Dr. Andi Fourlis is new Mesa schools head The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Dr. Andi Fourlis is new Mesa schools head

Dr. Andi Fourlis  is new Mesa schools head

By Zach Alvira, Tribune Staff Writer

In a survey earlier this year on what various stakeholder groups wanted in Mesa Public Schools’ next superintendent, a majority of community members, parents and students wanted someone who primarily is passionate about educating all children while teachers largely wanted someone who values their growth and contributions while administrators most wanted an effective communicator.

And in picking deputy Superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis as the district’s next chief executive, the Governing Board last week opted for someone whose resume suggests fits all those desires.

“After an extensive process, the best choice to lead the future of Mesa Public Schools became clear,” board President Elaine Miner said after the board’s 4-1 vote, saying Fourlis “is clearly qualified, prepared and ready on day one to be our next superintendent.”

Fourlis, currently MPS deputy superintendent for the district, replaces Ember Conley, who resigned in November following an internal investigation into how the district was compensating executives. 

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen by the governing board to lead the greatest public school district in Arizona,” Fourlis said.

“Thank you, madam president and members of the board, for having the confidence in me to do the work I love to do to make a difference for children in our community.”

The board must now negotiate a contract with Fourlis, who bested two other candidates for the position – Holly C. Williams, MPS executive director of master planning and bond projects, and Dr. Heath E. Morrison, president of McGraw-Hill Education.

Fourlis’ background reflects another key trait identified as important in the survey to all the stakeholders who responded – someone who came up through the ranks of the education system.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arizona State University, Fourlis began her career as an English Language Arts teacher that year at Royal Palm Middle School in the Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix.

She remained there until 1996, shortly after she earned a master’s degree in education with a reading endorsement from Northern Arizona University.

Fourlis took on an English Language Arts and social studies job at Desert Canyon Middle School in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Over the next nine years, she held various positions in the district, including director of professional development and recruitment from 2006-10, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning the next two years and then serving for two more years as SUSD’s executive director instructional services.

Following that, she served as chief learning officer at the Arizona Science Center, where she developed learning programs for kids and teachers and also helped generate millions of dollars in donations and grants.

Fourlis became assistant superintendent of teaching and learning role for Mesa Public Schools in 2017 and was named deputy superintendent two years later.

Miner not only hailed Fourlis’ experience but also her conduct following the results of an audit into unauthorized salary increases that Conley had given out last year – including a $44,000 increase in Fourlis’ annual pay.

Miner said Fourlis immediately returned the difference between the unapproved and approved salary hikes amounts.

“She did so willingly and with a supportive attitude,” Miner said. “That is the definition of integrity.”

But the cloud that remains from the Conley controversy cast a shadow on the board’s vote in favor of Fourlis as board member Kiana Sears cast the lone dissent.

“There is mistrust that exists in my thinking with this hire,” Sears said. “But with that said, it by no means diminishes any commitment I have to our superintendent. I can say with full transparency that I will support the superintendent.

“I hope and wish and am committed to building a trusting relationship,” Sears added.

Fourlis herself addressed the issue of trust during the board’s public interview with her and the two other candidates.

“Mesa Public Schools needs to be a trust district,” Fourlis said. “We know that our families may get a choice to entrust their most prized possession with us,”

Fourlis also spelled out the need for MPS to compete with charter and private schools to staunch declining enrollment – which affects the amount of state funding the district receives.

She said that when parents “make that choice, we need to make sure that we are providing not only the best educational experience but the best customer service experience possible.

“We have a focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of our children, and we need to continue moving our academic performance forward,” she said.

“Mesa Public Schools is a student-centered, future-focus district,” Fourlis said. “We continue to harness the traditions and the successes of the past and we are going to lead ourselves into a very, very bright future.”

Fourlis takes the district’s helm at a critical time for the district that has become even more dire as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With uncertainty still surrounding the question of whether campuses will reopen in August for the new school year, she and the board also face major questions in how the pandemic-driven meltdown of the economy will impact MPS.

All municipalities as well as the State of Arizona are grappling with huge declines in revenue and potentially significant spending cuts as they prepare budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

School districts also are developing their budgets amid uncertainty over how the state will be addressing education funding – which took a major hit in the Great Recession.  γ

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