Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

‘Sharp division’ on TUSD board for 4 supe finalists

Board picks district veteran, businessman, 2 other educators

Rick Meyers, Patti Lopez, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and Delfino Alemán Jr.

Rick Meyers, Patti Lopez, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and Delfino Alemán Jr.

Whether the Tucson Unified School District hires a retired businessman or a local or out-of-state educator as its new superintendent, goal one will be bringing the district’s explosive budget problems – including an anticipated $20 million deficit next year – under control.

But there is a “sharp division” on the TUSD governing board about who will get the up-to-$230,000-a-year job of leading Arizona’s second largest school district, board member Joel Ireland said.

The finalists are Patti Lopez, TUSD deputy superintendent; Delfino Alemán Jr., an area superintendent in the San Diego Unified School District; Richard T. Myers, a retired IBM Corp. vice president of development from Tucson; and Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, associate superintendent in the Des Moines (Iowa) Independent School District.

The governing board, which will pick a superintendent in March, was united Thursday night in whittling down the semifinalist list from five to four.

The community will get its chance to offer input at individual public forums where the public can meet each of the finalists. The forums begin next week and end early next month.

Meanwhile, candidates weighed in on the major issues in telephone interviews with Citizen reporters Thursday night.

“My first priority would be to bring stability to TUSD’s finances. We need to solve the short-term problem, and if necessary, make tough decisions,” said Myers, who was with IBM for 25 years.

“I am very good at bringing people from all walks of life together and building teams. This is necessary for TUSD’s success,” he said, adding he would like to have the business community involved in order to bring “other people and groups (together) and build on the good work already under way.”

Alemán said “taxpayers want to know what they are getting for their money,” so taking a hard look at the TUSD budget would be his first priority.

“Any new superintendent will need to have a game plan,” he said. “To achieve that, you need to listen carefully to your constituents.”

Celania-Fagen said she would “need to review the budget efficiencies and inefficiencies, then bring together anybody and everybody interested in education, so we can make sure schools have what they need to become successful.”

Lopez, who has been with TUSD for 30 years, had two major goals: “To build a positive image for TUSD and move on with cost-cutting to get us back in the black.

“I believe the biggest challenge is balancing the complexities of the issues we face as a district, everything from our finances to unitary status, from student achievement to being trusted by the community.”

Unitary status means being released from federal court-ordered desegregation, which TUSD has been under for more than 30 years.

Student achievement also was high on the priority lists of the other finalists.

Alemán cited his experience with urban school districts in Fort Worth, Texas, and San Diego. “I am well versed in educating our urban youngsters,” he said.

He said he wants to create a strategy to improve student academic performance based on the district’s special challenges.

He pledged to consult with the district’s staff, parents and the business community.

Myers said his experience in the Tucson community would allow him to build partnerships with groups and individuals to bring new creativity to the academic process.

Lopez’s long tenure in TUSD allowed her to submit a “20-30-60 day plan” along with her application.

She plans to go to the board at those intervals and propose her solutions to improve student achievement.

They include balancing the possibility of being released by federal court from the desegregation order with improving student achievement.

Celania-Fagen said she would bring to TUSD her experience dealing with a diverse student population in Des Moines.

She said her school district is composed of 30 percent minority populations, representing Asian, Latino, African and African-American students.

She said her district has a 52-percent poverty rate, which compares with TUSD’s.

Initially, the board tried to pare the finalist list to three.

Board member Judy Burns said the discussion of the finalist list ranged from two to five candidates.

Board President Alex Rodriguez said he and his colleagues would put much emphasis on what the public had to say after forums with the candidates.

Board member Adelita Grijalva agreed.

“I am hopeful we will have community input during the forums. I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.

Board member Bruce Burke echoed Grijalva in calling for public input, saying he has not made up his mind and is keeping “all options open.”

Still, he said, he was glad to “have the option of a nontraditional candidate,” which is Myers.

Ireland, who said he preferred naming an educator to the post, said he thought there already were two front-runners and had wanted the field narrowed to them. He would not name his choices.

“We have two very strong candidates and two other solid candidates who I believe can do the job,” he said.

Current Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer will leave his position on June 30, but the board wants to hire the new superintendent next month to give the new hire some transition time. In addition, those with jobs at school districts out of state may have to stay in them until the end of the school or fiscal year.

A total of 21 people from throughout the nation applied for the job, which was advertised nationally in August. A board-appointed committee narrowed the list to 10, and the governing board members chose five to interview. Only one of those did not make last night’s finalist list.

Of the four remaining, there is obvious disagreement among the board as to who should be picked.

“Unless something drastic happens, there will be split vote,” Burns said. “Maybe the public forums will change that.”

She acknowledged splits between hiring a educator versus a member of the business community.

“And we’re five individuals and we responded in different ways to the five different people,” she said of the TUSD governing board. “We are all bringing our different perspectives to it.”

Burns said she didn’t think a split vote would be detrimental to the new superintendent.

Whoever is hired, she said, “the board will move forward” with that person.

• Current position: Area superintendent, San Diego Unified School District

• Education: Doctorate in education

• Past experience: Alemán was an associate superintendent for teaching and learning in the Isaac School District in Phoenix and director of policies, procedures and public information at the San Antonio Independent School District in Texas.

Before that, he was a researcher in educational leadership at the University of Texas at Austin.

He started his career as an elementary school teacher. He also has been a bilingual/English as a Second Language curriculum specialist.

• Current position: Associate superintendent, Des Moines Independent School District

• Education: Doctorate in educational leadership

• Past experience: Celania-Fagen leads the professional development of 23 high-level school administrators in Des Moines. She also worked on the development of plans for the creation of 21st-century schools. She worked on analyzing high school curriculum programs and chaired a district council, which produced the curriculum handbook. During her tenure as executive director of high school programs and academic achievement in Des Moines, she coordinated community college dual credit programs.

• Current position: TUSD deputy superintendent in charge of academic performance

• Education: Doctorate in educational leadership

• Past experience: Lopez is a 30-year veteran of TUSD, with 22 years in school district leadership positions. She has worked on public policy issues related to the No Child Left Behind law and AZLEARNS testing of students over the past four years.

She manages curriculum issues for all 106 schools in the district and conducted program audits for the ethnic studies programs, exceptional education and alternative education.

• Current position: Retired after 25 years as an executive at IBM Corp.

• Education: Bachelor of science in engineering

• Past experience: Myers has worked in the highest levels of IBM. He was part of the steering committee for the Rodel Foundation, which published the “Lead with Five” report showing how to reform Arizona’s K-12 education system. He is a TUSD Blue Ribbon Committee member. Myers has a strong background in reviewing financial and management structures. He co-chaired the Citizens Committee of the Regional Transportation Authority, which was charged with designing an enhanced 20-year transportation plan for Pima County.

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen

Patti Lopez

Patti Lopez

Rick Myers

Rick Myers

Delfino Alemán Jr.

Delfino Alemán Jr.



The public is invited to meet the finalists for TUSD superintendent beginning next week.

Each finalist will have a public forum. All will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Catalina High Magnet School auditorium, 3645 E. Pima St.

The forums:

• Monday for Richard T. Myers

• Tuesday for Patti Lopez

• Wednesday for Delfino Alemán Jr.

• March 3 for Elizabeth Celania-Fagen



Arizona School Boards Association: www.azsba.org

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