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Montezuma-Cortez superintendent VanderWey placed on leave

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Superintendent Risha VanderWey was placed on paid administrative leave Friday.
Announcement comes nearly a week after executive session

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Superintendent Risha VanderWey was placed on paid administrative leave Friday amid unclear circumstances around the decision and mostly silence from the Board of Education.

News of the board’s decision began to circulate Thursday through Cortez schools and the City Council, although no official announcement was made until Monday, when Board President Sheri Noyes issued a brief, three-sentence letter announcing VanderWey’s leave.

Noyes refused to provide additional details.

In VanderWey’s place a “quorum of highly qualified administrative staff members” will fulfill her duties until further notice, the letter said.

Noyes told The Journal Monday morning she wrote the letter to address “misinformation” flowing about VanderWey’s departure.

“It’s kind of frustrating from my end,” she said.

She declined to comment further on VanderWey’s situation, and whether VanderWey’s leave was imposed or voluntary.

“I want to do this the legal way,” Noyes said.

She said she didn’t want to place anyone in the school district under duress amid the situation.

The letter, she said, provides the details available for release right now.

“They (the community) can come to their own conclusion,” she said.

Former assistant superintendent Lis Richard resigned from her position Jan. 4 on disability leave. Her resignation, she said, has nothing do with the current situation in the district, she told The Journal on Monday.

Noyes’ letter did not say who would be on the new governing “quorum.”

Director of Finance Kyle Archibeque also responded to an email from The Journal Monday morning regarding Noyes’ letter.

“This is all we have at the moment,” he said in the email. “As the day/week develops we will let you know the updates.”

At January’s school board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the board entered into an executive session for just over an hour to discuss VanderWey’s position. VanderWey was initially not part of the meeting, but was invited in to talk before again being excused, at which point the board had “very little discussion” following, Noyes said.

The meeting agenda listed the reason for the private session as “a personnel matter regarding the Superintendent’s evaluation.”

VanderWey did not respond to The Journal’s requests by phone and text for comment, beginning Thursday afternoon.

The Journal sent an email to Noyes Friday evening, and left a voicemail for her Saturday afternoon. The rest of the board members did not respond to emails sent Saturday afternoon.

Board directors are:

  • Sheri Noyes, District F.
  • Sherri Wright, District C.
  • Stacey Hall, District D.
  • Cody Wells, District A.
  • Ed Rice, District E.
  • Jeanette Hart, District B.
  • Layne Frazier, District G.

Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey called The Journal on Thursday expressing concern about the situation surrounding decisions about VanderWey’s job.

“She (VanderWey) was planning on making this her home,” he said.

VanderWey began her tenure as superintendent July 1, after previously serving as superintendent of majority-Navajo Tuba City Unified School District in northern Arizona, as well as of Coconino County Education Service Agency in Flagstaff.

She was one of three finalists for the position, eventually triumphing over Joseph Aldridge of Sonora, California, who had served as superintendent of Columbia Union School District in Tuolumne County, and Rebecca Benedict, a principal in the Central Consolidated School District in New Mexico.

Among well-attended and often tumultuous school board meetings, VanderWey sometimes departed from the board’s majority opinion, most notably on topics like school closures and masking.

This article will be updated when more information becomes available.

This article was republished on Feb. 1 with the correction that VanderWey did take part in the executive session.