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Adams 14 chief sole finalist for top job in Bay Area

Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sanchez, center, prepares to address the State Board of Education April 10, 2014. He is joined by Assistant Superintendent Kandy Steel, right, and the district’s board president Robert Vashaw.
Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sanchez, center, prepares to address the State Board of Education April 10, 2014. He is joined by Assistant Superintendent Kandy Steel, right, and the district's board president Robert Vashaw.
Nicholas Garcia

Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sanchez, who has led the school district through a turnaround effort for nearly four years, has been named sole finalist for a superintendent post in the Bay Area.

The Newark Unified School District school board announced its decision Wednesday and is set to vote May 3 on whether to hire Sanchez, according to a district statement.

Sanchez’s exit comes at a perilous time for the Commerce City school district, which enrolls about 7,500 students. Adams 14 is one of a handful of Colorado school districts in jeopardy of losing its state accreditation for low student performance.

A loss of accreditation could put the district’s federal funding at risk; colleges might not accept or give scholarships to high school graduates from unaccredited districts.

Student scores on state tests in the mostly Latino school district trail state averages and have shown little improvement during Sanchez’s tenure.

But Sanchez, in an interview, said he’s proud his team of administrators and teachers helped stop a nine-year decline in scores, increase the number of second-language learners who master English in three years, and improve relationships with the community.

“I’d like to say I left it better than I found it,” Sanchez said, adding that much more needs to be done to improve student achievement.

Still to come: overhauls at many of the district’s struggling schools under the state’s innovation law. That may allow schools to develop their own curriculum, set their own budgets, and hire and fire teachers outside of the district’s teachers union contract.

The district has developed a four-year plan, Sanchez said, which includes expanding a biliteracy program. However, most of the work on how schools will change is not finished.

“We don’t have a finalized plan, but we have a very clear process of how we’re going to get there,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez joined the Adams 14 school district while it was under a federal investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. In 2014, federal officials said they found the district, under previous leadership, had created a hostile environment for Hispanic students and that the district failed to communicate with parents in languages they spoke.

Sanchez’s administration agreed to a lengthy list of changes including regular climate surveys and more training for teachers.

The district recently has come under fire from a community organization calling itself VozCatorce, or Voice14. The organization launched a petition calling for the resignations of Sanchez and his top deputies. It has fewer than 200 signatures.

Adrian Schimpf, a former school board member and VozCatorce member, said the district’s schools haven’t improved fast enough and concerned community members aren’t being heard.

“The biggest problem is the culture of fear and harassment,” Schimpf said.

Sanchez dismissed the organization as a group of disgruntled former employees.

“It’s easy to throw rocks and be critical,” he said.

Adams 14 school board President David Rolla said he was proud of Sanchez’s track record.

“Pat is a good man,” Rolla said. “His heart is in the right place. He tries to do what’s best for kids. Over time, where there is change, you’re going to have dissatisfied people.”

Rolla said the Adams 14 board will not make decisions about replacing Sanchez until he officially resigns.

Peter Sherman, the state’s chief school improvement officer, said choosing the next superintendent will be vital for the district’s success.

“We need to see leadership that will realize urgent significant improvements are needed at their schools,” Sherman said. “I hope future leadership will be open to and will pursue a collaborative relationship with CDE.”

Before joining Adams 14 in 2012, Sanchez worked in administrative roles in Westminster, Aurora and Denver public schools. His current salary is $175,000.

Newark Superintendent David Marken, who is retiring, makes $234,000 plus a $1,500 stipend for his doctoral work.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Newark’ Superintendent David Marken’s salary.

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