The four candidates for Payson’s top spot in the school district went through a grueling two hours of a speed dating-style type interviews in the district board room with district administration, town leadership, county and community college education administrators.
Then they faced another round of questions from the public at an open forum Monday night.
The process of speed dating is designed to help people meet more people and by the end of the process, everybody understood each other a little better.
The only candidate born and raised in Arizona, Wyman stayed in his home state throughout his career.
A soft-spoken man, Wyman started working in education as a biology teacher in Tucson. He then taught in Patagonia where he moved up to work in administration.
The Snowflake district hired him as its superintendent and after that Apache Junction.
Wyman decided to move to Tempe because of his son and daughter.
“Many of these moves were predicated on family,” said Wyman.
He said when he moved to Snowflake, it was to help his in-laws. When he moved to Tempe, it was to give his children the opportunities a larger school district offers.
Now, with his son attending Northern Arizona University and his daughter going to school in North Dakota, he said it is time to move back to a smaller district.
“I am looking to move to a little bit smaller place for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.
Wyman’s recipe for success includes listening.
“If you ask a couple of questions and listen, the story comes out,” he said.
He also believes that if you treat staff right, everything works from there.
Ward said his district in Indiana has the same number of students and staff as Payson. It even has the same configuration of schools. “We have four schools in the district,” said the white-haired bespectacled straight-talking man.
Ward said he has spent the last six years of his career in the Danville school district, but now that his son has moved to Pasadena and he had to change the date of the graduation ceremony this year because of the snow, he’s ready to live in Arizona.
“I’m getting too old to shovel snow off of my driveway three times a night,” he said.
When asked what he would do with limited resources and big demands, Ward said the only answer is to get creative.
“Now more than ever we have no choice but to be as creative as we can,” he said. “You may have a retired chemistry teacher that can come in and lecture a few times. Look at the local community college … distance learning … you can’t afford to say, ‘we can’t help you.’ To that family, the school district is letting them down.”
Ward said he was hired by the Danville district to bring change. He has moved his district to more of an individualized educational approach, which had allowed one-fourth-grade student who excels in math to move into the sixth-grade math section.
“It takes a lot of energy and work, but our kids are loving it,” he said.
Karl Uterhardt, a very tall man, has spent seven years in the Tombstone district, but that’s not the only job he’s done while there.
He also works as the principal of the elementary school, serves in the cafeteria, drives the bus, scrubs toilets as the custodian and any other job that needs doing in the small district.
“You do what you have to do to help a school,” he said.
He has saved his district $800,000 with his willingness to work and get creative, he says.
But now he believes he needs to move on professionally. He said his wife understands.
“My wife said I like the challenge,” said Uterhardt. “I like to solve problems.”
He said he has done some research on the Rim Country by reading the Roundup and has an idea of the problems, but he trusts he can handle all those issues. After his tour of Payson, he said he really likes the town and the buildings of the district.
“Your oldest building is newer than my newest,” he said.
But Uterhardt is hedging his bets. He has applied for the superintendent position at the Sierra Vista School District. The district announced on Friday Uterhardt is a finalist as well as Shonny Bria.
Bria has the longest tenure of any of the candidates in one district, 15 years at the Battleground School District in Washington.
“And it lives up to its name,” said the former superintendent.
After 15 years, she decided to retire once the Battleground district passed its largest-ever budget override. She said it was also time to leave because of a conflict over improving a school.
Bria had never spoken to the media about the reasons she left Battleground. Once Bria left Battleground, she and her husband returned to Arizona where she had started her educational career.
Bria worked in Mesa as a resource teacher for seven years. Then she moved to Deer Valley where she put together the special education department and worked as Director of Gifted Education for eight years.
She took a year off to get her PhD from ASU in education before the Pendergast District hired her as its superintendent for 10 years.
She left there to work for the Battleground District in Washington and now has returned to Arizona.
When asked how she would characterize the superintendent position, Bria said, “You have your head in an oven and your feet in a bucket of ice.”
After their speed dating session, it was time to meet the whole family. The Payson School Board had a community forum at 5 p.m., with about 90 people.
A moderator asked candidates questions submitted by the audience.
A parent could not have asked better questions.
“What was the proudest moment in your career?”
“What are your expectations of the governing board?”
“How would you turn a good district into a great district?”
“How important is it to offer gifted programs?”
And the final question:
“What is your vision for PUSD to meet the educational needs of all learners?”
The answers ranged from Wyman saying he would like to return to the art of teaching, to Bria saying it all depended on passing the school budget override this November, which will provide roughly $1 million.
After all the questions, everyone retired to munch on cookies and punch and shake hands with the candidates. While in corners and the aisle of the auditorium, people gathered to share notes and decide whom they would like to ask to the dance.