For Michael Penca, Flagstaff’s new superintendent of schools, the inspiration to pursue a career in education originated with the teachers who taught him back when he was a student.
“I still marvel at the way my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Fleagle, ignited a passion for learning in me with his challenging questions, discovery experiments and personal connections,” he recalled. “I headed off to the University of Iowa wanting to be a science teacher just like him.”
Along the way, the 43-year-old discovered a love of working with younger students and became a kindergarten teacher. Over the next 20 years, Penca taught and then eventually went the administrative route. He served as a school principal, then a district administrator, and most recently as the interim superintendent of the Mason City Community School District in north central Iowa.
Penca had visited Flagstaff before on family trips to the Grand Canyon and his daughter’s college visit to Northern Arizona University. He said he was impressed with the friendliness of the residents, the thriving historic downtown and the recreational opportunities. He told his wife, Kristine, also an educator, that he’d like to live in Flagstaff one day, maybe after they retired.
Michael Penca at Fourth of July Parade, 2017.
Michael Penca (center) leading the Flagstaff Unified School District contingent during last week’s Fourth of July Parade.
When the interim superintendent post in Mason City did not materialize into a permanent position, Kristine got on her laptop to look for superintendent openings – and saw one for Flagstaff.
Christine Fredericks, president of the Flagstaff Unified School District’s governing board, said Penca impressed during his interview with his thoughtfulness and ability to see the “whole picture.”
“He’s a true leader and he’s known for being very collaborative,” she said. “We have a really strong team here, and I feel he’s going to work well with them and make Flagstaff schools even better.”
Kristine Penca will also be joining the FUSD team as a 7th grade teacher in the MIT-e initiative, a STEM-based magnet program at Sinagua Middle School.
Penca said his first step will be engaging stakeholders, including staff, students, parents and community partners through meetings and surveys, and using that information to guide the district forward.
“I can tell you I have been very impressed with the pride FUSD staff have about the district, their students and the Flagstaff community,” said Penca, specifically citing some of the unique educational programs and the way the district meets the needs of a diverse population of students. “I am excited to have the opportunity to serve in such a progressive district.”
ECoNA welcomes Michael Penca to his new role leading our public schools in Flagstaff and looks forward to the district’s continual improvement under his leadership.