Sheridan school district picks new leader in split decision

A newly seated fifth member cast a deciding vote in Sheridan on Tuesday, as the school board selected an inside candidate to lead the tiny metro district – breaking more than a month of indecision by what was previously a four-member board.

Pat Sandos, one of three finalists named in March, will become superintendent in July. He currently leads work around security and mental health for the district as executive director of schools services and student behavioral and emotional supports. He is also the son of the first Denver Hispanic City Councilman, Sam Sandos.

New board member Juanita Camacho, who had a few weeks to review the candidates, cast the decisive vote, along with board members Bernadette Saleh and Sally Daigle.

Finding a replacement for current superintendent Michael Clough has been a contentious process, that has included shouting at board meetings, and emotional community backing for Antonio Esquibel, a Denver administrator who was called “inspirational,” and seen as more likely to introduce needed changes. Some parents, students, teachers, and community members have complained that the district ignores them and isn’t doing enough to improve school performance.

Some also pointed to Esquibel’s Hispanic background to say he might also be a better advocate for Sheridan children, 88 percent of them children of color, up from 81.9 percent in 2010.

Sheridan, a district of about 1,400 students, improved enough on state ratings in 2016 to get off the state’s watchlist for chronic low performance and to avoid state sanctions. But by many measures, including graduation rates, the district is still below state averages.

Some board members said that Sheridan has been improving and said they favored an internal candidate because they didn’t want to stop the district’s momentum.

“Because I’ve built relationships in the district, we can hit the ground running,” Sandos told the school board at his interview last month.

The board initially named three finalists in late March and wanted to name a new superintendent by mid-April, but deadlocked right away.

On April 11, the board president appointed Camacho, who acted Tuesday as a tie-breaker. That board seat had been empty for more than 12 years as no one in the outlined neighborhood corresponding to the seat had expressed interest.

The Sheridan board will vote on a proposed contract for Sandos at a later meeting. The job listing stated that the starting salary would be a minimum of $150,000 plus benefits.

Clough, who had moved to part-time years ago, has a contract with an annual salary of $63,654 for 140 days of work.

Sandos acknowledged the controversy in the process after the vote.

“Without question, Sheridan has made major strides of late — but we all know there is plenty of work ahead,” Sandos said in a news release. “The process brought some strong opinions to the table, and I certainly hope we can tap that passionate support for Sheridan students and turn it into positive momentum.”