Three candidates were selected as finalists from a total of 37 applicants for Apache Junction Unified School District superintendent, but two of those dropped out due to unforeseeable personal circumstances, school officials said.
The remaining candidate, Dr. Krista Anderson, executive director of special education in Scottsdale Unified School District, met last week with various groups. That included a noon stakeholders meeting, a 5 p.m. meeting with staff and a 6:30 p.m. forum with parents and residents, all on April 5.
The final decision on whether or not to hire Dr. Anderson will be made by the AJUSD Governing Board, Steve Highlen of the Arizona School Boards Association, which is assisting AJUSD in its search for a new superintendent, said.
The governing board intends to announce the final selection for the new superintendent by April 11, according to a press release.
Search for a superintendent
The governing board voted 5-0 on Dec. 13 to accept Superintendent Dr. Chad Wilson’s resignation and a settlement agreement.
Governing Board President Jodi Ehrlich, Vice-President Dena Kimble and members Mike Weaver, Christa Rizzi and Cami Garcia reviewed applications and consulted with district attorneys, according to the release.
In January the district solicited public input on candidate issues and priorities to help guide the selection process. More than 800 responses were received and a summary of answers and comments was compiled and distributed to board members to help guide them in the selection process.
When finalists Dr. Tammy Ridgeway and Dr. JoEtta Gonzales dropped out, the AJUSD governing board convened in an emergency session March 31 and opted to proceed as planned with the one remaining finalist, according to the release.
“The board is confident each of the three finalists would have been capable of providing strong leadership for the success of the children in our community. It is unfortunate that two of our finalists could not, for their own reasons, move forward,” board president Jodi Ehrlich said in the release. “We have no doubt that Dr. Anderson is a strong educator and a knowledgeable administrator. Now we need to decide if she is the right fit for our community. We look forward to continuing the process with Dr. Anderson,” Ms. Ehrlich said.
About 40 people attended a stakeholders meeting April 5 at the district’s board room at 1575 W. Southern Ave. Those in attendance included council members, city of Apache Junction staff members, Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce and school district staff members, all sitting at tables. School board members sat in chairs in the back and side of the room.
When asked what the greatest challenge is that the school district is facing, Dr. Anderson said, “What I hear is we need more money, raises in the classrooms; I hear that it is very important about the four-day schedule; I look at the AzMERIT results, that were below state average. All of those things are there, but one of the No. 1 things … is student enrollment and looking at the number of students that has declined in this district over the last two years is significant,” she said.
The school district receives about $5,500 per student, she said.
“So when you think about losing 700 kids – multiply that by $5,500 – that is a lot of money that has not been coming into Apache Junction,” she said. “So I would look at what can we do to get the kids back in here?”
Dr. Anderson said she is a native of Arizona. She explained that she recently completed a doctor of education degree and that she hopes to complete her career as a superintendent.
She has worked for the Deer Valley, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale school districts at a variety of jobs from teacher to assistant principal, principal, associate superintendent and since July as executive director of special education.
“And then I saw Apache Junction’s position and I got excited and I thought, ‘You know what? Really I’m looking for at the end of my career, which is the next six to eight years, is wanting that community and wanting that opportunity to really pull people together and … move a system.’ When we are looking at three elementaries … all feeding into one middle school and one high school, it’s exciting to know there’s opportunities and potential for us to improve student learning, to improve attendance and enrollment … as well as building a community relation that may or may not be at its full potential at this point,” she said.
Forum for parents, residents
Fewer than 55 people sat in the Apache Junction High School’s Performing Arts Center on April 5 to listen to Dr. Anderson answer questions. Questions were written by those in attendance and read from cards by Mr. Highlen of the Arizona School Boards Association.
[Related link: Watch videos of Dr. Krista Anderson answering questions at the forum at http://apachejunctionindependent.com/galleries/videos-of-dr-krista-anderson-at-april-5-forum/]
Following the presentation, a few parents said they would have liked to have heard from the other two finalists as well.
“I wanted to see what she had to say about different topics and just make sure that she is the right candidate for our kids. I think she did a good job,” Bill Clement, who has children at Apache Junction High School and Cactus Canyon Junior High School, said.
When asked if he would have liked to have compared her comments to two other individuals, he said, “That would have been nice. Yes.”
“I came because I’m very hands-on and I … am a very involved parent and I do want to know who … the candidates were. And I had questions I wanted answers to,” Cassandra Knox, who has a child who graduated last year and children at Cactus Canyon Junior High School and Desert Vista Elementary School.
She wrote a question that was read to Dr. Anderson, she said.
“My question was what she could do about getting more electives in our high school. She answered it,” Ms. Knox said.
When asked what she thought of Dr. Anderson as a candidate, she said, “Well, I would have wanted more choices.”
When asked if she had preferred to have the three finalists answer questions at the forum, she said. “Yes, definitely. I think they still should.”
Cathy Limongello, who has children in Four Peaks Elementary School and Apache Junction High School, also attended the forum.
“I came tonight because I wanted to see what the concerns of the community were and I also had my own personal questions,” she said. “I like some things she had to say and there were others I was a little bit concerned with. I felt like she answered half of the questions fully and then not so much on the other ones.”
When asked if she was going to meet with Dr. Anderson before she left the performing arts center, Ms. Limongello said, “I was planning on it, yes.”
When asked if she would have preferred to have had three finalists come to the forum, she said, “Personally, yes. That was a really big concern – just to have a choice.”
Dr. Krista Anderson’s experience:
•July 2016-present: executive director of special education at Scottsdale Unified School District.
•July 2015 – June 2016: Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Paradise Valley Unified School District.
• July 2013-June 2015: associate superintendent of administrative leadership and services at Deer Valley Unified School District.
• July 2011-June 2013: associate superintendent for teaching and learning at Deer Valley Unified School District
•July 2007-June 2011: principal at Deer Valley Unified School District.
• July 2002-June 2007: principal at Deer Valley Unified School District.
• July 2000 – June 2002 : assistant principal at Deer Valley Unified School District
• August 1998-June 2000: eighth-grade math and science teacher at Deer Valley Unified School District
• February 1994-June 1998: eighth-grade science, math and technology teacher
• 2012-17 Grand Canyon University, doctor of education (Ed.D.), organizational leadership with an emphasis in K-12 Leadership.
•2012-17, Arizona State University, master of education (M.Ed.), educational leadership and administration, general.
• 1991-93, Arizona State University, bachelor of education (B.Ed.), Elementary education.
Source: LinkedIn profile
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