After a 22-year teaching career that took him and his family to the other side of the world, Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) Assistant Superintendent Clark Tenney has been selected to take the district’s top job after the retirement of Superintendent Joe Howard.
As he was preparing to take over the role he told Prescott LIVING his most immediate goals include improving communication with everyone in the community by holding listening sessions and working to mend divisions that have cropped up between parents and other residents over politics and philosophies that affect K-12 schools.
“I see myself as kind of a bridge-builder,” he said. “I’d like to get back to the level of support in the community we always have enjoyed in the past.”
One of the narratives he wants to dispel is the contention that students’ standardized test scores are low or declining because the district’s actual scores are in the top 15% in Arizona for reading and science and the top 24% for math. He said he will work to raise math scores, which could lead to a sharpening of the district’s already strong focus on STEM-related curriculum.
The PUSD Governing Board named Tenney to the job in April after conducting a national search, naming him as one of two finalists before the other candidate accepted another position. His first day will be July 1, and Howard, who held the job for eight years, is staying on through October to help with the transition.
A Prescott High School graduate, Tenney served as a church missionary in Japan and took a part-time job teaching high schoolers Japanese toward the end of his studies in international relations at Brigham Young University and fell in love with the profession. He takes after two grandparents who were teachers — his grandfather went on to become a schools superintendent in Oceanside, California, in the 1940s.
“I knew that we were never going to be doing that well for ourselves financially if I chose to do that rather than business or Japanese, but I said this is it, this is my calling, this is what I’m supposed to do. And I’ve loved it ever since,” he said.
Tenney and his wife Sonya, sweethearts since high school, moved to Tokyo where he taught Japanese to American high school students, and four of their five children were born there over the next 12 years.
They maintained a home in Prescott and moved back full time so he could teach U.S. history and Japanese at Prescott High. He started moving into administration in 2014 as principal of Abia Judd Elementary School for four years, then as Prescott High’s assistant principal for another three. He became human resources and special programs director in 2021 and took on the assistant superintendent’s title a year later.
Tenney also has served on the Prescott City Council since February 2021, when he was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Councilwoman Billie Orr. He is not running for election this fall and will leave the Council Nov. 28, a decision he made before securing the superintendent job because Howard’s retirement was imminent and he would be taking on more responsibilities as a result.
But he said he’s enjoyed the process and has learned much that will benefit him in his new role, including connecting with people who aren’t directly involved with the schools but can still play a role in improving them.
“I’ve built relationships of trust with a lot of people in the community that I know will benefit our kids and our schools as we partner with people,” he said.