The 2020-21 school year is underway, but by all accounts, it’s taking place under circumstances no one saw coming just six months ago. In the midst of social unrest and a
contentious political climate, the race to be elected to — or remain on — the Tempe Union
High School District’s Governing Board is drawing plenty of attention this year.
Governing board members are elected to four-year terms to represent the residents within the district’s boundaries. Elections are held in November every other year with the majority of board seats up for election in presidential election years.
Two incumbents on the board, president Burdetta Hodge and Sandy Lowe, are seeking
re-election. Six other candidates seek to fill the three open seats. If Hodge and Lowe are re-elected, that leaves just one seat open.
And while the school board race is meant to be non-partisan, it’s clear that emotions are running high with many parents calling for students to be back on campus. The TUHSD
Governing Board voted Aug. 5 that in-person instruction be delayed until the first day of
the second quarter, which this year falls on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Megan Sterling, executive director of community relations for TUHSD, shared the district’s latest plan with Wrangler News.
“On Oct. 13, we will start in a hybrid two days per week learning model. Students will be divided into cohorts by last name, and attend school in-person on either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday. The other three days of the week will see learning conducted virtually. Wednesdays are also a deep-cleaning day, to ensure that our campuses are fully cleaned in between each cohort of students,” Sterling wrote in an email to Wrangler News.
Meanwhile, a Facebook group, Keep Our Kids in School – Tempe Union, sprang up over the summer and boasts 710 members, who share information and strong opinions on how the district is handling the school year’s challenges. According to its homepage, the group “was created to serve as a non-partisan, non-political diverse group of parents representing all seven TUHSD schools who want to keep their kids in school. This group supports having
choices for those who desire online, up to a 5-day option. We are concerned with the quality of education, safety, social and emotional health, as well as the lack of communication and parental input.”
Among the members of the group is Lori Bastian, the mother of three Corona del Sol High students. She said she is seeking a spot on the board because she feels it’s crucial, especially in light of the pandemic and resulting impact on education, for a parent of a current TUHSD student to serve on the board.
“I am invested as a parent of high school students, and right now, that perspective is missing,” Bastian said. “I also have zero political aspirations. The only reason I’m running for the board is because I care about our district and our students. If elected, I will be a reasonable parent voice on the board, one representing our entire community.”
Wrangler News reached out to all candidates for the TUHSD Governing Board. Most responded to inquiries for information about their candidacy. Two did not. Information about those candidates was garnered from their statements on the Office of the Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson.
Candidate Don Fletcher is a former teacher and small-business owner.
“I know what it means to make payroll and work hard to build a business. I have served on many community boards and committees for over 20 years in the Tempe/Ahwatukee area and have received awards for service to our youth,” Fletcher’s statement reads.
He says that he supports paying teachers “a fair wage” and that he supported the 2018 pay raise. His other concerns are to provide a safe and secure school environment, strong academic expectations, and the maximization of extracurricular activities, including arts and sports.
Hodge, seeking re-election, says that she supports “Arizona’s next generation of leaders” and that begins by ensuring the entire TUHSD is cared for.
“That means taking steps to level the playing field for all students in our education system, paying our teachers and staff livable wages, and providing critical services to our neighbors in need,” Hodge’s statement on the county website reads.
“I have been a student, parent, volunteer and leader in this district for my entire life because I love our community. I will continue to strive to ensure all of our community has a seat at the table and that Tempe Union has a strong voice in shaping the future of education and well-being in Arizona.”
Sarah Lindsay James is in her 22nd year of teaching and has two children in the Kyrene schools.
“I witness the changes happening in education from both perspectives, and I see the effect those changes have on our students and educators. Our educators and students are constantly having more placed on their shoulders, and the focus on test scores is drowning out the focus we should have: how to create meaningful connections with our students and the world in which they live,” James said. “We have to empower our educators and students to do what they do best – teach and learn. We must also work with parents and educators when making educational decisions, because we have to trust those who best know our students. As a board member, I will be a voice and ear for our educators, our families, and our community.”
Lowe has served two terms on the TUHSD board. She said she understands the importance of a quality high school education that will positively affect students after they graduate.
“My decisions consistently focus on students with consensus building and even pragmatism when appropriate. Now more than ever, we need experienced school board members to address the challenges we are facing today. Together with my analytical skills, in-depth knowledge of issues facing schools, as well as understanding the importance of addressing academic, safety and mental-health needs, I will continue to make decisions in the best interest of every student.”
Paige Reesor is a middle school art teacher in the Tempe Elementary School District and runs her own business as an artist. She received an Excellence in Education award from the Tempe Diablos this year. She said she hopes to be elected to the board because she has “the opportunity to impact the same students as they continue to move on to the high school level. If elected to the board, I will contribute my valued perspective as a Tempe Elementary School teacher, as I collaborate with our neighboring school districts. I am interested in elevating all student, parent, teacher and classified staff voices.”
Armando Montero is the youngest candidate on the ballot.
“Growing up here and having graduated from Tempe Union (Desert Vista) in 2019 with direct ties to our educational system still, I know firsthand what issues our students are facing and have a fresh perspective on how to solve them. A school board with more diverse perspectives that reflect all parts of our community and those affected is a stronger board. After the past years of advocating on behalf of students on social/emotional well-being and suicide prevention, I have been called on by board members, teachers, students and community members to bring a vital voice to the board this year and am proud to have the support and endorsements of many national and local leaders.”
Michael Myrick currently serves as president of the Kyrene Governing Board. He’s not seeking re-election to Kyrene’s board but has thrown his hat in the ring for the TUHSD school board. He’s a graduate of Corona and has two children now attending his alma mater. He says he’s “noticed a lack of leadership with the board and also at the superintendent level.”
“As a parent, I have been extremely frustrated with the district’s return-to-school plan and have had some other troubling interactions with the district special-education department that should have been easy to resolve. The voters in TUHSD need to vote for three new board members,” Myrick said.
“With that being said, I strongly feel the candidates need to feel confident and able lead. I am confident in my abilities to address all issues and lead TUHSD in the proper direction for the future of our community and all students.”
Crucial dates for voters
Procrastinators beware: According to the publicity pamphlet published by the Office of Arizona’s Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, Monday, Oct. 5, is the deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election.
Wednesday, Oct. 7, is the first day of in-person voting. It’s also the first day for Arizona counties to mail ballots to voters on the Permanent Early Voting list and those who have requested a ballot by mail.
Friday, Oct. 23 is the last day to request a ballot by mail or join the PEVL.
Tuesday, Oct. 27, is the recommended last day to mail back a ballot.
Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, to be counted.
Voters who do not mail back their ballot by Oct. 27 should drop off their ballot at their County Recorder’s Office or any ballot drop box or voting location in their county. Friday, Oct. 30, is the last day of in-person early voting.
Polls are open on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m.
To check if you are on the PEVL, request a ballot by mail or get information on early voting locations, contact the Office of the Maricopa County Recorder at 602-506-3535 or visit Arizona.Vote.