Cave Creek Unified School District

Superintendent Dr. Debbi Burdick is retiring after working with CCUSD for 17 years and serving as its superintendent for 13 years.

The Cave Creek Unified School District and an executive search consultant revealed the finalists for the Cave Creek Unified School District’s new superintendent.

They are Dr. Drew Davis with Buckeye Elementary School District, Dr. Steven Jeras of Paradise Valley Unified School District and Dr. Cort Monroe with the Queen Creek Unified School District. All serve as assistant superintendents in their respective districts. Their bios will be posted by the district soon. 

“(The CCUSD governing board) got a lot of work done, and they were diligent and very successful in their efforts and have identified the finalists, and we’re going to move forward,” said Steve Highlen, an executive search consultant with the Arizona School Boards Association.

A Q&A-style forum will be conducted by the Arizona School Boards Association with questions submitted from the community. Questions for the finalists were collected through October 16, and due to the large pool of submissions, a random sampling of questions will be asked, Highlen said. 

In the past, the Q&A event has attracted around 500 attendants; however, due to COVID-19, the Arizona School Boards Association will conduct a prerecorded session, which will be given to the district and posted online for people’s viewing, Highlen said. 

The community will have a few days to access to the online Q&A session until it closes on the morning of October 28, Highlen estimates. The exact dates on when the forum opens for online public viewing were expected to be communicated by the district on October 19, after The Foothills Focus went to print.

The finalists will likely have time to answer around seven or eight questions, Highlen said. All the questions, including the ones not covered in the session, will be submitted to the board because “it’s good for the board to see what’s on the community’s mind,” Highlen said.

The community Q&A forum will likely last around an hour to an hour and a half, Highlen estimated. The time duration is fluid to give each finalist “equal opportunity” to speak and answer questions, he added.

After viewing the Q&A, stakeholders and community members can submit comment cards to express their feelings on the candidates and who they believe is the best fit for the district, Highlen said. 

The comment cards will be directly communicated to the Arizona School Boards Association, Highlen said. From there, he will present the comments to the CCUSD governing board to help them get an idea of how the community is feeling. 

The candidates will see a final interview on October 29, Highlen said. All comments must be submitted before the final interview, he added.

If a grand finalist is chosen, the district can choose to enter into contracts and negotiations. However, “they don’t move forward until they’re ready to move forward,” Highlen said. “The worst thing you can do is make a decision when you’re not quite sure.”

“My effort is to help them be ready, and then their effort is to make sure they’re ready and make a good decision.”

The superintendent position opened at the end of August and closed on September 23. From there, Highlen conducted background and preparation work and presented the 26 applicants to the CCUSD governing board on October 3.

From that group of applicants, six potential candidates were chosen, Highlen said. Five of the six candidates agreed to participate in the interviewing process, which took place on October 13 and October 14, he said. 

After that, the Arizona School Boards Association selected three finalists from that group on October 14, according to Highlen.

The district connected with the community to take their thoughts and suggestions into consideration during this process through an anonymous e-survey that garnered over 1,700 responses. The survey was open from August 19 to September 14, and the information was presented to the governing board on September 21 for discussion and review.

Overall, the responses from the e-survey showed a lot of support for the teachers, students, staff, and district as a whole, Highlen said. However, many voiced concerns about challenges with navigating into the future with the looming threat of COVID-19. 

Survey participants also voiced concerns about the school’s small budget and finding ways to bring more money into the schools to ensure that the students have the most effective education and programs, he said.

“The way the budget is with Arizona—our funding isn’t high,” Highlen said. “So how can (the new superintendent) be creative to do what (they) need to do? Those are topics that were definitely part of it.”

The responses also emphasized the importance of leadership, “keeping up with the times” as well as making sure the district is providing the students with the best possible learning experience they can, Highlen added.

In regard to education, many survey participants also voiced their desire for improved special education, according to the September 21 school governing board agenda. Many others voiced that they want the students to learn the comprehensive truth and reality of American history.

Many responses also mentioned how they will miss Dr. Debbi Burdick, who is retiring after working with CCUSD for 17 years and serving as its superintendent for 13 years. 

Overall, it’s a good thing that the survey had active participation, Highlen said. “That shows an interest in the community and an interest in this from the community to the schools.”

“With the number of students (CCUSD) has, having over 1,700 people respond is at the top end of what I see when I work with districts. So, hats off to the community for being part of the process. It shows good support for the district."