Mike Thompson & Dawn Foley

Mike Thompson & Dawn Foley

Higley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Mike Thomason is retiring next spring, a year before his contract ends, and the Governing Board has already named his successor.

The board accepted his request to retire on July 15 and last Tuesday, in a special executive session, voted to promote Associate Superintendent Dr. Dawn Foley to the job after Thomason leaves.

Foley is assuming some of Thomason’s duties in the meantime and will become the acting superintendent after the official end of Thomason’s contract in June 2021, Governing Board Vice President Kristina Reese said.

“And then starting July 1, 2021, through June 2023, she will be our superintendent,” Reese said.

The board’s decision comes before a contested election of three of its five members in November – Reese, Scott Glover and Greg Wojtovich.

Should the board’s make-up change after election and a majority wants a different superintendent, Reese said the district would have to buy out Foley’s contract.

Under Foley’s amended contract, she will be paid $169,583 beginning Aug. 1 for the 2020-21 school year. As acting superintendent, she will be eligible for a performance pay of $6,500 if the board approves it.

Foley was Higley’s director of curriculum and instruction from 2008-14 and then became director of teaching and learning at Mesa Public Schools for five years before returning to Higley in 2019.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as her doctorate from Arizona State University, where she was senior lecturer and early childhood program administrator from 2001-08.

Prior to that, she was an elementary teacher in the Kyrene School District from 1997-99 and then in Gilbert Public Schools from 1999-2001.

Thomason’s announcement of his retirement came unexpectedly at the July 15 meeting. The board in July 2019 extended his contract to June 30, 2022. 

“I need to retire in the spring of this school year,” Thomason said. “I am determined that it’s time for me to focus on my family and future endeavors.”

Before Thomason assumed the superintendent role in 2015, he served as the district’s assistant superintendent of operations and in several capacities since 2009.

“I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of you and our outstanding group of administrators, teachers and staff as well as it has been an honor and a privilege to work with the parents, students and other members of our community for the betterment of our students,” Thomason said. 

“We’ve accomplished incredible things along the past 12 years I have worked for the district,” he added.

District spokeswoman Michelle Reese last week said Thomason’s retirement date hasn’t been specified yet and will be announced when it becomes available.

Thomason earns an annual salary of $185,000 and a $9,000 car allowance. When he was hired, he was paid $139,900 for fiscal year 2015-16.

Higley Unified is an “A”-rated school district by the state and has over 12,000 students and 15 schools. It boosts a 94 percent graduation rate.

The district, like those throughout the country, this year has been wrestling with the fallout of COVID-19 that took away in-person graduation, the prom and in-class teaching for the fourth quarter of last school year. This academic year, it is figuring out how to effectively educate students during the on-going pandemic.

Board members at the meeting praised and thanked Thomason for his work.

“You’ve guided us through some really rough waters,” Board member Jill Wilson said. “And I know that you will lead us this year until your retirement date. Rest assure, you made Higley a better place than when you started 12 years ago.”

Board President Amy Kaylor acknowledged Thomason’s dedication and his 25 years in education.

“You’ve brought so much kindness and compassion for others, literally changing the climate and the culture of Higley over these past few years,” she said. “While you may be far from Higley, you’ll never be far from our thoughts.”

Reese, the only board member who has worked with Thomason the longest at eight years, told him, “You’ve worked really hard to set up our district for success.”

Wojtovich said when he sat on the interview committee to select a new superintendent, he knew right then and there after Thomason’s presentation that he was the right person to run the district and take it to the next level.

“I can not and will not pretend to be happy about this,” Board member Scott Glover said. “I want to thank you for a few great years. Your presence will be dearly missed.”