Steve Holmes serves as Superintendent of the Sunnyside Unified School District, the second-largest school district in Southern Arizona with more than 14,000 students and a workforce 2,000 employees strong. Steve is a transformational leader with over 27 years of successful service in public education. He holds a Master’s in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University, where he is a graduate of the Urban Superintendents Program (USP); Steve is also a graduate of the University of Arizona and an alumnus of the Sunnyside District.
A champion for equity, Steve’s work focuses on urban ed reform and bringing about deeper learning practices, coherence, and innovation to high poverty districts where an emphasis on low level programs, interventions, and narrow metrics have worked against this type of learning. Mr. Holmes has cultivated partnerships with industry partners to drive more resources to foster innovation and level the playing field by challenging the notion that affluent districts where students are born on third base is tantamount to hitting an academic triple.
Since taking over as the organization’s chief executive in 2015, the District has been recognized as a industry leader in open educational resources (OER), formative assessment, and design thinking. Mr. Holmes’ dogmatic approach to ‘the focus’ is heavily influenced by the work of John Hattie (The Politics of Distraction, 2015) as he challenges principals and other school leaders in Sunnyside to balance the academic role vs. societal expectations placed on urban schools. Steve teaches EDL 682–The Superintendency class at the University of Arizona which focuses on the functions and responsibilities of the chief school executive and central office staff, with emphasis on external and internal system relationship in policy formation and decision making.
As a father of two students in Arizona public schools, Mr. Holmes is a staunch supporter of public education and a leading voice in support of English Language Learners. Steve has provided clarity and insight in numerous national and international conversations, including as a guest keynote for the Ministry of Education in Chile, and as a panelist at the National Hispanic Caucus Conference where he spoke on policy implications for English Language Learners and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Mr. Holmes was also a key witness on behalf of the plaintiffs in the landmark case Flores v. Arizona. Steve is an active member of the community, serving as Co-Chair of the United Way of Southern Arizona Cradle to Career Partnership and as member of the Tucson Airport Authority.
Performance Goals for the 2021-22 School Year
1. Improve aggregate AZMerit performance in Literacy and Mathematics by a minimum of 5% from the previous 2020-2021 school year.
2. In collaboration with experts from the field, develop a framework for supporting the Whole Learner that incorporates Social Emotional Learning and Student Wellbeing. Evidence of a comprehensive system will include:
- Tiered system of support from mental health professionals who provide support for all students
- Aligned resources that support the interventions included in the newly revised Student Handbook
- Strategic relationships with community partners to increase support for students and families
- Increased opportunities for extra and co-curricular activities for students that foster school connectedness
3. In collaboration with students, teachers and district staff, develop policy recommendations to support consistent grading practices K–12 that are accurate, motivational, bias- resistant and improve learning.
4. Continue the implementation of customer service satisfaction surveys in all district departments where data is used to improve results over time. Place an emphasis on disaggregating the data by teachers in the district to ensure experiences with central office are not leading to issues of retention.
The Chief Schools Officer will work with leadership teams at each site to develop specific strategies to address climate issues that impact the retention of staff at individual sites (discipline, communication, instructional support). This coming year, we will implement parent, student, and staff climate surveys. We will analyze results and share with administrators. Retention data will be analyzed for each school.