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Montezuma-Cortez selects new superintendent

Risha VanderWey to start the job July 1
Risha VanderWey will formally take the reins of the Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 on July 1. (Courtesy of Tuba City Unified School District)

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board of Education formally selected Risha VanderWey this week to be its next superintendent.

VanderWey, who has a doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, has more than 20 years of experience as an educator, including seven years as a superintendent. She most recently was superintendent of majority-Navajo Tuba City Unified School District in northern Arizona. VanderWey also served as superintendent of Coconino County schools for five years.

The board formalized its selection at its regular board meeting Tuesday. She was one of three final candidates for the job.

VanderWey is slated to begin July 1.

Members of the Montezuma-Cortez school board did not comment for this story.

VanderWey told The Journal she became an educator to help students eventually attain a higher quality of life.

”If you provide them with adequate skills, they can grow up and become productive members of society that can help them get mid-wage to high-wage jobs,“ VanderWey said. ”You can break the dual-generational cycle of poverty.”

Coming from majority-Navajo Tuba Unified School District, Vanderwey said her experience working with diverse population positions her to better understand Montezuma-Cortez’s mix of cultures.

“I want to make sure that the district is getting someone who can come and who has some understanding of the community that I will be serving and representing,” VanderWey said.

The goal is to produce students that can problem-solve, think critically and speak and write effectively. VanderWey believes these are the essentials skills for navigating the 21st century.

But she intends to take a “look and listen” approach early on to see what is working for the district and what is not. This involves getting input from colleagues and members of the community.

“I’m not a knee-jerk kind of person, so I’m not going to come into town and just say we’re changing everything,” VanderWey said. “It’s not always an easy job and I think I have to earn the trust from the community in order for them to allow me to listen to privileged information.”