With a new board member who can cast a tie-breaking vote, the school board of the tiny Sheridan district is set to pick its first new superintendent in 10 years.
Finding a replacement for Michael Clough has been a contentious process, with community members pushing for an outside candidate who might be more responsive to their concerns and bring faster change and with veteran board members favoring a candidate who already works in the district.
At a meeting two weeks ago, Clough shouted at the community and the president of the teachers union. The president, who is also a district teacher, had been standing with community members who rose to express support for the outside candidate, a Denver Public Schools administrator named Antonio Esquibel. Clough and the board president called the display “totally disrespectful.”
On Tuesday, the meeting started in a small room where a staff member stood at the door and turned away members of the public, including a reporter who went in anyway. But there was still shouting, this time between board members frustrated with the process and each other.
One issue in dispute: the role of the newly seated board member.
The Sheridan board is divided between two veteran board members, Bernadette Saleh and Sally Daigle, who want to see the district continue on the path Clough set, and two new members, Daniel Stange and Karla Najera, who are allied with the parents and advocates who want to see a new direction.
The fifth seat had been vacant for more than 10 years before Juanita Camacho put in her application earlier this year. Initially board members wanted to wait to seat her until after they chose a new superintendent, but when it seemed like they were headed for deadlock, she was sworn in.
Tuesday, Saleh, the board’s president, argued that Camacho was not seated to help select a new superintendent, while Stange argued that it did appear that way.
Camacho said she did not think about the superintendent search when she initially applied, and she almost considered backing out of the role when she knew she would be a tie-breaker.
“I’m going to make that deciding vote,” Camacho said. “It’s not going to be an easy thing for me.”
Camacho will have one more week to review the qualifications of the three finalists for the position before the board vote at 5 p.m. on May 1.
Part of the division in the community and on the board centers on the perception of the district’s progress. Many community members and teachers say they want drastic changes to improve the district, while others have said they want to continue the district’s current momentum.
Sheridan, a district serving about 1,400 students just southwest of Denver, has improved enough on state ratings to get off the state’s watchlist for chronic low-performance and avoid state sanctions. But by many measures, including graduation rates, the district is still considered low performing.
“You don’t know what we’ve been through,” Daigle told Stange, who she accused of bad-mouthing the district. “We came out of the turnaround long before we were ever expected to.”
Several teachers and parents have spoken to the board during public comment at multiple meetings, asking them to “listen to the community.” Most of them support Esquibel, the only one of three finalists who is from outside the district.
Saleh and Daigle also argued that if other board members wanted a candidate who was from outside the district, they should have voiced that opinion before they collectively narrowed the candidates to the three finalists announced in March.
While many community members and board member Stange prefer Esquibel, they have said that the other two candidates aren’t bad choices to lead the district, and none of the board members disputed that they agreed on the three as finalists.