School administrators honored for leadership, innovation
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School administrators honored for leadership, innovation

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  • Nedda Shafir/Arizona School Administrators

Dr. Melissa Sadorf, Dr. Manuel Valenzuela, Dr. Gail Pletnick, And Dr. Mark Joraanstad

The Arizona School Administrators, Inc. (ASA) is honoring four most deserving  district superintendents with recognition awards for their outstanding  leadership and contributions to their profession. The awards will be presented during a luncheon at the Arizona School Boards Association/Arizona School Administrators Annual Conference at the Arizona Biltmore Conference Center on Thursday, December 10, 2015.

Debbi Burdick, ASA President shares, “These outstanding individuals set the gold standard in leadership. Innovative, dedicated, forward thinking and collaborative are the words that delineate their strengths and contributions. We are fortunate to have them as district leaders and as ambassadors to enhance the ASA organization and improve our state educational system. We are very proud of their accomplishments on behalf of students, staff, families and the communities they serve.”

National Superintendent of the Year Arizona Representative – Dr. Gail Pletnick

School administrators honored for leadership, innovation GailPletnickPortrait

Dr. Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Dysart Unified School District.

Dr. Gail Pletnick, superintendent of the Dysart Unified School District has been selected as Arizona’s Superintendent of the Year, and she will serve as the Arizona representative to the American Association of School Administrator’s (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year program.

Under Dr. Pletnik’s leadership, Dysart School District has a national  reputation for its 21st Century learning environment and for its support of a digital transformation that has changed  teaching and learning. Dr. Pletnick has established and expanded multiple pathways of learning in order to provide
rigorous, real world, relevant learning opportunities to the diverse population of students served by Dysart. Dr. Pletnick has earned recognition at the state and national levels.

In 2012, Dysart was a National School Boards Association Teaching and Learning Visitation Site, in 2014 Dr. Pletnick was named as Education Week’s Leader to Learn From. She serves on a variety of educational and community advisory boards and was elected as an AASA Executive Board Member and has served on the AASA Governing Board.

All Arizona Superintendent of the Year for Small Size Districts – Dr. Melissa Sadorf

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Dr. Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District.

The Arizona School Administrators recognizes Dr. Melissa Sadorf as the All Arizona Superintendent for Small School Districts. Dr. Sadorf is a visible presence in the community. She maintains consistent outreach to the Tohono O’Odham community, attending tribal councils and keeping open communication. She involves all stakeholders through monthly community events.

She created a Parent Room that is open during the day and targets English language and GED  acquisition. Her focus on building trust and support with all stakeholders is evident in her philosophy and the district motto, “Our Why Is You.” Dr. Sadorf is, first and foremost, student centered. She will always ask the question, “Is this good for students?” when making a decision. She is also concerned with the impact of decisions on staff, and poses a similar question.

With those questions as a guide, she has created a safe, supportive and focused learning environment. Dr. Sadorf has been an active member of ASA since she was an assistant principal. She has been recognized as the AZ Middle Level Principal of the Year for the National Association of Secondary Principals. In addition, as a superintendent she is deserving of this award; she has made a difference in the lives of students and staff, and in the members of the Stanfield community.

Arizona Superintendent of the Year for Medium Size Districts – Dr. Mark Joraanstad

School administrators honored for leadership, innovation MarkJoraanstad

Dr. Mark Joraanstad, superintendent of Saddle Mountain Unified School District.

The All Arizona Superintendent of the Year for Middle Sized Districts is Dr. Mark Joraanstad, Superintendent of the
Saddle Mountain Unified School District. After assuming leadership of the Saddle Mountain School District in 2008, the
public perception of the school district changed.

Prior to his leadership, Saddle Mountain was in receivership and striving to gain staff and community support. Dr. Joraanstad led the district out of receivership in two and a half years rather than the 5-year plan that was originally established. Just 16 months after he became superintendent the community passed a bond, override election, the number of registered voters had tripled, and tax credit donations had doubled. Parent organizations are flourishing at Saddle Mountain schools.

As the district was reducing spending, students remained Dr. Joraanstad’s focus. High achievement, extra-curricular activities, and elective courses remained his priority. Working with his Governing Board and administrative team, the district mission, vision and goals were reviewed and revised.

As a result of the shared vision, there have been improvements in the high school graduation rate from 46% to 96% and increases in elementary student achievement resulted in “A” rated schools.

All Arizona Superintendent of the Year for Large Size Districts – Dr. Manuel Valenzuela

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Dr. Manuel Valenzuela, superintendent of Sahuarita Unified School District.

The Arizona School Administrators recognize Dr. Manuel Valenzuela, Superintendent of the Sahuarita Unified School
District, as the All Arizona Superintendent of the Year for large sized districts.

Paraphrasing one of the Sahuarita’ s board members, “When one thinks of an “All Arizona Superintendent”, the gold standard of leadership, certain descriptors come to mind; commitment to excellence, innovative, teamwork, visionary, passion, and dedication. Dr. Valenzuela exemplifies these, and more.”

Since being hired in 2005 as an assistant superintendent and as superintendent in 2010, he has worked tirelessly to transform and elevate education for every student in the district, region and state. In 1998, He was the first educator in Arizona to receive the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

In 2006, he was featured in the American School Board Journal for his work in managing topics related to immigration and border issues. Dr. Valenzuela not only sets and example through his own actions; but also has committed to helping others strive to the highest levels of excellence. The Sahuarita School District has had a Top Ten Finalist for the AZ Teacher of the Year for four consecutive years and three Arizona A+ Schools.

For more information, please contact Nedda Shafir at or 602-684-4806.