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News Release April 5th, 2018-Superintendent Candidates Interviewed

News from Sheridan School District No. 2

Contact: Mark Stevens

mstevens@ssd2.org

303-495-8699 (mobile) • 720-328-5488 (office)

News Release

April 4, 2018

Superintendent Candidates Interviewed

During a special meeting Tuesday (April 3), the Sheridan Board of Education interviewed each of its three superintendent candidates for 90 minutes.  The three are Antonio Esquibel, Kirk Henwood, and Pat Sandos.

Board members Bernadette Saleh, Sally Daigle, Karla Najera and Daniel Stange took turns asking the candidates the same set of questions. The topics ranged from each candidate’s plans for the first 100 days, to student enrollment, budget, teacher recruitment and retention, staff evaluation, parent engagement, academic achievement and more.

The candidates’ resumes were summarized in a news release on Friday, March 29:

Following is an overview of some of the highlights from each conversation yesterday:

Kirk Henwood

Kirk Henwood talked about developing a major stakeholder input process as part of developing a strategic plan for the district. He said he would expect to produce a “clear, strategic” plan after the fall semester. Henwood characterized himself as a data person and would use data to analyze strengths and weaknesses of the existing staff. “It would not be my goal to come in and change everything,” he said.

As an example of his ability to achieve community consensus around challenging issues, Henwood related how he managed a concern over religion in schools when football coaches were leading prayer on the athletic field during district events. The “turning point,” he said, came when he met with community groups and alongside faith-based organizations to distinguish between family values and district values. “My leadership style is very collaborative. I don’t know everything. I don’t pretend to know everything. I try to reach out to experts,” said Henwood.

Henwood said he prefers a discipline policy that uses restorative justice over suspensions. He said budgets need to be driven by educational priorities and classroom needs. Henwood said schools must maintain a “good balance” between the core mission of teaching and supporting community needs. One school district where he worked offered initial dental care to students and some stopped providing those services, he said. “Sometimes it’s ‘thank you and yes;’ and sometimes it’s ‘thank you and no.’”

Henwood said he believes in a “distributive leadership style.” He talked about coaching classes he started to develop leadership capacity. He talked about making sure all staff are working from the same page. “Great systems have good people,” he said. “They know what they are about, they know what their goals are. They have common routines and experiences.”

Henwood cited five core beliefs. 1. “It’s my job to find ways to say yes.” 2. Relationships. “The best school systems have great principals—and they develop, attract and inspire great people.” 3. Integrity. ‘Say what you mean, do what you say.” 4. Diversity. “Diversity of ideas, diversity of people … I don’t surround myself with ‘yes’ people. I need people who punch holes in ideas.” 5. Excellence. “Every day and every person.”

The desire to become a school administrator, he said, stemmed from growing up poor in Denver. “Education is a pathway to success and I think I’m a good example of that,” said Henwood. His parents both became school administrators and a brother became a doctor.  Work on the Navajo Reservation, he said, showed him that the educational system has to fit the needs of those students being served.

The effort to build a good working relationship with the board, he said, would start with basic questions such as “why are we here” and “what is it we all have in common about why we’re here for kids?” Leadership needs to be working together on the same plan, he said, and it’s important to create a “platform of stability.”

Henwood said major progress was made in a previous school when the school set a shared goal that all students improve three percentage points in three subjects (reading, writing and math) for three years. “Accountability shouldn’t be super intimidating,” he said. “But it should be fair.” The improvement led to increased enrollment, increased student achievement, and more interest in the form of applications from teachers wanting to work there. Henwood said he focused on improving instructional practices so they were aligned with the kids being taught.

A community-wide discussion about adjustments to the school year calendar, said Henwood, might offer a good opportunity to boost and improve community engagement. Henwood emphasized the importance of high-quality principals who in turn attract high-quality teachers. Regarding the budget, Henwood said the district’s reserves should not be “savings accounts.” The overall teacher compensation should be structured “so we are keeping our best teachers, our most knowledgeable teachers.”

To restore an upward trend to the enrollment in Sheridan, Henwood said he wanted to talk to Sheridan parents who have placed their children in neighboring districts as well as non-Sheridan parents who choose Sheridan over their home district. Henwood floated the idea of emphasizing dual language skills. He pointed out that bilingualism is valued after high school graduation and perhaps Sheridan could do more to encourage dual language development throughout school. 

In closing, Henwood said he made a choice to work in Sheridan and pointed to his track record of improving student achievement, improving growth, and improving the climate and culture of schools and districts where he has worked. “Nobody is going to change the story of Sheridan for us,” he said. “That’s our job. We need to sell ourselves inside the community and outside the community. I believe I have the skill set to do that work.”

Pat Sandos

Pat Sandos said in his first 100 days that he focus four main areas. 1. Strengthen rigor and provide choice to students. 2. Safety and security. 3. Increase cultural competence. 4. Establish a financial plan. “Because I’ve built relationships in the district, we can hit the ground running,” he said. Building the plan would include all stakeholders, he said. “This is systems thinking—with relationships attached,” he said. “Systems thinking without relationship? We don’t make much progress.”

Sandos said he would work to build support for possible mill levy and bond proposals that may be on the ballot this fall.  He’s said he is hopeful that Sheridan will receive a state grant to build a new high school. “You have to create this perceived value in the community,” he said. “Why do we want this school?”

Sandos said he will look to hire staff members who are passionate about kids. Administrators should have school-based experience, he said. Sandos emphasized the importance of relationships. “You have to be able to reach out to principals and say ‘how do I support you?’ And ‘how do I support your academic program?’”

There are good teachers and leaders in Sheridan today, he said, “who have to be given permission to stretch and to share what they know with other colleagues.” Sandos said he would push for more “vertical articulation” between schools.

Asked about difficult initiatives he has implemented in the past, Sandos talked about adding formative assessment practices and “solid learning targets.” The staff in his previous school, he said, built protocols for teachers to be able to visit each other’s classrooms and learn from each other. Those were systems that remained in place after he left the school, said Sandos, because they were systems that worked for teachers and helped them improve.

His experience as a principal, said Sandos, will help when it comes time to finding efficiencies in the budget. He suggested that there may be two district positions that could be filled by teachers and urged that budget reductions be kept away from the classroom “as best you can.”

Sandos said he has already established relationships with police department, city officials, library and recreational center, too. “Those relationships are in place,” he said. Asked about his approach to mentoring and supervising staff, Sandos said he is “very proud” that individuals he once supervised now hold management positions in Denver, Commerce City, and Jefferson County.

Asked about his guiding principles, Sandos said: “To my core, I am ‘kids first.’ It’s annoying to people. It’s something I believe in to my core.” Sandos referred to the idea of “collective efficacy” and that all of the district’s work should be grounded in the idea of “how do we provide kids with the very best instruction possible?” Sandos said he feels a “sense of urgency” about the issue given how much time schools have with kids. “We have to get better at helping teachers,” he added.

Sandos said he would stay “open and transparent” in working with the board and added that he would work with the board “on building our common interests, which are the kids.”

Engaging parents and community, he said, “starts with visibility.”  You have to let parents and community members “catch you everywhere” including games, concerts, and Saturday meetings. “My door is open,” said Sandos.

Good school principals, he said, are “sense makers with community, sense makers with teachers, and with staff and kids. They have to be kids’ first folks and they have to be solid instructional leaders.”

To manage the budget and ensure adequate reserve levels, said Sandos, he would rely heavily on the current chief financial officer.

Sandos said the district should be open to “every kid that walks across the threshold,” including undocumented students. “Every kid is important here … that is something that is critical for us to embrace.” And Sandos said he wants teachers to feel appreciated. Sheridan teachers, he added, should feel as if they have the opportunity to grow professionally. Sandos said he would look to increase the number of teachers and administrators of color and also work to make sure teacher salaries are competitive. He floated the idea of the district investing in teacher housing “so teachers can afford to live here.” Teachers, he said, need to feel “like they are part of something bigger than themselves, that their expertise is appreciated.”

Asked about turning out declining enrollment trends, Sandos pointed to efforts in Sheridan to upgrade the clarity and welcoming nature of the district’s web pages, including the use of video testimonials. He talked about the importance of positive word-of-mouth referrals and engaging with Spanish-speaking radio stations, too.  “I truly want this district to be a family and built on a family concept,” he said. “I want us to having a waiting list. There’s no reason that can’t happen here.”

In conclusion, Sandos said he is a “work horse” and not a “show horse.” He said his experience means he can tap a statewide network of colleagues for needed support. Sandos said he would not view the superintendent appointment as a stepping stone to another district. Sandos said he plans to end his career in Sheridan. “I can provide the leadership I think you need here,” he said. “We are in this together.  We are a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be discovered.”

Antonio Esquibel

Antonio Esquibel said in his first 100 days he would have meetings with an extensive cross-section of the school district and broader community.  He talked about the difference between obtaining “buy-in’ from stakeholders compared with developing a preferred sense of ownership. “With ownership, there is investment,” he said.

Esquibel laid out five goals as his entry plan. 1. Academic achievement and growth. 2. Develop and support unified governance team. 3. Collaborative relationship with school board. 4. School climate – continuous improvement. 4. Organizational effectiveness. 5. District learning culture. Esquibel said he will look for a “sense of purpose” from staff and would review all roles and responsibilities. “Everything needs to point to one target and that’s high academic achievement for all students,” he said. All graduates should have an opportunity to go to college and have an amazing career, he said.

Esquibel said he supervised a network of 15 schools in West Denver and worked to make sure that all 15 principals developed as instructional leaders, not just managers of the school. “Many of the principals were more managers and were making sure things were running well.  We wanted to flip that. We instituted a strategy around observation and feedback,” he said. All schools were ordered to find money in their existing budgets to hire a community liaison or parent coordinator, he said.

Making tough budget decisions, he said, would involve a major stakeholder process. Esquibel said he would seek input from principals, teachers, and all staff. “It always come down to high-quality instruction for kids,” he said. “Anything that would impact that negatively, I would have a hard time cutting.”

Esquibel said he would hold regular meetings with key leaders and organizations in the community. Retaining the best teachers, he said, involves providing the best school culture that offers teachers opportunities for growth and advancement. “We need to be creative and innovative in how we look at that,” he said.

Talking about his core principles, Esquibel said he believes in high expectations; integrity and respect; lifelong learning; shared responsibility of family and community; and building self-esteem. It is “unconscionable,” he said, that the achievement gap exists and is some cases widening.

Esquibel talked about his experiences learning with Dr. Richard Elmore at Harvard University to “understand how we can rethink professional development for teachers.” Esquibel emphasized the importance of Professional Learning Communities that create “an environment for teachers to share data with one another.”

Esquibel, a longtime athletic coach, said he’s competitive. “I don’t like to lose,” he said. Many of his childhood friends, he said, have not succeeded. “I had a strong family background that really supported me (and) I went into teaching because of my friends that didn’t make it.”

Esquibel said communication is key to a good working relationship with the school board. “Trust is key,” he said. He pointed to improved graduation rates, achievement levels and enrollment in schools he supervised in West Denver. He referenced improved college enrollment rates and recognition from the Colorado Department of Education. Setting expectations about college begin in Early Childhood Education and parents should be shown what that pathway looks like during pre-kindergarten conversations.

Sheridan has lost enrollment, he noted, but reversing the trend is possible by developing schools that attract parents. Esquibel said he would identify the “shining star” among Sheridan’s existing schools in terms of parent engagement and then replicating those strategies.

Good principals, said Esquibel, understand the three “power levers” of leadership—instructional leadership, data-driven instruction, and student and staff culture. “How do create an environment that is conducive to learning?” he asked.

All students are welcome in schools, said Esquibel, and state statute makes that clear. “It doesn’t matter where they come from and it doesn’t matter if they are a citizen or not … I’m going to fight for dreamers, I’m going to fight for at-risk students. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

Esquibel said he would need “a strong foundational understanding of how teachers feel” before developing a plan for retaining faculty. He emphasized the importance of ensuring teacher opinions are heard and that it would be important to “identify the root cause of why teachers leave.”

In closing, Esquibel said he worked at elementary, middle and high school levels. “I feel like I’m the right person for this job,” he said. “I have the passion. I have the determination. I have the will. I also have the compassion. It’s about the kids.”

Note:

Superintendent Michael Clough is leaving the district in June after a decade of leadership. The board is planning to select a replacement by mid-April.

About Sheridan School District 2

Located southwest of Denver, Sheridan School District 2 seeks high-level post-secondary options for all students through continuous improvement of quality instruction. More: www.ssd2.org

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Sheridan School District NO.2
4150 South Hazel Court
Englewood, Colorado 80110
email: info@ssd2.org
phone: (720) 833-6991
fax: (720) 833-6650