No consensus on next CUSD superintendent’s qualities - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

No consensus on next CUSD superintendent’s qualities

February 28th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
No consensus on next CUSD superintendent’s qualities

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A recent survey shows leaders of the Chandler Unified School District don’t have much consensus on the type of leader they’d want to see succeed outgoing Superintendent Camille Casteel.
The district’s Governing Board and 50 senior administrators appear to have varying opinions on the qualities they’d like to see in the interim superintendent that will be appointed next month to replace Casteel.
Most responses given to a 10-question survey ended being split, indicating a wide divide in opinion on the types of experience and skills CUSD’s next chief executive should have.
“That shows you it’s pretty spread out in terms of what you’re looking for,” said Steve Highlen of the Arizona School Boards Association. “There’s no real consistency there.”
Highlen, the association’s senior policy consultant, has been recruited by CUSD to help coordinate the district’s superintendent search and thinks the district has some work to do to ensure the school board picks a candidate that satisfies everyone’s preferences.
The board’s five members did not unanimously agree on any of the 10 questions either, he said, and many responses were split down the middle.
Board members came close to consensus on a question regarding academics: four thought the next superintendent should “possess a keen mission to raise student achievement for all students.”
In addition to divisions among board members, Highlen highlighted the differing expectations between the board and Chandler’s administrative staff.
“Some things the board picked, the administrators didn’t pick,” he noted. “Some things the administrators picked, the board didn’t pick.”
When asked about leadership skills, about half of the survey’s respondents prioritized a superintendent who had experience motivating staff and boosting morale while the other half favored other attributes.
Highlen said it will be vital for CUSD to unify its expectations before the board starts interviewing superintendent applicants or the district risks drawing out the recruitment process.
“To make a good decision, you need to know where you’re headed,” Highlen added. “Right now, it would be difficult to determine where you’re headed.”
Casteel’s decision to retire at the end of this school year after a 50-year career in Chandler Unified has pushed the board into a position it hasn’t been in for a couple decades.
CUSD has not had to appoint a superintendent since Casteel got the job in 1996, resulting in an impressively long tenure, considering many school districts end up hiring a new superintendent every few years.
It’s not normal for districts to have a superintendent for 25 years, Highlen noted, which demonstrates how well Casteel has gotten along with the district’s various boards.
Highlen has several years of experience helping districts in Sedona, Casa Grande, Tuba City, Prescott, and Fountain Hills find their next superintendent.
He will be spending the next couple of weeks assisting Chandler’s school board crafting the types of questions they want to ask its superintendent applicants.
The search is expected to take at least a year because CUSD decided to appoint an interim superintendent for the 2021-2022 school year before selecting a permanent candidate.
The deadline for submitting interim applications has recently expired and the board is hoping to fill the position by the end of March. The interim would officially assume their responsibilities in July.
Highlen said the work done now on setting a vision for CUSD will be helpful for when the time comes to pick a permanent superintendent later this year.
“The things you learn from the interim search will carry over to the superintendent search,” he said.
The interim’s appointment comes as CUSD is still recovering from a pandemic that has drastically impacted the district’s operations and divided the community.
Student enrollment has fallen districtwide and the CUSD is facing a potent $21-million deficit in state funding.
The Arizona Department of Education announced earlier this month that CUSD is eligible to receive $13 million in extra funding to offset financial shortfalls caused by the pandemic.
CUSD intends to spend the $13-million allotment on virus-mitigation costs it has incurred over the past year.
The district estimates it had to spend more than $18.5 million on technology, protective gear and cleaning supplies in order to keep schools operating.
Before ADE announced its allotments of relief funding, Chandler had been reimbursed for only about $3 million of its pandemic-related mitigation expenses.
The district’s budget problems have been further complicated by the fact that Arizona has been funding virtual learning at a lower rate than in-person learning.
CUSD has previously said it stands to lose up to $12 million for the several weeks students spent learning virtually from home at the beginning of this school year.
As CUSD continues to grapple with financial issues, Highlen said it will be critical in the next couple of weeks for the district’s leaders to focus on hashing out a singular vision among their varying opinions regarding the next superintendent.
He compared the upcoming hiring process to being analogous to filling a large funnel with too much material.
“At the top of the funnel you can pour a lot of things in, but very little comes out at the bottom and it comes out slowly,” Highlen said. “This will be a slow process.”