New interim superintendent picked for Salt Lake City School District

(Photos courtesy of Salt Lake City School District) Alan Kearsley, left, and Larry Madden.

Salt Lake City School District has named a new interim superintendent who will take over this summer after the previous superintendent was reportedly forced out.

Larry Madden — currently the principal at both Bryant Middle School and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education — was appointed by the district’s board of education Tuesday night to fill the position for the next year while it searches for a permanent replacement. Members voted 5-0 on the appointment, with two choosing to abstain amid ongoing tensions with the board over the position.

Madden will replace Lexi Cunningham, who resigned as superintendent in January but agreed to stay on until the end of the school year. School board member Michael Nemelka — one of those who abstained — previously disclosed that Cunningham was forced out after four other members voted to fire her if she didn’t voluntarily leave.

He said she was “targeted” after some on the board asked her to fire 16 principals districtwide and she declined to do so. On that list was Ford White, formerly the principal at West High School.

The day after Cunningham resigned, the board voted to fire White. He had been on leave and under investigation since November when he drove students home after finding them drinking on school grounds. According to district policy for safety, he was supposed to call the police.

Since then, there has continued to be division in the district. The president of the school board stepped down, as did the district’s business administrator, Janet Roberts.

Along with the interim superintendent, members also voted Tuesday to hire a replacement for Roberts. Alan Kearsley, a longtime certified public accountant who has spent the last 22 years in the district and was most recently the finance director, will now fill that role under a two-year contract. He has previously worked for the State Auditor’s Office.

Madden, who starts as superintendent on July 1, is an experienced administrator and teacher. In 2008, he founded the Salt Lake Center for Science Education that he currently leads with a focus on STEM classes. He has worked for the district since 1991.

“I’m looking forward to working with both Mr. Kearsley and Mr. Madden,” said the board’s new president, Melissa Ford, in a statement. “They know our district, they are skilled in their respective roles and they are both well-positioned to lead our district in a way that supports our commitment to excellence and equity for every student.”

The interim superintendent will be tasked with leading a district with 22,000 students in 37 schools as it grapples with declining enrollment. The district also faces challenges with staffing its after-school programs. And teachers walked out last year when negotiations over a pay raise stalled.