Kyrene School District Superintendent Jan Vesely is retiring at the end of the school year.
In making her surprise announcement last Friday – just before fall break began – Vesely said that with a new governing board coming into office in January, this was a good time to begin a new chapter in her life.
“After 43 wonderful years in public education, I have made the difficult decision to retire at the end of the 2020 calendar year,” she said in her statement, adding:
“With new members joining the Kyrene Governing Board in January, it would be appropriate for a new superintendent to begin this important journey alongside the newly configured board.
“The board is engaged in the planning stages of a search for Kyrene’s next superintendent, and I have no doubt this board will select someone exceptional for the role.”
The announcement came less than a month before voters will fill at least two governing board seats with new people and it is unclear how much say – if any – they would have in selecting the district’s top executive.
Given that superintendent searches can take at least a few weeks, if not a few months, the board may be leaning toward an internal candidate.
The board issued a statement within hours after Vesely’s announcement that noted the district “faces significant challenges ahead as a result of COVID-19 – the immediate and long-term impact on enrollment, budget and student achievement.
“We want to assure the community and staff that as we seek a new superintendent, we are committed to ensuring stability and continuation of our vision and mission, which reflects a commitment to excellence in education in Kyrene.”
The statement said the board “has begun discussions on a plan for moving forward with a process to identify Dr. Vesely’s successor” and that it would issue a timeline for that process after the fall break.
The board also praised the “exemplary leadership” provided by Vesely, who took over Kyrene in July 2016 after a little more than four years as deputy superintendent of the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson.
She also had been assistant superintendent at Sunnyside from 2006-09 but left for four years to work as senior vice president for an educational services company. Early in her career, she also worked as a teacher and then a principal.
As Kyrene superintendent, Vesely led the district through a vast array of changes that were aimed at improving student and staff performance, elevating parent and community engagement with the district and developing a more data-driven approach to improving district operations.
She introduced an International Baccalaureate program at Kyrene Middle School, championed a broad equity program to address disparities in achievement and discipline among students of color and generated a number of innovative academic programs such as the Mandarin language course.
Vesely maintain five stakeholder groups that included businesses, parents and even student representatives from all 25 of the district’s campuses.
Under Vesely’s leadership, Kyrene’s per-pupil cost of administration fell below the state average and the average for districts of comparable size while it devoted more money to the classroom than the statewide average, according to the state Auditor General.
And Vesely’s data-driven leadership improved overall student achievement scores to the point where the district gained statewide stature for its academic programs and accomplishments. Fifteen Kyrene campuses earned the designation as A+ Schools for Academic Excellence.
But perhaps one of the biggest challenges of her career came this year as COVID-19 throttled the nation and forced the prolonged closure of schools.
Vesely was one of the first two superintendents to close campuses in March, several days before the governor order a statewide shutdown.
After that, she oversaw the quick pivot to an online learning program for the rest of the 2019-20 school year and then led the development of elaborate safety and online learning efforts as the pandemic loomed over the start of the current school year.
While supervising the development of a variety of safety protocols to protect students and staff once classrooms reopened, Vesely also oversaw the development of a more comprehensive and effective online learning program.
She also started the Kyrene Digital Academy, which enabled students from anyone in Arizona to enroll in a learning program that was unique to Kyrene and that mirrored what students would be learning in classrooms.
About 20 percent of the district’s 16,000 students enrolled in the academy.
Vesely also guided the district into a “rolling reopening” of schools, with K-2 students returning several weeks ago, followed by students in grades 3-5. Middle schools welcomed sixth graders back into classrooms Oct. 1 and students in grades 7-8 can return next week.
Vesely took note of that reopening in her announcement.
With the reopening of classrooms, she noted, “Kyrene will then have children in every grade level, in every learning module: In Person Learning, Flex Distance Learning, and full-time online through Kyrene Digital Academy. This is the vision of safety and choice that hundreds of Kyrene educators, leaders and staff worked tirelessly to create.”
“It was important to me to see the safe return of our students to schools before confirming a big decision,” Vesely said, adding she had decided to retire “with deep emotion.”
Typical of her habit of deflecting praise for her efforts and instead crediting the people around her, Vesely praised Kyrene teachers and staff, stating “This is an incredible district full of bright, talented, passionate professionals.”
Board members said that when they asked her why she moved quickly to implement change in the district, she would say, “The urgency in my work is fueled by the reality that we have a very brief opportunity to have an impact on our students and to provide them with the support they need to achieve their full potential.”
“The students and the Kyrene School District are all the better for Dr. Vesely’s tireless efforts to elevate teaching and learning,” the board said.