Ben Owens MUSD board
Ben Owens, president of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board, listens at Wednesday night's meeting. Photo by Jay Taylor

The hiring of a new athletic director/vice principal at Maricopa High School took an unexpected turn Wednesday night.

Christopher Driving Hawk’s hiring was on the consent agenda at the meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board, with approval thought to be a formality.

But president Ben Owens pulled the matter off the consent agenda for discussion and then introduced a motion to withhold approval.

“I wanted to pull this off because I know this was a very contentious item and we did receive several emails about this,” Owens said. “I don’t want this to come across to our administration as ‘I don’t trust you’ but I can’t support this position.”

But Owens could not get a second to his motion, which then died.

Board member Torri Anderson then motioned to approve the hiring and was seconded by vice president AnnaMarie Knorr. The motion passed by a 2-1 vote, with Anderson and Knorr voting to approve, Owens voting against and board members Jim Jordan and Robert Downey abstaining.

Driving Hawk will take the helm of the Rams’ athletic program on July 1. He will come from Mesa’s Eastmark High School, where he teaches math and coached the offensive and defensive linemen and special teams for the football team at the 1,300-student school. Prior to Eastmark, he was at Hamilton High School in Chandler where he was the head freshman baseball coach and coached the track team and its throwers.

Driving Hawk will replace Evelyn Wynn, who joined MHS last summer but whose contract was not renewed. District officials have been tight-lipped about why she was not retained.

Board members and Superintendent Dr. Tracey Lopeman were mostly evasive after the meeting when asked why the vote was split.

“I don’t have any idea” why there wasn’t a consensus, Lopeman said. “We have an excellent candidate. I am looking forward to the future with Mr. Driving Hawk.”

But Knorr shed a bit of light on the Owens’ surprise motion.

“You heard the call to the public last week, right?” she said. “It seemed that there were some members of the community that felt (Wynn) should be retained.”

Christopher Driving Hawk
Christopher Driving Hawk, seen with his family, will join Maricopa High School on July 1. Credit: Queen Creek Unified School District via Facebook

At the Feb. 24 meeting, MHS cheer coach Beth Lundell told InMaricopa she had spoken to “at least five” other coaches who supported Wynn’s retention.

When asked after Wednesday’s meeting why she thought Driving Hawk was a better candidate, Knorr demurred.

“The board’s job is not to hire and fire,” she said. “We approve the personnel schedule, but we approve it because we are fiscally responsible for the district, so it’s a fiscal responsibility not a hiring-and-firing responsibility that’s entrusted to us. Since I’ve been on the board, I do not engage in votes on the personnel schedule based on the candidates themselves. My job is to approve it and make sure it’s fiscally responsible.”

Anderson and Downey declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.

And Owens said he had an urgent family matter he had to get to and could not talk. When asked for an interview on Thursday, he declined, referring the request to Lopeman.

In other items, the board was updated on the district’s dual language program, which will begin with the 2021-22 school year. The pre-school and kindergarten program will provide a progressively immersive program for students who wish to study Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, two of the three most common languages in the world after English.

In the coming school year, the program will have certified teachers and be open to all children in Maricopa, not just MUSD students. The program is proposed to grow by one grade each year until it is available in all six grades by the 2026-27 school year. Children whose parents want them to join after kindergarten will be required to show they have been in an immersive program, or test into their current grade level.

According to Wade Watson, district director of curriculum and instruction, the goal is that a child reaching the fifth grade can sit through an hour-long class in their second language and understand all of the subject matter.