Twenty-four parents and three students attended a May 7 meeting at Marana High School held to discuss concerns about the school's athletic programs, particularly what parents described as a lack of confidence in MHS Athletic Director Joe Hajek.
Principal Jan Truitt said the meeting was called in response to a petition presented her April 24 by MHS parent Rick Westfall and signed by about 100 parents and district residents. Both she and Hajek were present at the meeting.
The petition called for Hajek's ouster, but Truitt made it clear at the meeting that Hajek, an assistant principal at the school, will retain his athletic director responsibilities next year.
"In Mr. Hajek we have a very knowledgeable athletic director who has spent countless hours in support of our athletic programs. He was nominated as the 4A Athletic Director of the Year … I support him fully and I will not be removing him," Truitt said. "My goal is to work with Mr. Hajek next year and to solicit solutions from you for these problems (because) I believe they are solvable problems."
The concerns brought out in the petition, Truitt said, were communication; management of programs, coaches and facilities; and liability issues. The majority of the meeting was spent on communication.
Other concerns brought up at the meeting were games being cancelled; hiring more qualified coaches to attract more MHS students to join the school's various sports teams; improving the school's win-loss records; and guaranteeing that complaints or concerns about athletics are dealt with immediately.
MHS parent Guy Howard said before the meeting that people signing the petition agreed to the following statement: "The residents of the district have lost all confidence in Athletic Director Joe Hajek to run or administer the athletic programs at Marana High School. Mr. Hajek's actions time and again have placed the district in a position of great liability. Mr. Hajek has failed to communicate with students and parents alike. His management of his coaches and his facilities is unacceptable. We respectfully request his resignation immediately as athletic director of Marana High School."
He reiterated those words near the end of the two-hour May 7 meeting.
"I do not expect to give a person welfare for them not being able to do their job. I have no confidence in the man," Howard said. "He's a great guy, great associate principal, but when it comes to athletics, I think we can keep our options open."
Truitt explained that she is in charge of determining "if one of my employees is doing an inadequate job."
"It is not (the parents') job to determine that," she said in a phone interview before the meeting. "I think it is very appropriate to give (parents) an opportunity to express their concerns and to have those concerns addressed … (but) I want them to give me specific concerns and for us to come up with a way to address those specific concerns."
During the meeting, Truitt utilized poster sheets to list parent concerns and solutions to deal with those concerns. She opened the meeting saying she wanted to listen to ideas and suggestions "as to how we can address those concerns and what we can do as evidence to show you that those concerns have indeed been addressed."
"It is virtually impossible to create a forum where there is no conflict and there are no problems when we deal with as many coaches as we deal with at the high school level," Truitt said. "The fact (is) that we are dealing with people - coaches that are people, administrators that are people, students that are people and, as people, we make mistakes. I think what is important is how we respond to those mistakes and what we do to ensure those mistakes are not repeated as best we can."
Various parents said they had approached Hajek over his three-year tenure as athletic director with concerns about their children's sports only to find out "the ball was dropped somewhere along the way."
In a telephone interview after the meeting, Hajek said he has tried to "do everything possible to create the best, most positive athletic experience for the students-athletes of Marana High School."
"I've tried to have a open-door policy with parents, but after the meeting, it was clear I have parents who don't feel confident to come in and see me," Hajek said. "I wanted to go to the meeting because one of the things discussed was communication … and (being at the meeting) would give me a first hand knowledge of what the parents were saying."
Howard said he brought an issue to Hajek last May concerning his daughter and Hajek set up a meeting with Howard and coaches, then cancelled and rescheduled it twice.
"Here it is a year later and still no meeting," he said.
Hajek said in the phone interview that "I don't have notes on the call, but I did call Mr. Howard and communicate to him … the person he wanted to have a meeting with no longer continued on the coaching staff, so setting up a meeting really wouldn't have done anything for Mr. Howard's situation."
"I apologize for those times we made mistakes," Truitt said at the meeting. "We do the best we can … sometimes I don't communicate well, sometimes my associate principals don't communicate well or we don't understand exactly what you are asking us to do. We have to work with each individual parent for each individual student situation … If we don't do a good job, the expectation is parents will go to the district level administration."
One parent said she was concerned the district wasn't doing enough to promote MHS athletes to colleges and Truitt said she would develop a plan in which student-athletes would know more about college opportunities and parents would get information early in the year to help them make choices for their children.
Clay Parsons said his daughter received college recruiting letters at the school and when she received them, they had been opened by the staff. Truitt said that wouldn't happen again.
"She made it clear they were going to put steps in place so that doesn't happen anymore," Parsons said after the meeting.
Truitt reassured parents MHS would be more "proactive" in advertising when it has an open coaching position, going to other high schools "where there might be an assistant coach wanting to move up to a head coaching position," as well as offering more training for coaches, but that Arizona Interscholastic Rules forbids recruiting coaches from other schools. In addition, Marana Unified School District rules state that head coaches should be certified secondary education teachers.
Hajek said MUSD has the same dilemma other districts have "in finding certified teachers who could be head coaches" and the AIA adopted a policy a few years ago to address that, allowing districts to hire persons with a certification in coaching as head coaches even if they don't have a teaching certificate. All MHS coaches are certified teachers teaching somewhere in MUSD, except for the head coach of the boys soccer team, said Hajek, who came to the district with a certification in coaching. A coaching certificate is received after a two-year program of study.
"We would like to have coaches who are as qualified as possible … (and) our preference is always to get coaches who teach at the school because they are able to have more contact with the kids and better follow-up on academics," said Truitt. "We have to remember these are student-athletes, not just athletes."
A parent said that sometimes "the choice between (being recruited by) Pima (Community College) or UCLA may come down to the coaching" a child receives in high school, and that is why he wanted more qualified coaches at MHS.
"I can't turn it around overnight," Truitt said. "I hear your concerns … I believe we have some tremendous coaches and (sports) is about more than just win-loss records. We need to build on our successes and correct things that are not going well and move forward."
Gil Lewis said MHS athletics have not improved in the three years he's had children at the school.
"I'm looking at you (Truitt) and I respect your judgment. I will support your decision even if I don't agree with it," Lewis said. "If you're telling me you'll hold (Hajek) in line, you'll improve things, if you're willing to hold that rope, I support you, but the question we have to ask is, 'Are we better off after three years with Mr. Hajek? I haven't seen that improvement."
Parsons said he was concerned that Hajek didn't have the respect of his coaches, and that lack of respect was the source of many problems.
"He is responsible for his coaches. But there are coaches here who do not respect him and they think they are his boss," Parsons said to applause.
Parent Al Rivas said he signed the petition "because of our football team."
"We're in a downward spiral," he said. "When you are zero and 18 in baseball and two and nine in football, I fear we've broken the will of our student athletes. We can send letters and do all the things we weren't doing before in communication, but if we don't change coaches, we're not going to fix the programs."
The actual season record for baseball was five wins and 18 loses, said Truitt, and two wins and seven loses in football.
Truitt said she recognized there was a problem in some sports and "in fact, we're making a program change in baseball" for next year.
Howard said he was disappointed with the meeting.
"We're not going to get close to what we want. We wanted to remove Mr. Hajek, myself and the other 150 people who signed those petitions. What they are trying to set up is Jan Truitt micromanaging Joe Hajek and my point is, if you are doing their job, why do you need them. In the secular world, if you are incompetent you'll be terminated. We're giving him all these chances."
He said he was told there were two student-initiated petitions circulating at the school currently, one in favor of retaining Hajek and one asking for his removal. Truitt confirmed that there were petitions circulating, but she had not seen them.
Parsons, on the other hand, felt the meeting was "really good."
"I think we parents realized the administration is trying and the administration realized there are a lot of concerned parents, it isn't just a few. I was very pleased that Jan Truitt took the time and initiative to meet with us, and I've got a lot more respect for Mr. Hajek to come into a situation like that and face everyone head on. I was surprised he was there.
"It does appear to me that when you have a 1,600 person school with 17 sports to administrate, I don't see how one person can do all that plus be associate principal. It appears to me (athletic director) is a full time job itself. Maybe (Hajek) needs more help so the administration can follow through better with the concerns. We weren't happy with the way the basketball thing was handled, but I think everything deserves a process and I think Mr. Hajek's an honest, sincere guy who wants the kids to do good. I am prepared to give it a chance."
Hajek said he felt he wasn't overworked.
"I think every job in a school district is a fulltime job, but I feel I've been able to balance my work load," he said. "I always try to do things to improve the efficiency of my department … we've tried to put some things in place to help streamline procedures to communicate better with coaches and parents."
Truitt said May 9 that she was expecting to set up another meeting with parents in the summer.
"I would like to do it sooner, but we're at a very busy time in our year, we will do this as expediently as we can, but I've got constraints with the end of the year activities. I hope to bring the parents back together in June and have proposals for them to consider," she said.
Westfall, president of the MHS booster club, said he's hopeful changes will be made.
"They bit off an awful lot, they have a plateful if they are going to try to micromanage this program and get it to the level of respectability it once had," Westfall said in a phone interview after the meeting. "I just want to bring pride back to the program. Our motto is 'Tiger Pride' and right now we don't have any. For whatever reason, the kids aren't happy, the morale is down. But I'm willing to work with the administration because I don't think it can be any worse than it has been, anything from here is moving forward. The object is to bring cohesion here, not division. Whatever the fix is, let's get a plan out and let the healing process start."