to the changing diversity of the community, and planning for varying degrees of growth.
Allison will oversee the district’s 39,000 students, 40 schools and 5,500 employees.
“I strongly believe the district office and the superintendent is here to serve people,” Allison said. “We’re not here to boss them around. If everyone here can do that, it will enhance student learning.”
Allison said he was quite content working alongside Barrett as an associate and assistant superintendent.
However, when Barrett announced his retirement from the district in November, Allison decided to apply for the job after encouragement from district principals, teachers and parents, he said.
“We have one of the most respected school districts in Arizona, so I thought the culture we had was good to maintain,” he said.
Gilbert mom Meg Gillett has worked with Allison through the Gilbert Education Foundation.
She said she couldn’t be happier that Allison was chosen as the next superintendent.
“I think that Dr. Allison sees the same vision where we’re concerned as Dr. Barrett did, and I’m excited about that,” said Gillett, the foundation’s vice president, who has three children in the district. “I think from what I’ve observed he’s highly respected, he’s the most qualified, and he’s just very fair and easily approachable for somebody in his position.”
However, some parents don’t feel the same way.
Melissa Van Hook is one of several parents from the group Supporting Autism Now through Education, also known as SANE, who addressed the school board last week on various problems regarding the special-education program in the district.
Van Hook said she’s worked with Allison for about six months and while he’s always “very polite ... there was no effort to truly resolve anything.”
“There seems to be an entire culture in our school district about a lack of accountability,” said Van Hook, who has two children in the district. “As a result, the special-education services are suffering in the district.”
The special-education department is one area Allison said he plans to review as he looks at reallocating duties in the district. It’s one of the first changes he said he wants to examine.
“It’s healthy from time to time for every organization to look at itself and evaluate itself,” he said. “Just to stay contemporary you’ve got to do that.”
Allison talked about eliminating a coordinator position in the special-education department in one of his narrative questions he had to answer in his application. However, Allison stressed this is a plan that may never happen.
“When I wrote that, it wasn’t to the public,” Allison said. “I was just throwing out some ideas. I’m not sure this will ever be implemented. I’m not going to start axing jobs.”
He added that he would make no “major changes without consulting with board members and other administrative staff in the district.”
Allison considers himself a “hands-on” leader who likes to be where the action is.
“I spend most of my days at the schools,” Allison said. “I’m not an office-type person.”
Allison started his education career in 1970, when he taught social studies, history, economics and geography for four years in Alberta. He moved up to become an assistant high school principal, principal of a K-9 school and then a high school principal.
He became an assistant superintendent in a school district in Edson, Alberta, and then was the school superintendent for 10 years for the Fairview School District in Fairview, Alberta.
In Fairview, he worked with a seven-member school board in a large rural school district.
He first visited the Valley during this time when he was on a sabbatical working on his doctorate at Arizona State University. He was assigned to work with then-Gilbert Superintendent Walter Delecki, who was replaced by Barrett.
When a couple of top jobs were available in the district about a year and a half later, Delecki called Allison to see if he was interested in applying, Allison said.
He said he didn’t want to take the job unless he had the support of his wife and teenage children, so he asked their permission first to see if they wanted to move.
“Surprisingly, they all said they wanted to go,” said Allison, adding that the Valley’s weather had something to do with it.