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Student achievement tops candidate's priorities.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Michael Munoz is hoping the fifth time's the charm.

The chief academic officer for the 32,000-student Des Moines Public Schools in Iowa is a finalist for superintendent of two equally sized school districts, the Eugene School District and Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan. And he has been a finalist in the past year to lead the school districts in Davenport, Iowa, Columbus, Neb., and Florissant, Mo.

That's five superintendent applications in 12 months, with Eugene being the most recent. To state the obvious, Munoz wants to lead. Badly.

"It goes back to why I went into education," Munoz said in a telephone interview last week. "I just have such a passion for education. It goes back to my father."

Munoz, 53, grew up in the small town of Lexington, Neb., where his father was a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and his mother was a homemaker. Neither got the opportunity to go to college, but they worked hard to make sure that Munoz and his older brother could be the first in their extended family to get a higher education.

After studying hard and playing sports in high school, Munoz graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in secondary education. But he didn't stop there. After teaching and coaching at middle schools and high schools all over Nebraska for a dozen years, Munoz got his master's in education, his administrative certification and his superintendent licensure from three different universities; he is now working on a doctorate in education at Iowa State University.

As chief academic officer, a new position created last fall in the Des Moines school system, Munoz oversees curriculum, classroom instruction and professional development for the district's 63 schools. Munoz may lack the experience of having been a superintendent like Eugene's other two finalists, Sheldon Berman and Darlene Schottle.

But Munoz's current position is akin to being the superintendent of a small school district, said Jim Mabbott, executive director of the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts, who led the Eugene superintendent search for Iowa-based Ray & Associates.

Munoz said that, as a full-fledged superintendent, "You have a greater opportunity to make a difference for all students."

But he doesn't want just any superintendency, he said.

"I have a great job," he said. "I love what I'm doing. I'm being very selective."

Munoz said he's looking to lead a school district that emphasizes diversity. He said he likes the Eugene School District's philosophy of being student-centered, that "everything we do must be good for children," and the district's core values of excellence, equity and choice.

"I'm basically looking at districts that have diverse populations," Munoz said.

After meeting with the Eugene School Board last month in Eugene, his first trip to Oregon, Munoz said he left feeling it was a good match with his goals. He said he was impressed with the board and a discussion that centered on student achievement and addressing the "achievement gap" between students.

"To me, that sends a message that these are not just words on paper; this is what they really do," Munoz said.

Like all the finalists, Munoz has done his homework and realizes that these are tough economic times - maybe the toughest ever - for the Eugene School District, which is trying to slice $24 million in expenses by closing schools and sending notices of potential layoff to employees, among other cost-saving measures.

"That's something every district in the nation is facing," Munoz said. "It's not something you enjoy doing or want to do. It's just necessary, so I guess that doesn't scare me."

He said he's impressed with the Eugene district's three-year sustainable budget plan and believes that he can help immediately.

"I think I bring some unique experiences and training from my six years here," Munoz said of his tenure in the Des Moines schools, where he was hired in 2005 to oversee the district's middle schools, before a new superintendent came in and reorganized the district by region.

Munoz spent the bulk of his time as director of the district's northeast region, consisting of 12 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools, most of them Title I schools where a majority of the students are from low-income families.

Munoz's greatest asset as a leader is "pushing people gently so we're all moving together," said Shelley Bosavich, the Des Moines district's director of student and family services who has worked closely with Munoz. "And he's very good at the human side, too. People just trust him."

In addition to teaching middle school and high school in Nebraska, Munoz was a school counselor from 1986 to 1997 before moving into administrative positions.

Munoz said his proudest accomplishment in Des Moines is the impact he feels he's had on students. One example is his role in a program begun a couple of years ago targeting high school dropouts.

The past two Septembers, Munoz has helped organize a door-to-door campaign with 250 volunteers who would knock on the doors of students who dropped out the previous school year.

Last fall, after volunteers knocked on hundreds of doors, about 25 students re-enrolled in school, Munoz said.

The most interesting reason they said they left school and never returned? "They didn't think we wanted them back," Munoz said. "It's kind of like they were waiting for someone to contact them."

Munoz also noted his role in a district enterprise called Future Pathways, an alternative program for struggling students and those who have left school but decided to return. They are only required to attend school about 10 hours a week, but it's better than nothing, Munoz said.

"The bottom line - we want them to graduate," he said.

Munoz said any school district's focus must be on student achievement, closing the achievement gap through coaching and improving professional development for teachers and principals.

"That's the message you have to get across," Munoz said. "We're about student achievement. Everything must be connected to that."

Munoz said his goal when he directed the Des Moines district's northeast region was to be in each school building at least once a week. He couldn't always pull it off, but that was always the goal, he said. If hired in Eugene, he would be in each school building as often as possible, he said.

"It's a way to monitor what's going on," Munoz said. "And probably the most important reason is to support the schools so they can do their jobs."

Munoz said he doesn't want to be the superintendent of the Eugene School District to fix it, but rather to improve it.

"I feel I can come in and make it better," he said.

MEET THE CANDIDATES

A community forum with all three candidates for Eugene School District superintendent will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the district's Education Center, 200 N. Monroe St. Each finalist will share his or her experiences and qualifications, then respond to questions submitted by community members. For more information about the process, visit www.4j.lane.edu/superintendent/supersearch.

THREE-PART SERIES

Profiles of three finalist candidates for Eugene School District superintendent

Sunday: Sheldon Berman

Today: Michael Munoz

Tuesday: Darlene Schottle

MICHAEL MUNOZ

Age: 53

Family: Wife, Joan; son, Christopher, 28, of Chicago; daughter, Chelsea, 24, of Lincoln, Neb.

Education: Bachelor's degree in secondary education, University of Nebraska, 1979; master of arts in education, Chadron (Neb.) State College, 1992; administrative certification, Drake University, 1997; superintendent licensure, Iowa State University, 2009; currently working on Ph.D. at Iowa State

Last book read: "A Sense of Urgency" by John Kotter
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Title Annotation:Local News; The Des Moines educator says he likes Eugene's core values of excellence, equity and choice
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U4NE
Date:Mar 7, 2011
Words:1273
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