July 27, 2005 - Marana Unified School District's new Superintendent, Denny Dearden, spoke to the town's business community June 21, relating a personal story that led him to pursue a career in education.

"I'm very humbled and honored to be superintendent. It's an interesting journey that I took," Dearden told a large crowd during a luncheon inside the Lord of Grace Lutheran Church, 7250 N. Cortaro Road.

Forty years ago, Dearden said, there was a boy who came from a poor home where there was no running water and where the boy bathed in the same tub once a week and wore the same dirty, wrinkled clothes to school. With the same somber look on his face, Dearden said the boy never came to school clean like the other students.

One day, after the boy had nearly given up on himself and counted down the days until he could drop out of school, his gym teacher told him, "You can be anything you want to be. Dream big. Shoot for the stars," Dearden said.

Following his teacher's advice, the little boy went home and saw his whole life change.

"That was me 40 years ago," said an emotional Dearden, a vast contrast to the young boy he described in his story. "Today, I still have that passion. You've got to look at every child with hope."

Until last month, Dearden served as assistant superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va., where he oversaw a cluster of 22 schools and nearly 20,000 students. He spent the bulk of his 30-year career in education in Iowa and Colorado, serving as a teacher, a principal and an assistant superintendent before taking his post in Virginia in 2003.

Dearden has a long history of leading schools to academic excellence and turning negative situations into positive ones. He and his wife, Deanna Hernandez, have two adopted sons, ages 16 and 20, and are considering adopting another child.

Jim Doty, interim principal of Marana High School, sat next to Dearden during the luncheon held by the Marana Chamber of Commerce and shared his thoughts after the event.

"I think he's going to do very well for the district. He really cares about kids," he said. "I like the direction we're going and I really can't ask for anything more."

Dearden said it was only by chance that he happened upon a job opening in Marana while surfing the Internet one night. He wasn't actually looking for a job, he said, but something about Marana caught his attention.

"I said, 'I like that name - Marana's kind of a cool name,'" he joked.

After he flew out to Marana to interview for the position earlier this year, the district offered Dearden the job. But it was Dearden's wife who needed convincing if the family was going to move 2,500 miles.

When asked by his wife what his initial thoughts about Marana were, "I don't know, I didn't see it," Dearden said he told her, commenting on how busy the district kept him during his visit. The couple later flew out for a weekend to see if Marana was a fit for them.

As the couple drove past the Circle K at the Marana exit on Interstate 10, Dearden said he attempted to show his wife what Marana had to offer. Instead, they ended up in the middle of the desert.

"I'll never to this day be able to forget the look my wife gave me. I said, 'I swear I know there's more to this.' But I couldn't find it," he said.

Dearden said he hopes to spend this year making parents "even prouder of the Marana school system" than they already are.

"It needs some attention right now," he said, adding that the district must prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow instead of training them to meet the minimum standards of AIMS. "We could talk forever about the great tradition Marana has built, but if we're not careful, it could be left behind."

Dearden said the district is in the process of doing some "streamlining" and taking pressures off teachers, though there won't be a lot of reorganization "because I think it's solid right now."

Coming from Fairfax, where his office overlooked a cemetery, Dearden commented on the welcomed change of scenery in Marana.

"I was really pleasantly surprised that when I look out the Foster building, I see schools now," he said. "I'm here because I want to be."

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