Higley Unified School District Superintendent Denise Birdwell will begin negotiations with the district attorney on a new contract after the governing board voted unanimously Thursday to keep her in the district.
Board members met before the meeting in a closed executive session to discuss Birdwell’s evaluation. They continued the evaluation talk after agenda items had been discussed, and then came back out to vote on the issue.
|Superintendent Denise Birdwell|
Board members were deciding whether to search for a new superintendent, or start contract negotiations with Birdwell.
After the vote, audience members erupted in applause in support of Birdwell. The audience was mainly composed of district employees and principals.
Board president Greg Land said the district has made “tremendous progress” in “several areas” since Birdwell took the reins in December from former superintendent Joyce Lutrey.
“I don’t believe now is a good time to make a change (in this economy),” said Land, referring to a costly search for a new superintendent. “I think we (Birdwell and the board) have developed a great working relationship.
“We just need to continue focusing on students,” Land said.
Birdwell said she is “honored” and “excited” about continuing to work in the Higley district.
“We’ve begun some wonderful work in areas such as curriculum, and this gives us the stabilization and allows us to continue that,” she said after the meeting. “We have great potential here, and I believe our team can take Higley to the next level.”
Birdwell had the backing of three district employees who spoke in support of her, including a principal who spoke on behalf of all 10 school principals.
Higley High School Principal Larry Rother read from a prepared statement that was signed by the school principals. San Tan Elementary School Principal Maureen Migacz stood by Rother’s side as “support,” she said.
“We are unanimous in our belief that Higley Unified School District is best served under the leadership of Dr. Birdwell as our superintendent,” Rother read from the letter. “We feel that she has been the driving force behind the successes we have achieved as a district over the past 18 months, and believe that with her direction, our schools will continue to excel.”
The governing board decided in February to keep Birdwell in the top post through the 2009-10 school year. She was named the interim superintendent in December after the board approved giving Lutrey a one-year early release from her contract.
Birdwell kept her interim title until her contract was up June 30.
Starting July 1, her title changed to superintendent, a change she asked for and the board approved. She said removing the interim title brought stability to the district through the next school year.
In February 2008, Higley created an associate superintendent position for Birdwell, combining human resources and curriculum to keep her in the district. Birdwell had been offered a superintendent job in a school district in Casper, Wyo.
Birdwell started in Higley the summer of 2007 as the human resources director.
According to district policy, the superintendent contract negotiations are completed in May.
However, Land said he would like to get it done “as soon as possible.”
Birdwell said she plans to negotiate for a three-year contract, which she said is the norm for a superintendent.