The Tempe Union Governing Board race features a diverse set of candidates that includes two incumbents, a teacher, an educator-artist, a student activist, a Realtor, a lawyer and the current president of another school board.
At least one new member to the five-member board is assured since only President Berdetta Hodge and Sandy Lowe are seeking reelection. Hodge is seeking her second term and Lowe her third while incumbent Michelle Helm, whose term also expires in December, is retiring after 20 years on the board.
Also running is south Tempe Realtor Lori Bastian, Ahwatukee lawyer Don Fletcher, Chandler resident and Mesa teacher Sarah Lindsay James, Kyrene school board President Michael Myrick, Tempe Elementary District middle school teacher Paige Reesor and Arizona State University sophomore Armando Montero of Ahwatukee.
Three Tempe Union candidates got nearly three times the required 400 signatures on their petitions to qualify for a Nov. 4 ballot spot.
Social distancing and fears of COVID-19 have made door-to-door campaigning and other forms of outreach a challenge this election year.
Fletcher led the pack with 1,191 signatures, followed closely by Bastian, with 1,118, and Hodge, with 1041. Reesor got 836 signatures, Montero garnered 710; Myrick, 696; and Lowe and James each got 583.
Hodge is a Tempe Union alumna, having graduated from Tempe High and both her children graduated from McClintock High.
The Tempe resident was elected to the board in 2016 and said at the time she was running “because I want to give back to the district that has not only enriched my life, but has left an everlasting finger print on our community.”
In a brief interview last month, Myrick said he decided to run when the district initially announced it would not offer a full five-day in-classroom option for students in the coming school year. The district has since relented to student and parent demands for that option.
Myrick, a father of two Tempe Union graduates and a third currently at Corona del Sol High School, was one of about 200 parents and students at one of two protests against the initial reopening plan last month.
He said at the time, “I think people are fed up with some of the stuff that’s happening, in some of the decisions that are being made. And they’re not listening to the community.”
Here’s a look at the five other Tempe Union board candidates.
Tempe resident Lori Bastian helps manage her husband’s Realty Executives team and is the mother of three sons all currently attending Corona del Sol High School.
“I am running because I want Tempe Union to maintain its standing as one of the best districts in the state,” she said. “I am invested as a current parent of high school students, and it is imperative that parents have a voice on the governing board.”
“Students’ needs must come first and I am committed to ensuring that priority,” Bastian added, stating she wants to “improve communication between the district and families, recruit and retain the best teachers, help build stronger communities, and ensure fiscal accountability.”
She also is vowing to “serve as an advocate for students, teachers and parents in our community.”
Fletcher is the father of four Tempe Union grads and has been advocating for creation of a second district school for gifted students – preferably at Mountain Pointe High School.
As an Ahwatukee resident, Fletcher, a lawyer, said he thinks the Tempe Union board needs an Ahwatukee member.
“With my 30 years of living in our residential area, raising four children here with my wife and being involved in many school and community affairs, I offer a local voice of reason and maturity that is much needed,” he said.
“These are unprecedented times as we decide how to open our schools, keep our students and teachers safe, and deal with the coming economic uncertainty in funding our schools,” he added. “I believe my professional experience, community involvement, and my current and past leadership experience will be invaluable to our Governing Board in facing these challenges.”
Sarah Lindsay James
Sarah Lindsay James said she is a witness to the changes in education from two perspectives – a parent of two young children, both in Kyrene schools, and a 22-year veteran teacher currently working in the Mesa Public Schools district.
“I see the effect those changes have on our students and educators,” she said. “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.”
“Teachers know how to make these connections and best teach our students and not one educator would tell you that teaching to the test is the ‘best practice.’ 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.”
Seeking her third term on the board, Sandy Lowe of Tempe has two sons who graduated from Corona del Sol.
A retired APS research and statistical analyst, Lowe said her 25 years of public education advocacy as well as her experience as a parent and board member help qualify her for reelection.
“I am committed to supporting excellence in education for every student that enters our district,” she said. “I understand the importance of our graduates to possess skills needed to find success in whatever path they may choose after graduation.”
“Given my extensive knowledge of the needs of our students in the areas of academics as well as social and emotional wellness, along with an in-depth knowledge of school budgets and the many issues education faces today, I will continue to make relevant and impactful decisions for our students, educators and community,” she said.
“Basing decisions on facts, stakeholder input and strong communication will continue to be a priority for me,” Lowe added. “I believe today our schools are facing some serious and unusual challenges which will continue, especially in terms of budgets over the next several years.
“Now more than ever it is important to have board members like myself that have experience in understanding the different types of challenges we will face and how to address them in the most effective and efficient way possible,” she added. “I hope to continue to use my extensive experience in public education to make the best decisions possible for each and every student.”
Despite his young age, Armando Montero of Ahwatukee is no stranger to public advocacy.
In December 2019 – seven months after graduating from Desert Vista High School and then an Arizona State University freshman – Montero led a group of students who made an impassioned plea to the Tempe Union Governing Board for more counselors and greater attention to the social emotional needs of students, citing the increasing number of young people who had taken their lives – including a friend of his.
Currently the legislative analyst and regional director of the Arizona Students’ Association, the sophomore at ASU’s Barrett Honors College has two siblings at Desert Vista and another at Mountain Pointe.
He said he is running for the Tempe Union board “to bring a fresh perspective and a voice that has been missing from our governing board that makes decisions for students and young people on a daily basis.”
“In order to have the most effective and responsive board, we must have diverse perspectives and experiences that reflect all parts of our Tempe Union community,” he said, touting his background “as someone who has experienced the classroom and school culture in recent years and has seen, firsthand, the impact the board has on our students, teachers, staff and families.
“After my work with the district previously surrounding mental health and suicide prevention, I was called upon by students, teachers, parents and current board members to run for the governing board this year,” he said.
He cited his success in getting Tempe Union and more than a dozen other districts to adopt a resolution calling for more resources and more attention to be directed toward “the mental health crisis that many students are facing.”
“From there, I helped create and chair a student advisory committee to bring a new perspective to many of the issues that are considered at the district level and am running to continue that work to ensure that every student has the resources to have the best education possible and thrive in their post-secondary endeavors,” he said.
He believes his perspective as a former Tempe Union student “could shed new light on so many issues our governing board discusses.”
“I have built broad coalitions of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to work on the educational issues close to our hearts – which is key to being a school board member,” he said, adding that he has already been endorsed locally and nationally “by groups such as the Parents for Suicide Prevention.”
An art teacher at Gililland Middle School in the Tempe Elementary School District, Tempe resident Paige Reesor said running for the board is "a personal for me" because she teaches in a feeder school for the district.
"I I have been serving in the public school system for seven years. I have the opportunity to continue my professional work and impact the same students as they continue to move onto the high school level. I am not only a teacher voice, but a voice for our Tempe Union students knowing they will always come first. 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. As an educator, I regard student success as my highest priority, and I understand that achievement can look different for each student. Supporting individual student strengths and needs, establishing strong relationships with students, parents, and community members, as well as encouraging students to find their voice are three key ways that we can help all students blossom and accomplish great things."
On her website, she notes, "I observe and understand what our students go through on a daily basis, so I want to ensure they have adequate resources to be successful academically and emotionally in high school. We should focus on preparing our students for the future, whether their future is in pursuing a talent, enrolling in a university, attending a trade school, owning a small business, joining the military, volunteering, or becoming an apprentice. I feel college readiness should be a part, but not the only focus, as we prepare our students for the future. We should be also steering them towards other options like trade school, art school, or allied-health programs that celebrate our students’ strengths and talents," she also states."