Human Interest

Sedona Red Rock High School named a new assistant principal over the summer.

Mark Cunningham, a social studies teacher at the high school, takes over for Deana DeWitt, who moved to a district-wide position as director of curriculum. Cunningham is both a teacher and what the district refers to as a “teacher on assignment,” a designation which allows him to perform duties other than inclassroom instruction. For Cunningham, this means assisting principal Darrin Karuzas in an administrative capacity.

“My job, I picture, is to keep the tube open so things flow and we get stuff done,” Cunningham said. “I like it when things go well, when kids and parents get their needs met.”

Cunningham spends his mornings teaching classes — two blocks of U.S. history — while the rest of his day consists of the kinds of duties that fall to an assistant principal: Community outreach and coordination with the school resource officer; supervision of buses in the morning and afternoon, as well as during lunch and other times of the day; monitoring attendance; student discipline; and, he and Karuzas said, teacher evaluation when the time comes.

“It’s challenging, but we need someone to be able to wear those hats,” Karuzas said. “He did a great job teaching for us last year, and he does a great job teaching now. He brings lightness and comedy to the staff, as well as to kids.”

Before moving to Sedona three years ago, Cunningham retired after eight years as principal at a school in Yuma School District 1, and he has nearly 20 years of experience teaching, as well as several years as an assistant principal at a junior high.

At SOCSD, he started as the director of curriculum before moving over to the high school to teach social studies last year. There’s no doubt about Cunningham’s qualifications. He’s credentialed both as a secondary social studies teacher and as an administrator in Arizona, and his decades of experience have prepared him for the range of responsibilities he’s taken on at the high school.

The “teacher on assignment” designation has its benefits: Working part of the day in an administrative role means Cunningham could stay on contract as a teacher, saving the district from paying an administrator’s salary.

However, the Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board has not voted on nor approved Cunningham’s role as assistant principal. And while the board’s approval is not required for him to perform duties as a teacher on assignment, some of his administrative responsibilities while on assignment can only be taken on with the board’s approval.

The district’s policy manual states that in regard to disciplining students, it follows laws laid out in Arizona Revised Statute §15-843, which states, “the authority to suspend a pupil from school is vested in the superintendent, principal or other school officials granted this power by the governing board of the school district.”

Other measures of discipline may be delegated to teachers, per the policy manual. The school is in a similar situation regarding teacher evaluations. The district’s policy manual states that evaluations must be performed by a qualified evaluator, defined as “a school principal or other person who is trained to evaluate teachers and who is designated by the Governing Board to evaluate certificated teachers.”

With his past experience in administrative roles, Cunningham is trained to evaluate teachers, but SOCSD’s Governing Board has not yet granted him the authority to do so.

Since the school year began, Cunningham has not participated in any discipline or teacher evaluation that would exceed the authority granted him by the board, so except in matters of semantics — referring to Cunningham as an assistant principal to expedite the description of his responsibilities — the school is not operating outside the procedures outlined in the district’s policy manual.

District Superintendent David Lykins said there’s a plan in place to address the matter, and Governing Board President Randy Hawley said he has requested an item be placed on the agenda for discussion and possible action at the next regular board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12.


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