Will he stay or will he go?
Come next week, the Ector County Independent School District board could ask interim superintendent H.T. Sanchez to stay in Odessa. Or they could pursue a formal search for a superintendent and let Sanchez move on to the superintendent position he was hired for by Tucson Unified School District on Tuesday night in a 4-1 vote.
What they decide won’t be fully realized until a board meeting that the board hopes to hold as soon as Tuesday. But several in the community are rising up in support of Sanchez and pleading with the board to name Sanchez as ECISD’s superintendent.
As Collin Sewell put it Tuesday night amid his statement in which he implored the board to hire Sanchez: “Make the right decision, not the popular one.”
On Wednesday, Sanchez, 38, did not return phone calls to the OA. He did grant an interview to the Arizona Daily Star Tuesday night after the TUSD board voted 4-1 to appoint Sanchez, the contract of which has yet to be worked out. A contract would seal it for Sanchez in Tucson.
Sanchez told the Daily Star that he looked forward to meeting the TUSD board’s expectations.
“I will serve as many years as the board will bless me with," Sanchez said about how long he plans to serve TUSD. "At minimum, a five-year plan takes five years and if it takes longer, then so be it, but I plan to work through it."
However, after a discussion by ECISD’s board to host a workshop to further discuss its own search for the position (left vacant by Hector Mendez March 19 and filled by Sanchez March 26), the board wants to talk about its options — one of which could be asking Sanchez to stay. Or, perhaps for the board, it’s finding out whether he wants ECISD over TUSD, a district about twice the size of ECISD. TUSD has 80 schools, 50,000 students and 8,000 employees.
Board members say that there was nothing suspicious in the timing of the ECISD superintendent job posting going up the morning after Sanchez was named the lone finalist in Tucson. In fact, it’s purely coincidental, trustee Nelson Minyard said. He and board president Ray Beaty discussed it before asking the Human Resources Department to post it online; the move was to get the process rolling.
Per board policy, the board could name Sanchez the lone finalist for the position as soon as Tuesday since it will occur 10 days following the posting of the job. A lone finalist must be public for 21 days before being voted in by the board, according to the policy. ECISD Human Resources Director Brian Moersch was not at work Wednesday and could not answer questions on the matter.
Moersch presented to the board Tuesday night the four search firms and their cost ($14,000 to $31,000), which had been given to the board prior to the May 11 election. During that presentation, he told the board that the job had been posted online June 12 – which was the first trustee Doyle Woodall had heard of it. Woodall said he can’t imagine any argument that would keep him from advocating a formal, national search. Woodall promised to do so during his campaign ahead of the May 11 election when four board members (Woodall, Minyard, Teri Wheat Ervin and Steve Brown were elected).
“Anything less than that, then the board has failed the community,” Woodall said. He asked that constituents call their trustees to air concerns about Sanchez.
Woodall wants someone who spends as much effort supporting teachers over the businessmen in town.
“We need to find someone who fits where we are,” Woodall said.
Time to talk it out
The conversation next week will open the shutters on whether the board wants to keep Sanchez, according to board members.
After the news of Tucson came out, Minyard said he’s received 50 calls, emails or comments from people around town with only positive things to say about Sanchez. Not a single negative comment, he said. Because Sanchez hasn’t signed a contract, there’s still time to talk.
“I can’t speak for the board, but I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback. If I had to vote to keep H.T. as superintendent today, I would,” Minyard said on Wednesday.
Minyard said it’s a good sign that the Tucson USD board found Sanchez as qualified to lead their district that’s twice the size of ECISD and El Paso ISD previously named Sanchez a finalist in 2011.
What Sewell said about Tucson doing the search for ECISD was spot on, Brown said.
When asked about the differences between TUSD and ECISD, the stand-out characteristics were of such that Sanchez could oversee either district, Brown said.
“We’re talking about the quality of the candidate. Someone having those superintendent candidate attributes that any district would be looking for,” Brown said.
For trustee Donna Smith, there’s no telling what the TUSD board did in their search.
“It’s a bogus argument. I can do my own search, thank you,” she said.
Bottom line, it’s about student achievement, Smith said, and “the state test scores are the 900-pound gorilla in the room.” The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness scores for ECISD came out earlier this month and were below the state average with the majority of grades slipping in reading, writing and math.
“We have been operating under his architecture for three years. We’re not improving, we’re not staying level; we’re going down,” Smith said. “We owe the community a national search.”
“We need some new eyes on our problems,” Smith added.
Chuck Isner, a retired ECISD teacher, is planning to plead with the board to keep Sanchez in town.
“If we don’t do it now, we’ve lost him. I’m one of many who believe it would be a tragic mistake,” Isner said, commending Sanchez on his ability to communicate with staff.
A national search would be akin to “tossing the dice to see what we get,” he said.
Word came in April
Sanchez was sought by TUSD through a headhunter for its superintendent job around April, according to TUSD. He traveled to Tucson last week and was publicly introduced as the lone finalist after its school board voted 3-2 that to name him as the only finalist. The Arizona Daily Star has sued TUSD, requesting the names of three other finalists, which have not been released because they were not “serious” candidates, the district maintains.
Meanwhile, Sanchez stood in front of a crowd in Tucson on June 12 of about 100 people and said that he prayed about the Tucson job. To the OA, Sanchez said he never wanted to impose himself on the newly elected board, who want a great district, and Sanchez thinks they will find a quality superintendent through the desired national search. Once board members leaned toward going national for a candidate, and didn’t say “H.T., you’re our guy,” Sanchez knew he, too, needed to keep his options open.
“I believe God has a plan for us all. You don’t try to fight this plan,” Sanchez said on June 13 about the phone call he received around the time the murmurings of a national search by ECISD were coming out.
On Tuesday before the board meeting, which he was present for in Odessa, as Tucson made its 4-1 decision to hire him, Sanchez said he is dedicated to this job firstly and that there’s work to do in ECISD.
But to some on the board and in the community, Sanchez’s outward desire to take the Tucson job doesn’t matter in considering Sanchez for becoming the permanent ECISD superintendent.
“Why did he apply for the job … why fly to Tucson?” Sewell posed Tuesday night. “I don’t think it’s worth conversation. We have the opportunity to hire the lone finalist and he lives in our town.”
>> Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.