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Some sad goodbyes for 'good friend to education'

By Jonathan J. Cooper

May 13, 2006

Superintendent Maria Menconi may be leaving the Kyrene School District at the end of June, but she won't soon depart from the hearts and minds of many of Kyrene’s teachers and administrators.

Dozens of district personnel turned out for a reception held for the retiring superintendent at the district’s Tempe headquarters.

“She’s been a good friend to education,” said Kelvin Inouye, assistant principal at two Kyrene elementary schools. “We’re going to miss her leadership here. She’s really a dynamic leader.”

Administrator after administrator, teacher after teacher, Kyrene’s employees showed no lack of praise for their boss at the May 9 reception.

“I think it’s a sad day for Kyrene because she’s brought so much to our district,” said Mary Jane Rincon, another district assistant principal. “But I respect her need to retire. She’s brought a passion for education and for children. She’s well respected and will be missed.”

Governing Board Member Rae Waters said she is sad to see Menconi go, adding that the superintendent placed a strong focus on looking at data and improving performance of students  as a whole.

But she added that a transition in leadership “always provides opportunities for the district.”

Waters said she intends to stay in touch with Menconi to discuss issues that come up in education around the state.

Anna Montalbo, president of Kyrene Education Association, said Menconi’s departure caught her by surprise.

“I needed to come and thank Maria for being the superintendent of our district,” she said. “She’s always been good at looking at the issues and resolving them, and I respect her contribution to the Kyrene School District and to education. Anyone who spends that much time in education is to be respected just for the contribution.”

Menconi has been in education—as a teacher, administrator and superintendent—for 33 years.

Candy Blakemore, a district kindergarten teacher, said she stopped by the reception to “wish her well.” She said she met with Menconi when the superintendent took over the helm at Kyrene in 2002.

“I thought it would be nice to come out and see her at the end of her career as well.”

Menconi announced in December that she would leave the post she has held for the past four years. She will move to Tucson where her husband has accepted a job.

She called her departure “bitter sweet.”

“A lot of happiness because I know I’ve made the right decision,” she said. “But also a lot of sadness because this is the best professional team I’ve ever seen. I think it was the most satisfying challenge I’ve ever faced.”

She said the most difficult part of that “satisfying challenge” has been communicating a consistent message across the expansive district.

“It’s just big enough that you can mess it up,” she said, noting how important accurate information is in a district with so many parents and community members who deeply care about what’s going on.

Menconi and her husband have already purchased a home in Tucson and are spending weekends there unpacking and getting ready to move in. She wouldn’t speculate on what she may do professionally after she leaves Kyrene, but did leave some clues.

“I can’t imagine not being associated with education in some way,” she said. “I just can’t imagine what (that way) will be.”

The Governing Board will release the names of finalists to succeed Menconi May 25.

“There’s big shoes to fill,” Rincon said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how someone comes in and does that.”



Photo by David Stone


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