The next superintendent of Higley USD said July 22 that the coming opportunity is exciting but the coming re-opening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic means she is staying focused on the work.

I'm excited, but I'm just more excited to continue to keep doing the important work that we are doing, particularly in this unique time as we start school differently than we ever have before,” Associate Superintendent Dawn Foley said, “but trying to do it in a way that is as meaningful and relevant and as high quality as possible for our students in our community.”

The district’s governing board designated Foley as the next superintendent at a special meeting July 21, less than a week after Superintendent Mike Thomason disclosed his intention to retire sometime in the spring.

Foley will be paid $169,583 as associate superintendent in the coming year. She will become acting superintendent upon Thomason's retirement and assume the superintendency July 1, 2021. For that, she will be on a two-year contract with a base salary of $195,000.

Foley said she looks forward to working with Thomason as he moves into retirement. While Thomason’s retirement date has not been set, he will use accrued paid leave and vacation time starting in the fall, with Foley, as the district’s No. 2 administrator, in charge during those times.

“The goal here is to ensure a safe and, during these times of uncertainty, a stable transition, so that the good work that has happened continues to happen without a hitch,” Foley said.

Foley is not a stranger to the district. She worked for six years as director of curriculum and instruction. She then did five years in Mesa Public Schools as director of teaching and learning before returning to Higley in June 2019 as K-12 educational services assistant superintendent. She was promoted to associate superintendent last month.

Foley said it was her love of the Higley district that brought her back from Mesa, the state’s largest school district.

“Becoming totally immersed—living, breathing, sleeping the work that we needed to do here in Higley—this has been an amazing experience this last year, having a chance to step in at all levels and work really closely with everybody,” Foley said.

One thing she likes about the district is its size. In Mesa, she noted, having a meeting of the district’s administrators required renting a convention center.

“I realized the real power of being able to bring your administrative team in one room together,” she said. “Now we do it social distance, but we can still be in a room together.”

Foley acknowledged starting school again in the pandemic is a challenge, but said it is also an opportunity.

“It's an opportunity for us to come together as a team to say, ‘OK, we know what our priorities are. Our priorities are kids, our priorities are community, our priorities are learning.’ We’re going to have to do it differently than we've done it before and figure out how we're going to do it and be successful doing it.”

Foley said what comes out of teaching during the pandemic is likely to change education for good.

“Just today, we were talking about that with our team and the fact that how we use time that we have with students may forever look different because of this experience of utilizing technology differently,” she said. “It certainly makes you prioritize what you do with in-person learning to be more meaningful and relevant and to use tools differently than we might have before.”