Disclaimer: Three Sonorans is not involved in any way with the TUSD Whistleblowers. The letter below, and ALL letters, have been written by them and we simply post them, and we have posted all of them, whether we agree with the content or not.
We grant our permission to publish this letter and to distribute it widely.
68th Open Letter
From: TUSD Whistleblowers– Comprised of a Large Group of Extremely Concerned TUSD Administrators, Teachers, Retired Administrators, and Parents, Grandparents
- Gabriel Trujillo: Poser or Real Superintendent? You Judge.
- Mark Stegeman: Gone Totally Rogue Board Member!
- John Pedicone: Still Wants to Be TUSD Supt.! & He Continues to Promote
- Mary Belle McCorkle (the forever wannabe TUSD Supt.)
If you care about an institution, like Tucson Unified School District, you should make the effort to determine who and what the influences are behind its leaders. This type of information reveals a lot about a leader and her/his values, ethics, intellect, politics, and motivation. It is important to determine to what extent leaders are being influenced by external forces. In other words, is someone else (or an organized group) REALLY making the decisions while the so-called leader is POSING as a leader? We know that most of us who are involved with TUSD as administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, grandparents, etc. do not have the time or resources to take up this type of inquiry. Fortunately, because of the number of individuals who are part of the Whistleblowers, our knowledge base is strengthened by the hundreds of cumulative connections that we have as a group within the community. Our members work in all parts of TUSD, live in all segments of the community, (Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley, Vail, South Tucson, etc.), and belong to organizations, clubs, charities, country clubs, social clubs, sports clubs, religious groups, etc. Collectively we end-up hearing a lot of information about TUSD and when different members are hearing the same information from one source as another member is hearing from another source, on a repeated basis… and we start comparing our notes; well, we know that the information being widely received is valid.
This is exactly what has happened in garnering information about TUSD Superintendent, Gabriel Trujillo! It has poured in from all over without much solicitation. What is written here is an organized presentation of information that has consistently been provided to us about Trujillo and which many of us have actually experienced/witnessed.
Trujillo came to us from Phoenix Union when he was appointed as Assistant Superintendent of Instruction in August 2016. Since his arrival, he has given us a lot of indicators about the kind of leader he is. We believe it is important to know what he values by the actions taken in his role as Superintendent; how he works with the Board and with Board members individually; who and what influences him- both inside and outside of the District; whom he values through his allocation of attention and face time; whom he dismisses; and other important information that gives us insight into who he is and how he has performed as Superintendent.
When many of us first met Trujillo, he seemed shy and was someone who kept to himself. He has been somewhat of an enigma to everyone. Nothing has changed. He is one who has to be approached and is not one to approach others. He does not “work the room” at large events and seems uncomfortable mingling. When a problem surfaces and a solution is presented, he enthusiastically agrees that he will follow-through to ensure that the problem is addressed but he often does not follow-through and when he does it is not timely. Everyone thought he was so responsive last year at this time, but now most people recognize that his commitments to remedy urgent problems are just words.
He is not a person who enjoys bringing site administrators together (literally and figuratively) and communication with principals has fallen behind from where we were prior to his appointment. (Not that anyone wants to go back in time to former superintendents.) His demonstrated practices in this area will be deadly with so many newly appointed site administrators coming on board. Principals need information to run their schools and new principals will be at a total loss without some initial guidance and support from the Superintendent. We are not talking about a 30-minute pep talk. We are referring to informational meetings which allow for exchange. Urban school superintendents say that what makes or breaks superintendents is their principals. Trujillo does not understand this. The new regional structure will remedy some of this ONLY if Trujillo ends up communicating well with the newly appointed regional superintendents.
Trujillo knows a lot about curriculum and instruction but for more than a year, we have watched how this area, over which he has specific expertise, has deteriorated. He has not hired a replacement for himself in the positions of Assistant Superintendent of Instruction. He hired only an Interim Director over Curriculum Development from Phoenix, Giovanna Grijalva, who is mostly working long-distance from Phoenix. Email and memos are not the right way to direct the work of what is supposed to be a vehicle to educate our students: curriculum and instruction.
There are currently three top curriculum/instruction positions which have not been filled by permanent professionals: two interim positions and one vacant- for more than a year! This tells us exactly how important curriculum and instruction are to Trujillo and the Board. This has been a shock and a big disappointment. In total, between Trujillo and Sanchez, the assistant superintendent position has been vacated, on and off, for 2.5 years out of the last 5 years. Based on this, try convincing anyone that curriculum and instruction are top priorities in TUSD. (We do have to give Trujillo credit for doing whatever he did to have Clarice Clash exit TUSD but ridding the District of her and others like her is just half of the equation.)
The lack of attention to this area reminds us of the Pedicone era during which there was NO curriculum. Right after Pedicone left TUSD, a curriculum audit was conducted by a consulting firm (2014). It reported weaknesses in all areas of curriculum and instruction and the absence of an actual curriculum. Lots and lots of activity took place to develop and implement the curriculum. The momentum and progress have been lost.
Trujillo works mostly with one Board member: Mark Stegeman.
Trujillo devotes an inordinate amount of time to him- much more than the others, which is a death wish, in our opinion. He is alienating other Board members and showing his lack of fairness and political awareness to the community. (This reminds us of Sanchez who consistently ignored or was rude to Stegeman and Mark Hicks. He had “his” Board majority and that is all that mattered to him.) Trujillo’s relationship with the Board will suffer due to this and this will greatly cost him in the future. The only possible explanation for Trujillo’s devotion to Stegeman is that initially, it appeared as though Stegeman could pull three votes off but Stegeman has not been able to hold on to a solid Board majority. Most on the Board do not trust Stegeman as far as they can see him. They each recognize his manipulative and exploitive nature. Trujillo better learn very quickly that he must treat all Board members the same and only take direction from the Board as a whole and not individual Board members. He won’t last without learning this one lesson.
We all know that Trujillo took over a District in crisis when Sanchez was forced out and almost everyone we know has done everything possible to give him the benefit of the doubt. But after more than a year since he was appointed as Superintendent (he was named interim superintendent in March of 2017 and gained the permanent position in August 2017), the District has not moved forward and is barely operating with the number of “to be assigned” and “interim” positions that Trujillo has left in place. There are a minimum of a dozen administrative interim/acting positions and To Be Assigned (vacated) administrative positions:
- Curriculum and Instruction Asst. Superintendent – To Be Assigned
- Curriculum Development Interim Director – Giovanna Grijalva, Ed.D.
- Assistant Superintendent Secondary Leadership- To Be Assigned
- Assistant Superintendent of Elementary and K-8 Leadership – Interim Mark Alvarez
- Language Acquisition- Interim Director- Patricia Sandoval-Taylor (in curriculum department)
- Chief Operating Officer- To Be Assigned
- Benefits Manager- To Be Assigned
- Refugee Services- Jimmy Hart- Interim
- Asian Pacific American Student Services Interim Director – Jimmy Hart
- Communications & Media Relations- Interim Director – Michelle Valenzuela
- Information Systems Acting/Interim Director – Rick Foster
- Transportation Interim Director – Martha Zamora
We know that Trujillo wanted to leave some of the positions vacant to capture unspent funding due to a low-enrollment budget shortfall and to avoid putting people in positions slated for elimination because of the new regional organization. But in the meantime, what has been created is a tremendously tenuous school district. The institution has several large holes in it. Workflow has been interrupted; accountability has suffered; communication has faltered, and school year 2017-18 has felt as though we were being asked to run a marathon with one leg tied to the other while blindfolded. Top level administrators apologetically shrug their shoulders, expressing their lack of information, when asked the most basic questions about the organization and reorganization.
Most top-level administrators were not involved in discussions concerning the reorganization of the District. One administrator peer jokingly remarked that Trujillo must have put the reorganization proposal together all by himself because no one other than Trujillo knew anything about it at 1010. Outdated organizational charts just add to the confusion. Large holes have intentionally been left in the organization which has weakened the overall structure. Trujillo did not like being an interim superintendent. He said he did not feel as though he had full authority to do the things that needed to be done, yet, he has left several interim positions in place without regard to the people on “interim” status, who must feel as he did while on “interim” status. Some have been in this limbo status since before Sanchez departed.
We know that early into his new position Trujillo got sucked into Stegeman’s University High School vortex. He seemed to aimlessly skip along to Stegeman’s step by step orders to get University High its own campus. In the process, Trujillo lost credibility with two other school communities- Catalina and Rincon High Schools (we have already written about this in a previous letter and will not rehash our position). By the time the fiasco process was over, the entire community had lost more trust in the District. It was beyond naïve for Trujillo not to have read situation prior correctly before it turned into a circus, which he helped create with Stegeman. Trujillo even proposed changing school boundaries which showed his overwhelming ignorance about our community. He did not bother to obtain any historical information. (Remember, he does not like approaching people.) He allowed himself to become part of the UHS circus, with Stegeman as the ringleader.
Trujillo appeared to be a misled, unknowing, inexperienced and exploited puppet. His isolationist approach has weakened him as a leader and it does not seem that any lesson has been learned because he has remained isolated and attached to Stegeman. As the Superintendent, he cannot just sit back and be a spectator and he should not allow himself to be played by Stegeman. He has to take charge as the top educator in the District and not allow for one or two Board members to take him way off course. Many in the community believe that Stegeman’s maneuvers have set Trujillo up for failure and that issues such as UHS, discipline, administrative appointment decisions, Board staffing, and the budget have been Trujillo’s bear traps, in which he has easily been snared. Stegeman supported Stephen Trejo as his pick for Superintendent and when Stegeman does not get his way he just tries another way to get what he wants. Stegeman in too heavily involved in the day to day operation of the District, which is way beyond his role as a board member. He is interfering and meddling in the administration of the District and complaining about how much time it takes to move Trujillo in the right direction. (Condescending!)
We know that the recent “town hall” on school safety was a total flop. Teachers were afraid to attend and parents were confused by the advertisement about “school safety” since they really want to talk about DISCIPLINE and bullying. TUSD should not sugar coat communication or make it confusing. It should have been advertised differently and certainly BEFORE the school year was over. A few speakers stressed that the meeting was not a “town hall” but just another Board meeting that limited those who wanted to speak to three minutes. They also complained that the meeting was not interactive as typically are town halls. Draft 5 of the discipline document was not made available to the public until the day of the meeting. And why would the Board and Superintendent plan a “town hall” hoping to have parents show up after the end of the school year? It is like throwing a party in the middle of July for those who live in Tucson in a retired/snowbird community only during the winter. All of these things lead us to believe that the event was just another check-mark for the Board (Stegeman) and Trujillo to check-off on their efforts to deal with discipline. One of the excuses we heard is that the Red for Ed strike caused the town hall to be delayed but this is a flaky excuse for poor planning. Has Red for ED been added to the list of scapegoat sources?
We know that Trujillo places unwarranted attention and support on the Tucson Magnet High School Principal. This has been done blindly and again it shows him as being extremely naïve and/or pliable. This support originates from Adelita Grijalva’s dictates. Shawna Rodriquez and Auggie Romero are Grijalva’s family, generational friends. Her loyalty to Romero has proven to be costly to TUSD in all ways and she has made Auggie her CAUSE in life, which is why she is running for the Board, yet on more exhausting time. Trujillo should have learned from the Romero problems but his leanings in supporting Shawna seem to indicate otherwise. Throwing Grijalva a bone by appointing “her” people, in the end, is not going to satisfy her, if she, like Hicks, Kristel Foster, and Rachael Sedgwick are mostly ignored by Trujillo.
We know that the limited list of options for salary increases that Trujillo’s staff presented to the Board was shortsighted. He should have been directed to develop more creative options. Instead, three Board members (two running for re-election) opted to do the politically expedient thing and make all employee groups a little happy by foolishly opting for the lesser of the evils of those presented. This will turn out to be a big mistake! (This entire process felt very much like the school closure process that John Pedicone put us through. Poor process; bad, bad outcomes!)
We know that because Rachael Sedgwick is immensely disliked by three of her peers (Foster, Grijalva, and Hicks), Trujillo has become quite public in showing public disrespect for her. If she were liked by her peers he would not be so cavalier. He has been publicly flippant in his statements toward her and he has taken to complaining about her to Grijalva and Foster, adding fuel to an already out of control fire. Whether he likes her or not, he MUST show respect for the position and the fact that she is not popular with her peers should not allow him to treat her with such lack of respect. (This does not mean that we support Sedgwick’s behavior or decisions.)
We have already mentioned that Trujillo attends much more to Stegeman than other Board members. Stegeman does NOT have the best interest of Tucson Unified School District at heart. The way that he involved himself in the UHS issue revealed his focus to only one faction of our community; his wealthy and mostly Anglo constituents. He has his own political pet issues, many of which are wrapped around taking control from one group and giving it to another. Trujillo needs to even out his attention and get direction only from the Board- as a whole; not individual Board members. If he does not stop his games with Stegeman he is dooming himself.
What has been presented here are a few examples of how Trujillo is NOT running TUSD well and it has made us wonder if Trujillo is up for the task. As a new unexperienced Superintendent, it is more important than ever for him to surround himself with those who have the best interest of TUSD at heart and those who are or have been successful in running a school district (data validated success). Stegeman’s intense interference is bad enough but we also other fingerprints all over the bad decisions that have surfaced from Trujillo.
Hey, for those of you who thought that John Pedicone was out of our TUSD lives, not so fast!
We have heard from many, many, many individuals that Trujillo is meeting regularly with John Pedicone and that Pedicone is advising him on many high-level administrative decisions, including hiring decisions. We have been told that Pedicone has shared with some of his Ora Valley Country Club friends along with some of his peers in the community that he is “mentoring Gabe.” This is extremely frightening and because of the many sources that we have heard this repeated information from, we believe it is valid, whether “Gabe” admits or not. Pedicone made horrible administrative appointments while he was Superintendent. He also made horrible operational decisions (or no decisions) in the areas of curriculum, school closures, desegregation, and he involved himself in the politics of replacing deceased Board member Judy Burns.
There was no curriculum in place when Pedicone was Superintendent and either he never noticed or he just did not care. He did nothing to develop and implement the curriculum. This is like a gas station not having any gas to sell its customers. He played favorites with principals and Board members. He had an “interim” deputy superintendent the entire time he was superintendent along with a number of other interim positions. (Sound familiar?) He kept teachers and parents at a distance. He alienated the desegregation plaintiffs. He put the community through a school closure process that was an excruciating farce. He recommended the closure of several schools based on a shortfall in a budget that became very questionable after he left TUSD. He ran a large school district much like he had run Flowing Wells School District, a considerably smaller school district and he used his time with TUSD as a feather in his urban-school-district-experience cap even though all he did while at TUSD was destructive.
Pedicone became part of the John Huppenthal and Tom Horne machine that banned Mexican American Studies in our schools. As a reminder, the Federal Court recently ruled that the law that was responsible for banning TUSD’s MAS courses was created out of racial animus. Pedicone’s tyrant ways of dealing with the MAS teachers and the Latino community are unforgivable. (Except that Grijalva and Foster have forgiven him.) He interjected himself into the process to appoint a Board member to replace Judy Burns after her untimely death. He had several of his Southern Arizona Leadership Council fellow members and Republican buddies strong arm Linda Arzoumanian into appointment someone who would be a sure vote to kill Mexican American Studies. He succeeded. Pedicone attempted to influence HT Sanchez by warning him against all the individuals who he did not like in TUSD and by recommending actions that HT needed to immediately take after he was hired. HT’s ego couldn’t handle the coaching and he stopped meeting with Pedicone.
On the other hand, Trujillo has continued his dialogue with Pedicone and it has gone to a very dangerous place. Whether he is doing it because he trusts Pedicone or out of what he considers an obligatory relationship, it is poisonous to him and the District. Pedicone has probably introduced Trujillo to many of Tucson’s power brokers but none of these individuals will do much to support TUSD. Through the notorious association with Pedicone, Trujillo has already been tainted/damaged. Many say that the “Pedicone link” explains a lot about Trujillo’s actions. The Pedicone touch will end up killing Trujillo’s credibility in Tucson. We think it shows that Trujillo is not a good judge of character; that he is listening to someone who very obviously harmed TUSD and its students; and that he is unsure of himself.
Pedicone has also given Trujillo names of individuals who he thinks Trujillo must meet with for “input” (like Mary Belle McCorkle) and those who he should freeze-out. Pedicone really does not want to offer mere “input.” He wants to control; he wants his friend and relatives- like Mary Belle McCorkle) to have influence; he wants to manipulate; he wants to continue to run TUSD from his living room and country club. The truth is, Pedicone never moved on when he was “convinced” to resign from TUSD.
In different, but very dangerous ways, Pedicone and Stegeman are running the District. Whether one knows about the other is a mystery. To us, it is clear that Trujillo is a Poser with two treacherous power-grabbers at each ear. Based on the facts, you decide. Trujillo needs to set Stegeman and Pedicone lose; put them in their right place, and begin to run the District as his own person. If he is not up to the challenge, resignation is always an option. The current situation is intolerable and bound to blow-up in the near future if changes are not made NOW.
The TUSD Whistleblowers are not associated with any blog or publication. We are an independent group and our letters are written ONLY by our members. As long as the TUSD Whistleblowers have been in existence, our letters have been sent to various local media and blogs. We appreciate our letters being published by Three Sonorans and sometimes printed and/or referenced by the Arizona Daily Independent. Everyone is free to post our letters on social media.