FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. | Mason City Interim Superintendent Mike Penca has been selected as superintendent of Flagstaff Unified School District.
The district’s governing board announced Saturday it had entered into negotiations with Penca, 43, who was one of two finalists interviewed by the board, staff and students in Flagstaff Wednesday.
Penca’s one-year, $163,000 contract in Mason City expires June 30. He expects to start July 3 in Flagstaff.
“I’m honored for this new opportunity, look forward to some new adventures for my wife, my family and I, both professionally and personally,” Penca said Monday. “It’s a big change – I’m excited for new learning and new challenges.”
Penca said he and his family visited Flagstaff during a trip to the Grand Canyon 10 years ago, and were attracted to the beauty of the community and what it offered.
“I said, 'When I retire, I want to live here,’” he said.
Penca – who has worked in Mason City for 22 years as a teacher, principal and administrator -- said he is grateful the School Board chose him to be Mason City’s leader the past year.
He was promoted last June following the departure of former superintendent Anita Micich and was a finalist this winter for the permanent job, which was offered to Dave Versteeg, who has been superintendent of Montezuma Schools in southeastern Iowa for a decade.
“Without that experience, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now,” Penca said. “I’m well-prepared for the next new challenge.”
Located among mountains and Ponderosa pine forests, Flagstaff has about 70,000 residents.
FUSD has about 10,000 students, 1,200 employees and 15 schools, one of which is a trilingual magnet school offering a Navajo Immersion Language Program as well as Spanish-English bilingual program. In comparison, Mason City has more than 3,700 students and 600 staff members.
“While we’re different in landscape – they have mountains and we have flat and cornfields – a lot of things are the same,” Penca said. “They have quality teachers working with kids and are very big into STEM education and technology, like we have been.”
Penca said there is more competition for education in Arizona through charter schools and vouchers. At FUSD, that means magnet programs, an AP academy, outdoor learning and bilingual education.
While he expected to stay in Mason City much longer, Penca said North Iowa will remain a “special place” for his family.
“Mason City has been our home for over 20 years,” he said. “It will always be a special place, and we’ll return to visit family and friends.”
His wife, Kristine, a longtime Mason City educator currently teaching fifth grade at Lincoln Intermediate, plans to continue her career in Arizona.
“She was impressed by how much they love their schools, programs, teachers and kids,” Penca said. “It will be a great place for her to work, as well.”
Penca beat out the other finalist, Frank Chiapetti, who was the superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools in New Mexico.
Current FUSD Interim Superintendent Dave Dirksen was not included in the list of finalists by a 3-2 vote of the governing board.