“My goal is to give people support and cause a change. I want to raise the opportunities for students. We have human potential here,” says Roy Sandoval, who is running for Gila County Superintendent as a Republican and will face Gail Gorry in the August primary.
In 2012, Sandoval retired from Whiteriver Unified School District, after serving as a turnaround principal for Alchesay High School where he was tasked with making significant changes at the failing school. “You make a difference or you’re gone,” says Sandoval of the high stakes involved in in turnaround position. Sandoval received national recognition for his work at Alchesay High School. “I was asked to give a briefing to the United States Department of Education on how it happened, how it worked, and why it worked,” says Sandoval. The national school turnaround director visited Alchesay to see Sandoval’s progress firsthand. “They wanted to know what we did […] to make things happen so fast,” says Sandoval.
To put things into perspective, Sandoval explains that when he arrived at the school there were 21 year olds with two credits. “I heard over and over again, ‘Well, this is the reservation.’ I had people looking at me with their hands on their hips like, ‘Oh, there’s a sucker born every minute.’ Almost daring me,” says Sandoval of the skepticism he faced as a turnaround principal. “You know what? It just hardened my resolve. It was great for me.”
Sandoval grew up in Payson, graduated from Payson High School, and has a degree from NAU. After college, he returned to his alma mater to teach biology and coach wrestling, football, and baseball for seven years. After spending six years at the district level as director of curriculum and the career ladder program, he was principal of Payson Elementary School for seven years. “I always felt like, man, maybe if I could get kids earlier I could make a difference,” says Sandoval of his move to elementary school. “I had great teachers that were no nonsense and, boy, they made kids learn.” Sandoval is proud that during his five years as principal of Payson High School, the school had nine AP classes, two of which had multiple sections. “For a small school, that’s great,” says Sandoval. “We were pushing, pushing, pushing the system all the time.”
Since retiring with 28 years of experience as an educator, Sandoval has worked across Arizona and New Mexico, mentoring principals as part of his business Southwest School Turnarounds. He’s certified as a National Turnaround Specialist by the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. Sandoval currently works with the principals at Copper Rim, High Desert, and Globe High School. “We have the reputation that when we come in, it changes things. That’s what I do,” says Sandoval. “I’m a change agent.”
According to Sandoval, it’s that same desire to produce results that led him to run for superintendent. “You know, here’s this opening. I have all of this experience—all over, at all levels—and the experience of actually making things happen. Not just providing things, but making stuff happen.” Plus, he sees the superintendent position as an opportunity to serve his community. He says, “I grew up here. Why not give back as much as I can?”
A top issue for Sandoval is the money that Gila County currently spends on professional development. “We have lots of money going to staff development and student achievement is flat,” says Sandoval. “Whoever is in charge of it, somebody should be saying, ‘Hey, you’re in charge of staff development, so what’s the result?’ And the next question is ‘Why?’ and the next question is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” says Sandoval. Another key issue for Sandoval is providing supplementary funding and support for school districts, such as grants or state funding.
“My main focus will always be about ‘what can I do to try and help superintendents, principals, and teachers raise student achievement and give kids a shot,” says Sandoval. He says that he’s passionate about making sure that Gila County students are aware of the opportunities that are available to them. “Gila County is not a high socio-economic county and a lot of these kids are rural. They’re not exposed, necessarily, to some of the things that are out there.”
Outside of work, Sandoval loves to hike and play bluegrass and old time music with kids. “Old Home Place” by Tony Rice is his favorite song to perform. Music is truly a family affair for him: he and his father both produced the state championship old time fiddle contest and his daughters are professional musicians in the band Run Boy Run. His son Ben also plays fiddle, guitar, and sings and works as a mechanical engineer.
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.