Tuesday, July 10, 2007
National Search Wanted; District Can Expect to Pay More for New APS Superintendent
By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt is ready to move on. But she says it's to get closer to water, not to get away from the heat she's been getting lately.
"My husband wants to move to where there's good golf courses, and I'd like to see some water," Everitt said at a hastily called news conference Monday morning after announcing plans to retire when her contract ends next June.
Most APS board members wasted no time in calling for a national search for her replacement, and one warned that APS can expect to pay more.
"It's going to cost some money, and it's probably going to cost more money than we pay Beth Everitt," board member Marty Esquivel said.
Everitt, whose current salary is $183,740, insisted her decision to leave was not due to recent controversies that have rocked the district a student's grade change despite a teacher and principal's protests, a shakeup of principals and problems in the APS police department.
"You can't make change without having controversy," she said. "No one has asked me to leave. No one has encouraged me to leave. In fact, just the opposite. This is my decision and my decision alone."
Everitt said she plans to pursue another urban superintendency, perhaps out of the country, but said she will continue to focus on student progress in APS for the next year.
Her year's notice will give the board time to explore its options and possibly hire someone early enough for her to work with her replacement.
"APS is an extremely large district," said Dolores Griego, whose board district includes the South Valley. "I want someone with experience in a large district, of course, with experience with all the diverse populations that we serve. We're a very poor state."
Most board members interviewed favored a national search.
"I think we need a superintendent with a proven track record of increasing graduation rates and addressing the achievement gap issues," Esquivel said.
The district has had six superintendents or superintendent teams in the past 22 years. About half have been brought in from the outside, and half have been promoted from within.
Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez weighed in with his opinion Monday.
"We have a school district that's in a crisis," he said. "It's going to require somebody who's not afraid to make enemies, including on the board."
Board members will meet individually with Everitt over the next month, then meet as a whole in mid-August. At that point, the entire board will begin to decide what it wants in its next leader and how it will conduct the search, board member Paula Maes said.
Everitt, who turns 53 on Friday, said during the news conference that she and her husband, Tom, had in fact been discussing these plans for the last year.
She first told the school board at a closed-door meeting early Monday, where it was discussing the lawsuit against the district filed by former APS Police Chief Gil Lovato and Everitt's upcoming annual evaluation.
At least one board member believed the recent controversies played a role in her decision.
"I know she was incredibly worn out from everything that had occurred," Esquivel said. "... I guess the announcement was a surprise. The decision to not pursue any further (contract extensions) I can understand where she's coming from."
Both board members Gordon Rowe and Esquivel said it appears Everitt may have relied too much on her subordinates, particularly in the grade change controversy.
Everitt named as her successes the first property tax increase in 14 years to pay for new construction; the resulting expedited construction of new schools on the West Side; the continued system of clustering schools into the high schools they feed into; and the "cleaning up of the police department."
Everitt knew she had the votes to remain as superintendent later confirmed by board members Maes, Rowe, Berna Facio, Robert Lucero and Mary Lee Martin. Board members Griego and Esquivel said they had not yet committed to a decision.
"My feeling was we were going to extend the superintendent's contract and the board was feeling the same way about extending her contract," said Maes, the board's president.
Everitt's evaluation will continue, Maes said.
Everitt who started as a special education teacher 26 years ago in APS took control of the district in July 2003, after Superintendent Joseph Vigil was killed in a car accident in Moriarty. For a year before that, she and Vigil had been part of a controversial four-person superintendency, along with Michael Vigil and Tom Garrity. That group replaced Brad Allison.
She had been an assistant superintendent under Peter Horoschak and was principal of Mark Twain and Hawthorne elementary schools.
She has been credited with bringing stability to the district after years of controversy Allison resigned in a settlement with the board, after being given notice he would be fired for a list of reasons including insubordination and creating potential legal exposure. Vigil died in a car crash that later was determined to be the fault of a friend who had tried to blame the crash on the dead superintendent.
Maes said Everitt had never created such issues under her administration.
Maes voice cracking with emotion described Everitt as someone who puts students and employees first.
"This is the right thing for Beth, to leave at this time," Maes said, "to go on and do this for other kids. It's a hard time for us."
Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said Everitt has been willing to sit down with her for "honest conversations" and help create a mentoring program for new teachers.
"It is very hard to find good urban superintendents," Bernstein said.
Facio said Everitt came up from the ranks, and her success should support looking at local candidates as well.
Everitt said she asked the school board Monday to support an audit of the administrative structure something board member Esquivel has been seeking by the Council of Great City Schools to determine what the needs are before a new superintendent is selected.
"I contend we've always been understaffed," Everitt said.
High points & controversies
Developments during Elizabeth Everitt's administration
APS moved forward with its capital outlay program, which had been stalled even though money was available. Construction of much needed West Side schools began in earnest.
September 2006, Albuquerque voters approved a 5.6 percent property tax increase to raise $351 million for new schools, renovations and classroom additions.
February 2007, voters approved a $168 million maintenance tax.
Everitt is credited with bringing stability after Brad Allison's messy exit and the death of her immediate predecessor, Joseph Vigil, in an alcohol-related crash.
Everitt maintained a good relationship with the teachers' union.
APS survived lawmakers' attempts to split the district.
Everitt is seen by many as a good communicator, collaborator and listener.
November 2003, Everitt's hiring of Tom Garrity, a former co-superintendent, as APS chief of staff, at a continued salary of $105,000 upset the board because it was not consulted.
In May 2005, former APS business officer Michael Vigil, a former co-superintendent, is allowed to return to work after a drunken-driving charge, prompting an outcry that the district's no tolerance policy did not apply to administrators. He later pleaded no contest and resigned with a $176,500 settlement.
In 2005 and 2006, nearly two-thirds of APS schools fail to meet No Child Left Behind Act requirements.
A September 2006 Journal poll finds only 27 percent approve of superintendent and the board.
In January, allegations of mismanagement surface against APS Police Chief Gil Lovato. Following an investigation Everitt announces his contract will not be renewed.
In May, the district is rocked by controversy when an APS administrator orders a grade changed for the son of a county commissioner and a former school board member so he can graduate.
Also in May, Everitt reassigns 27 principals to new schools as part of restructuring to help low-performing schools. Parents complain they had no input, state investigates.
Board member Gordon Rowe:
"She always did what she thought was right. Granted, she might have made some calls I didn't agree with, but she was a lady whose heart was in the right place, not motivated by any agendas or special politics."
Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez:
"I think Beth Everitt's done a good job, particularly under very difficult circumstances."
Former longtime board member Leonard DeLayo:
"After working with numerous superintendents, Beth is one of the ones who moved the district forward in significant strides while maintaining stability."
Board member Robert Lucero:
"My goal was to build schools right away on the West Side and Dr. Everitt helped make that happen, better than anybody I've ever seen."
Twenty-year board member Mary Lee Martin:
"She was a person who was a good listener. She did meet a lot of the needs the board was asking her to meet. She was considered a very collaborative superintendent."
Laura Horton, vice president of West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and co-founder of Save Our Schools election campaign:
"There was some progress made as far as facility needs under her reign. There was some very positive staff improvement."
State Sen. James Taylor, a South Valley Democrat:
"Some of the concerns I have about largess and dealing with parents in my district in specific areas weren't addressed ...It seems, as long as the status quo was taking place in the South Valley schools, APS breathed a sigh of relief."
Board member Berna Facio:
"She's been a good superintendent: very open and very willing to listen. She's a team player, and she's not a controlling superintendent."
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce:
"I think we should all be very grateful for the service that Beth gave so genuinely to APS ... Second, this presents a great opportunity for APS to hire someone who has demonstrated experience in lowering dropout rates, increasing graduation rates and closing the achievement gap."
Albuquerque Teachers Federation president Ellen Bernstein:
"She was strong enough to sit down with the union president and have honest conversations, and work on projects together and negotiating the contracts that really do support teachers."