After four decades in education, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone is preparing for retirement.
Friday was his last official day on the job. The TUSD board has approved a new contract for H.T. Sanchez, the new superintendent, who is expected to start work Monday.
The break is much needed after a tumultuous 2 1/2 years as the leader of Tucson's largest school district.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't painful," Pedicone said, reflecting on his tenure.
"Was it harder than I thought it would be? Absolutely. Was it more painful? No question. But you know when you go into these jobs you're going to get wounded," he said.
Faced with many challenges throughout his career, Pedicone said he experienced things he never expected - community members attempting to discredit him because they couldn't sway him, being labeled a divider rather than a uniter, Governing Board meetings taken over by the public and police in riot gear patrolling the administration building.
"I had never experienced anything quite like it before but you learn how to deal with it," Pedicone said.
There was no time to wallow. Pedicone had to get to work on changing the culture and systems in place - or lack thereof.
"The big thing was getting people to believe that they could do things differently and that there could be success at the other end of that," he said. "And we have changed people's beliefs about what's possible."
The concrete changes that account for Pedicone's belief that he is leaving the district a better place include placing a strong emphasis on improving instruction and student achievement, which has resulted in a significant improvement in test scores. Employees are working together rather than in silos, and they're taking ownership for the district's successes and failures.
"We're not what we were whatever number of years ago," Pedicone said. "We are a progressive, improving district in transition that's demonstrating that we're serious about getting the right things done."
Still there are things Pedicone hopes come to fruition, including the community believing they are part of what makes the district successful.
He'd like to see a functional team concept between the governing board and the superintendent - a challenge in a politically charged environment like the one that exists now.
And he'd like for TUSD to become an "A" district, a task he acknowledges will be difficult, but is confident that the district can come close.
Because TUSD is on a positive trajectory, Pedicone said the timing is right for him to make his exit: "I'm not running because someone is chasing me out. It's leaving at a time where I think we're in pretty good shape and you'll get somebody in here who can now take it forward. That's what it was always about."
While Pedicone has a few things he would do differently - including the police presence at a heated Governing Board meeting, complete with a helicopter and a bomb-sniffing dog - there are more things that he would not change at all.
He even says he would do it all over again knowing what he knows now.
"It gave me an opportunity to serve through leadership at a difficult time," Pedicone said. "I was doing what I felt I should be doing."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at email@example.com or 573-4175.