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Utah deputy education superintendent explains resignation

Published August 11, 2014 7:09 pm

Education • Brenda Hales said "it's been something I've had in mind for a long time."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some Utah education leaders seemed somewhat caught off guard by the resignation of the state deputy superintendent late last week.

But Brenda Hales said she'd been telling colleagues for months that she planned to retire this fall or winter. She said she gave her notice Friday and will use vacation and other leave until her retirement becomes official at the end of December.

"It may have been faster than some people thought," Hales said Monday of her resignation, "but it's been something I've had in mind for a long time."

She said nothing in particular triggered her decision late last week to leave Friday. She said she could tell Thursday that the board was going to seek a renewal of the state's federal waiver to No Child Left Behind, so she felt confident leaving.

The waiver allows Utah to skip many of the most hated provisions of federal education law No Child Left Behind. Local superintendents, the Utah PTA, business leaders and the Utah Education Association had urged renewal. Some, however, wary of entanglements with the federal government, had wanted to see the state reject the waiver — a move that would have meant a return to NCLB.

"When I realized things were going to go well on Friday," Hales said, "then I knew it was time for me to go."

She said there was no disagreement between her and the board that led to her announcement Friday, and she said she did not leave because of continuing opposition by some to the Common Core academic standards.

In recent years, Hales has been the Utah Office of Education's point person on the standards, which outline what students should learn in each grade in math and language arts to be ready for college and careers. In her position, Hales has spent much time defending the standards to some lawmakers and critics who see them as federal overreach. The standards were not written nor required by the federal government, but the feds have encouraged their use.

"It's been a challenge, but it's been worth the fight," Hales said of defending the standards. "If there's anything that alarms me, it's when the voices of a very few start controlling what happens to kids."

Hales, 61, said now seemed like the right time to go because of her years of experience and a back condition.

She said her back continues to bother her after breaking it on her first day of work as a teacher 40 yeas ago. She said she was so excited for that first day that she jumped down a group of steps and missed the bottom one, breaking her back.

Hales started teaching in 1974 in the Jordan District and later worked as a principal and assistant superintendent there before joining the state office in 2007 as an associate superintendent.

"I've had the privilege of working with children most of my life, and there's no finer profession," Hales said Monday. "There are very few people who can say they've lived their professional lives without regrets, and I'm one of them."