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Tempe Union board candidates outline district challenges

The Ahwatukee Foothills News asked the six candidates for three seats on the governing board for Tempe Union high School District the following question:

What are the three biggest challenges (not necessarily problems) facing the school board and how would you deal with them?

Here are their answers. The full answers to all AFN’s questions can be read at ahwatukee.com. Some responses here were edited for length.

ANDRES ADAN BARRAZA: “Our education budget, student absence rates and plummeting teacher retention rates. … When we lose committed teachers, it directly impacts student participation. I propose lessening the workload of teachers. Make systems more efficient for them and administrators. Efficiency means more time given back to our faculty and less waste, which means we save money. The money we save should stay with the department for their use.

“I believe in order to keep students in school, we need to support more funding for student services. By contracting additional professionals to provide assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties for our students, we can reach out to more students in need.

“Chronic absences are largely associated with some difficult personal issue that the child is going through, from dealing with a death in the family to bullying. We need to be able to reach out to these students and help them work through their issues while staying on track for graduation.”

DON C. FLETCHER: “(1) Transparency and greater community involvement.  There are many important decisions made by the school board, and we simply need to have a broader base of participation by the taxpayers of this district.  …  I would reach out to the greater community, and seek to have them more involvement in the committees and boards that make recommendations to the school board.

“(2) Funding and accountability. The taxpayers need to feel like the schools are being smart with expenditures and respecting the taxpayer dollars that fund our schools.  We also need to work with the Arizona Legislature and the governor to have more long-term funding mechanisms that will allow for better budgeting and planning.

“(3)Fractures in our society. Schools are faced with fractures in our greater society and are often asked to fix it. There are great problems in our community with drugs, bullying, and students who come from homes lacking stability and structure….  While our schools cannot do everything, they can provide a platform for students to become successful and envision a productive future.”  

MICHELLE HELM: “Digital Citizenship. There are consequences to inappropriate use of media; we must teach students the ramifications. We are enhancing our existing programs and starting new programs like ‘Be Safe, Be Smart, Be Kind’ to educate students about the correct use of social media.

“Ensure that every student receiving a diploma is college and career ready and is prepared to move into college courses or the work place.  We do this by providing all students the opportunity for AP and dual enrollment, current technology, and by ensuring all students have access to career and technical education (CTE) opportunities.

“Over testing. Teachers, parents and students are concerned about the large number of tests given students leaving little time for instruction.  We need to examine ways to modify high stake testing to include alternate pathways to a diploma".  

BERDETTA HODGE: “Balancing the district budget, adopting new curriculum, addressing the needs of the parents, teachers, community and students of our district.”

“We have to be innovative with our thinking around crafting solutions and utilizing our resources. As an outcome based individual, I will work with our district stakeholders, community members and members of our state legislature to help identify effective solutions to our districts challenges.”

SANDY LOWE: “One challenge is remembering our responsibility is general oversight of policies, our budget and hiring/firing a superintendent, and not micromanaging…”

“Another challenge is ensuring district stakeholder committees are operating in the most effective way possible. For a number of board decisions, committee recommendations are a source of information used in determining what’s best for Tempe Union (i.e. budget needs), so reviewing such things as how members are selected, who facilitates discussions and how recommendations are developed within the committee may positively contribute to results.

“A final challenge relates to board communication with the community. This includes having meaningful discussions between board members at public meetings to assure our community understands reasons for an individual vote and how factual information as well as stakeholder input is used in decision making.

“On-going Board development and review of processes are some ways to address these challenges. This includes clarification of our role, examining accountability for decisions, and reviewing current practices.”

SCOTT RYAN: “School funding is always a challenge and there is no easy fix. I will work to make sure that more dollars get spent in the classroom and not on administration.

“Student achievement is a challenge and priority for me. Having highly skilled teachers is the biggest factor in student achievement that the district can control. I will push to adopt successful teaching practices, rather than wasteful programs. I will focus on the success of the student, not the program.

“Teacher effectiveness is a concern for everyone. Teachers spend a great portion of their day on administrative tasks including lesson planning, grading, tracking attendance, and copying papers. There is no time left to actually teach.  I will push to have Teacher’s Aides or volunteers to help with some of these administrative tasks so teachers can do what they really want to do, which is teach.”


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