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Risha VanderWey

Risha VanderWey

After five years as the Coconino County Superintendent of Schools, Risha VanderWey has resigned mid-term to accept a position as the superintendent of the Tuba City Unified School District.

“At the end of the day, I missed walking through classrooms and helping teachers. ... I need my boots on the ground. I need to help create an environment where kids in this district can learn,” VanderWey said.

Until the Board of Supervisors elects a replacement to complete VanderWey’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2020, VanderWey will continue her county position alongside her new role in Tuba City.

A replacement is expected to be appointed by Sept. 17.

“We did not believe there was any obvious conflict of interest … that would prevent her from holding both positions,” said Rose Winkeler, Senior Civil Deputy County Attorney, during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting last week.

Winkeler explained that because VanderWey accepted a position that is not with the county, she is not violating the compensation limit for elected officials.

VanderWey’s contract with Tuba City Unified School District began July 29 and will last through June 30, 2021, with a salary of $110,000.

Her salary at the county is $63,800, as dictated by state statute for counties with a population of less than 500,000.

“Working for the county in my capacity has been a tremendous experience,” VanderWey wrote in her resignation letter, dated July 30. “The expertise, professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm I have observed from many leaders, employees and elected officials is incredible. It saddens me to resign.”

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She said she hopes her successor is “a well-seasoned educator who cares about kids and families,” but the decision is ultimately up to the Supervisors.

“We would like to thank Dr. VanderWey for all her hard work as the Superintendent of Schools of Coconino County. She built a culture of success and has left a positive impact on our students, teachers and staff,” Lena Fowler, Board of Supervisors chair, said in a statement.

VanderWey was appointed in February 2014 and was elected to her current term in 2016. She previously served as the principal of Lake View Primary School in Page and as a teacher in Tuba City. She has taught for a total of 16 years and has master’s degrees in Educational Leadership and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She also received a doctorate in Educational Leadership earlier this year.

“[Five years ago,] I had just graduated with my superintendent certification and my dream was to become a superintendent, so I applied for [the county] appointment,” VanderWey said.

A county superintendent is far different from a superintendent for a school district, though, she explained, because the county role is more focused on legislation than school operations.

“You don’t have the direct connection with faculty, kids and community and that’s what I was looking for,” she said.

In her new position, VanderWey hopes to increase student achievement and trust by setting high expectations and supporting the principals she oversees.

“People in Tuba City are very heartwarming. I know a lot of people from before and they’re just very kind and generous. It’s going to be great, I think, but I miss my past job. It’s hard to leave work when you love your job,” VanderWey said.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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