Granite School District quickly selects new superintendent, raising eyebrows of some board members

The district’s outgoing superintendent is leaving his post for a position in Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.

The Granite School District’s current chief of staff will soon serve as its new superintendent after the board appointed him during an emotional meeting Tuesday.

Ben Horsley’s unexpected appointment precedes Superintendent Rich Nye’s upcoming departure to join Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration as his senior education advisor.

“Thank you to this public education system that gave me an opportunity,” Horsley said Tuesday, addressing board members. “What we have here is incredibly important. We need to make it stronger.”

Horsley has worked at the district, which encompasses central Salt Lake County, for over 15 years. He has served as its chief of staff for the past three, according to a news release.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben Horsley, the incoming Granite School District superintendent, speaks during a special board meeting in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.

While several board members expressed confidence in Horsley’s abilities, some voiced concerns about the swift appointment and urged their colleagues to take more time to select Nye’s replacement.

“I don’t fully agree with the lack of a search process for a new superintendent and the ability that, through that process, that [we] would have had to interview a variety of candidates for the role,” board member Kim Chandler said. She ultimately abstained from the vote.

Michele Jones, president of the Granite Education Association, shared similar sentiments prior to the board’s vote on Horsley’s appointment, stating that it was the district’s “high-quality” candidate search process that led to them finding and hiring Nye three years ago.

“I know you that you want to continue the positive and upward momentum of our district, to keep the course, but sometimes you must go slow to go fast,” Jones said.

But board member Julie Jackson countered that it wasn’t the time to “slow down.”

“I want to declare that this is a man of great vision,” Jackson said of Horsley. “He’s going to take this momentum that Dr. Nye has built and put it into high gear.”

At the time of Nye’s initial 2021 appointment, which followed a nationwide search, Horsley was one of the district’s top candidates for the job, the news release noted.

A bittersweet ‘goodbye’

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Outgoing Granite School District Superintendent Rich Nye, right, wipes his eye as school board members speak before releasing him from his contract during a special meeting in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.

Tears fell and sniffles punctuated the board room Tuesday as members offered their final words of appreciation for their outgoing superintendent.

“I’d like to thank you for the ways in which you’ve impacted all of our families,” Jackson said to Nye. “I didn’t know that a superintendent could have such a personal impact on people, and you definitely have.”

Board member Clarke Nelson echoed Jackson’s sentiments.

“I have the upmost respect for you and for the work that you do, and for the commitment that you have to providing our students — and now the students of our state — the best opportunities,” Nelson said.

Nye began his tenure at the Granite School District in 2021, following his previous role as the superintendent of Ogden School District. He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Weber State University and a master’s degree in education administration and supervision from Arizona State University.

He succeeds Brittany Cummins, who started as Utah’s senior education advisor when Cox took office in 2020. Cummins left at the end of March to return to school and pursue a master’s degree, said Emma Williams, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

“We’ve made great progress in raising teacher pay and ensuring that every child in this state has access to a world-class education,” Cox said in a Monday news release about Rich’s appointment. “Rich’s policy experience and his data-driven approach to student success will help our administration continue to support our schools, students and parents.”

Nye’s contract was formally released Tuesday with emotional, heartfelt accolades. He will not receive any continuation of pay once the contract ends July 26, district officials said.

“It’s been inspiring to work with so many people who devote their lives to bettering the lives of others,” Nye said Tuesday. “And those are the examples that are worthy of emulation. And we have that in Granite Schools.”

Continuing the vision

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the Granite Education Association teachers union clap as incoming Granite School District Superintendent Ben Horsley takes his seat during a special school board meeting in South Salt Lake on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.

Horsley said he aims to move forward with the district’s strategic plan, which emphasizes that all students are capable of learning.

“We have many of our students who live in poverty,” Horsley said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “We have the highest amount of diversity, not only in the state but almost in the entire region. And those are no excuses.”

“Every kid deserves an opportunity to have high-quality instruction,” he continued. “We have the capacity, and it’s a matter of implementing and executing it at a high level.”

He will earn an annual salary of $265,000, with his contract set to expire in June 2026, according to a copy of the agreement The Tribune obtained Wednesday through a public records request.

Horsley will officially begin his duties as superintendent on July 27. Nye will start his new role with Cox’s administration two days after that.