Dennis Dearden, superintendent of the Sedona Oak Creek School District and superintendent of Sedona Red Rock High School, announced at a board meeting on May 2 that he will retire at the end of September.
This brings the total number of future school district superintendents to vacancies in Yavapai County to 10 as of May 6. This does not include Yavapai County Superintendent Tim Carter, who also retired and will not seek re-election in his elected post.
To keep costs down, Dearden doubles as district superintendent and SRRHS principal, saving the district $100,000 a year. This arrangement also ended when the Board approved Teacher Heather Isom as the new SRRHS Principal during the May 2nd meeting.
“I am leaving the district with excitement and sadness,” Ms Dearden said. “I have been here for five years and have worked hard in this district and I am proud of it. But always with grief in terms of leaving a student or staff member you cared so much for.It’s a normal process you go through.My hope is that a great director will follow in my footsteps. and continue the trajectory we started.”
Dearden said his decision was a matter of timing. His daughter was about to graduate from her SRRHS and enter the University of Arizona, and when she turns 71, 2024 would have been her 50th year of education.
However, he said he is still as passionate about education as he was in the past.
“Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my family,” Ms Dearden said. “I lost my brother-in-law, who was younger than me, unexpectedly during spring break. [he had] I’ve been retired for 12 years and have never once benefited from it. I worked all the time and rarely took vacations. In the last five years of my career, I’ve had two jobs for her. ”
Dearden signed a three-year contract that expires next June, adding that the superintendent’s contract allows individuals or the board to give 30 days’ notice before the contract ends.
When Mr. Dearden first came to Sedona, SOCSD was about $1.3 million in debt, and he took steps to balance the budget, including the decision to close Big Park Community School in Oak Creek Village in May 2018. The school district had to be reorganized.
Another move is to give administrators a dual role, with Dearden serving as both principal and superintendent, Stacey Sarabo in charge of human resources and finance, and Deanna DeWitt as deputy. As superintendent, she would be responsible for curriculum and grants, with Jennifer Chilton overseeing operations, communications and teacher evaluation.
The SOCSD board voted to use the Arizona State Board of Education to find a replacement for Mr. Dearden. This process includes meetings with association representatives and the SOCSD Board to determine the schedule and qualifications we seek from applicants, followed by a survey of staff and community groups to determine priorities. .
“We will then present the list of candidates to the board at some point, depending on our schedule,” Dearden said. “It is then up to the board to decide whether the candidates meet their expectations and qualifications, and perhaps select the number of candidates who will proceed to the initial interview … perhaps narrowing down the final candidates to a few, After that, we will host a community forum so that the community can hear their opinions. [candidates], their philosophies, and the board of directors elect directors. ”
Dearden attributed the decline in applicants for superintendent jobs to the political climate surrounding schools and the housing crisis.
“We have launched a pick-up service to Cottonwood [for students] and started pulling [more students] We’re an open school district, so anyone can come to our school,” Dearden said. “So we have been able to grow our enrollment numbers over the last few years. It’s tough to do that.”
He cited a housing initiative as one of his proudest achievements during his tenure. An educator, Dearden never expected “landlord” to be part of his job description. However, SOCSD has his $3 million project underway to convert the BPCS building into affordable housing units for faculty.
In March, SOCSD received a $500,000 matching grant from the Yavapai County Department of Education Services to cover construction and project costs, which it must use by September 2024. The school district aims to complete the project by December next year. Construction has not yet started.
“We are lucky, Basil and Mimi Maher.” [donated]said Dearden. “That’s why we also aimed to secure grants to supplement that. Interest-free, no burden to the district, construction costs will be repaid to the district from the rent of the condominiums we build in Big Park. We’re in Building C. It’s a single row building.The plan is to build 10 or 11 one-bedroom or two-bedroom condos.”
“From a big perspective, it has a deadline. What we want is to have as many people as possible move into these homes by the beginning of next year,” Carter said.
Dearden said rumors that the district teaches “critical racial theory” and other controversial content have also affected superintendents. A couple visiting SOCSD last year were curious if the district taught her CRT.
“They came for a week, looked at all the textbooks, and eventually wrote us a check and said, ‘Well done.'” Spend this money on whatever you want to do at school. said Dearden. “I don’t know for sure that there are such people in our area, [teaching CRT]. We are all trying to do the best job we can for our students and for the shootings that are happening across the country. I just hope nothing happens at school. ”
Dearden remains optimistic about the future of SOCSD.
“I have always believed that a school is a symbol of a strong town or community,” Dearden said. “We need vibrant school districts. My hope is that people will see that we have improved it, and the next superintendent must take it to another level.” .”
SOCSD’s future advancements include catching up with students after forced closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in math test scores, and competing with charter schools to create student programs that meet the needs of families. Is required.
“One of the biggest highlights for me is seeing me greet kids and parents on the bus loop every morning and evening,” Dearden said. “I love it. Not many superintendents can do this.”