by David Safier
John Denker has a post below basically slammming H.T. Sanchez, the only finalist for the TUSD Superintendent position. It deserves a counter post. I come not to praise Sanchez, nor to bury him, but to give some perspective.
In my 30-plus years of teaching, I had about a half dozen superintendents. I never loved any of them (except maybe for one old guy who came to meetings in overalls and was an alcohol-is-sin Christian in his younger days, but by the time I knew him was making homemade wine. He was an alright superintendent, I guess, but I loved the fact a guy like that existed). I despised a few, liked a few and was neutral about some of the others, but I never loved the job any superintendent did, and I doubt I ever will. If Sanchez takes the helm at TUSD, I don't expect to love him either.
So the question is, will Sanchez be good enough to move TUSD in a generally positive direction? My answer is, I think he's likely to do as much good as any new superintendent and will probably succeed better than most.
Based on the forum with Sanchez at Catalina Magnet last week which I attended, it's easy to take potshots at some of the things he said and didn't say. He did a lot of dancing around topics, giving general answers and trying not to offend anyone. He gave few specifics about what he plans to do. Sanchez is a very smart, very personable guy who may have purposely launched more of a charm offensive than a substantive talk on the issues. He also may have wisely decided he didn't want to play the fool by rushing in, making bold pronouncements about what TUSD should do when he only has a superficial understanding of Tucson and its schools. He said the most important thing for him to do when he gets here is listen and learn. If he really means that, it's a good thing. But if "listening and learning" means he'll be a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy who will try not to make waves, he'll be a wishy-washy, ineffectual superintendent, and TUSD won't become a better place for students. I'm hopeful he'll take a genuine leadership role in the District, but I can't say that for sure. Anyone who can read job-interview tea leaves with 100% accuracy is a better man or woman than I.
I recommend reading the article in today's Star, Sanchez has fans, detractors in Texas. Read it all the way through. It's front-loaded with concerns about Sanchez, but by the time I got to the end, I had the picture of a guy who is willing to take an active role as superintendent and ruffle some feathers, and a guy who has learned that he has to keep lines of communication open or he's not going to get the kind of buy-in from the staff he needs to succeed. He's clearly made mistakes and I'm sure he'll make more (which is better than doing nothing, the worst mistake of all), but it sounds like he has a decent learning curve.
I think Sanchez's friendly, easy-going, unintimidating manner will be a plus in dealing with parents and the general community, which can be a very important asset. Given TUSD's 60% Hispanic student population, I'm guessing Sanchez's Hispanic roots, his easy facility with Spanish and his just-folks conversational style could go a long way toward convincing parents to participate in their children's educations. That's no small thing.
Sanchez's most problematic answer during the forum was when he was asked about teaching evolution and climate change. He ducked and dodged the question clumsily, leaving the impression that he might encourage teachers to present creationism and climate change denial as part of the curriculum. Sanchez needs to make a public statement clarifying his answer. If he advocates teaching junk science alongside real science, that's a very serious problem, but I don't know that's what he thinks, and no one hearing his answer knows that for sure either. Mark Stegeman, who is doing what he can to make Sanchez and the Board's majority look bad, has jumped on that one statement, showing himself to be more of a politician than an academic (who would seek more information before he pushed the issue) in his position as Board member. That's reason enough to withhold judgement until Sanchez has a chance to clarify his statement.
I expect to hear lots more negative comments about Sanchez from people who I generally agree with politically and educationally. I understand their concern, including their desire to see more than one candidate before a final decision is made, which would have been a good idea. But on balance, I'm willing to go with this guy. I know he's going to make lots of decisions I'm not going to like. That comes with the superintendent territory. But I have a sense he'll be a positive addition to the District. If I expected a superintendent in shining armor to appear on the horizon, I'd say let's wait until she/he appears, but my experience in public education tells me, that ain't gonna happen, much as all of us educational idealists wish it would.