MESA, AZ — The next superintendent of Mesa Public Schools spoke first with ABC15's Danielle Lerner about her plans for the future and leaving controversy in the past.
There was plenty of praise during Tuesday's virtual governing board meeting, where members chose to enter into contract talks with Dr. Andi Fourlis, for the position of superintendent.
"After an extensive process, the best choice to lead the future of Mesa Public Schools became clear," said Board President Elaine Miner.
"I know Dr. Fourlis is really one that can unify our district and get everyone on board to doing what's best for students," said Board Member Jenny Richardson.
Dr. Fourlis is currently the district's deputy superintendent, but has also worked with the Arizona Science Center and spent 19 years with the Scottsdale Unified School District. She says her top priorities include navigating next school year as students and staff return from school closures, implementing the district's strategic plan and teacher retention.
"What's it going to take to ensure to our community that our kids graduate ready for the future of work?" Dr. Fourlis said.
Her appointment comes just five months after board members placed the previous superintendent, Dr. Ember Conley, on paid administrative leave without initially saying why. Conley eventually resigned amid concerns over executive salary increases and contracts that did not have board approval. Those same concerns are also the focus of a criminal complaint filed with the Attorney General's office. The Auditor General is now looking into it.
"People and processes are far more important than the end product," said Dr. Fourlis. "I've known that for many years but I really know it with a different lens in this particular situation."
An internal audit launched by Mesa Public Schools revealed in February that Dr. Fourlis received the highest of eight unapproved salary increases, at $44,000. That money has since been returned and the size of the Superintendent's Executive Team, or SET, has been reduced.
"I think that's the first step in transparency and rebuilding that trust is that it did happen and we are fixing it," said Dr. Fourlis. "I had no idea that the raises were unapproved at the time, that was something I received I was not a part of the decision making."
As for next school year, Dr. Fourlis says she's closely monitoring other states like Washington to see how their districts are navigating coronavirus. She also says nothing is off the table when it comes to keeping students and staff safe, while following local and national guidelines. That could mean limited extra-curricular activities, splitting the school day into two "sessions," or even a staggered start to the new year.
"That's what we really need to focus on, to bring unity to our community, that we are strong together and that we will continue to persevere and become very resilient through adversity such as a pandemic," she said.
Pending contract negotiations Dr. Fourlis will begin her new post July 1.
"I want you and the community to know that Mesa Public Schools is in great hands," she said.