With two of the five Kyrene Governing Board seats certain to be filled with new members, the race features one incumbent and four political newcomers who all have long experience as education professionals.
The races is geographically spread across the district. Incumbent Michelle Fahy lives in Chandler, Wanda Kolomyjec and Trine´ Nelson are in Ahwatukee and Margaret Wright is in Tempe.
All five also secured a ballot position in November with more than the required 400 petition signatures with Kolomyjec leading with 972, followed by Fahy with 911, Nelson with 905, Wright with 808 and Alfaro with 644.
There is no primary for school board candidates, so getting the required signatures is critical for getting a ballot spot.
Here’s a look at the candidates for the three seats up for grabs in Kyrene.
Jose Ivan Alfaro of Tempe has four children in Kyrene schools and is exeutive director of a national learning company and an education consultant.
“As a dad of four amazing and uniquely different children who attend the Kyrene School District, I understand the joys and anxieties of wanting the best for our kids,” he said in explaining his candidacy.
“I believe I can be a genuine advocate for parents and children. I hope to contribute my experience and time in a meaningful and impactful way to an educational community that provides and supports the academic, social, and emotional needs for my and all of our children.”
He added, “I am running because great schools and teachers made a difference in my own life – and I know they can make a difference for thousands of other children in our community.”
Michelle Fahy said she was inspired in two different ways by her sister’s two terms on the Tempe Union board: she wanted to serve her community like her sister did; at the same time, she felt after many conversations with her that school boards needed someone, unlike her sister, whose career was in education.
She recalled talking many times with her sister and having to answer many questions related to education. That made her think, she said, that “not everybody understands the life of a teacher, the life of an employee of a school district or the kinds of decisions or funding” that impact employees and students.
Fahy started her career in education as a special education teacher and a trainer of such teachers in Maryland before moving to Arizona, where she started as a teacher in Kyrene and over the 24 years she worked for Kyrene moved up in the ranks to become an educational technology specialist for 13 years.
After moving over to Tempe Union, where she is starting her sixth year as the district’s instructional technology coordinator, Fahy eventually decided to run for the Kyrene Governing Board.
Fahy, whose daughter is a product of both Kyrene and Tempe Union schools, said her 36 years as an educator gives her a unique perspective for the board that someone in another field doesn’t have.
“I think all of those perspectives are valuable on a school board. I think it’s important that you should have lots of different skill sets come together on a board. That makes a board much stronger than not having those different skill sets.”
Wanda Kolomyjec of Ahwatukee is the mother of three Kyrene graduates: a surgical resident, a law student and an Arizona State University junior.
She believes, “Education is a pillar of democracy and I believe that access to academic excellence should be the right of every child in America. This platform not only serves the individual child and their family, but also helps build a stronger nation. An educated populace is an engaged and productive populace.”
She said the pandemic has revealed “cracks in a central tenet of our democracy: equality” and points to the challenges some families – whether those challenges have involved access to internet service or devices or even enough money for food or health care.
“I can promise you my first priority is to the children of the district and how to keep them safe, while simultaneously delivering the best education to reach their potential in this challenging environment,” Kolomyjec said. “I am also a strong advocate for our teachers because I understand how hard (and rewarding) the job can be, and in today’s COVID-19 reality, how dangerous it can be.”
While maintaining education professionals “deserve our support, our gratitude and our concern,” she also said another priority is “the parents who largely want the same thing for their child: a safe and nurturing learning environment.”
Kolomyjec also cited her experience as a former public high school teacher, current ASU professor and justice studies doctoral candidate and co-owner for 28 years of an entertainment company and said, “I am uniquely positioned to help guide the district through this crisis with scholastic, fiscal and justice experience.”
“As our society continues to change and new challenges face us, schools have the opportunity to model for the rest of the community how to champion each other’s strengths, how to support one another in challenging times, and how to thrive in a democracy that serves us all. In addition to the goal of providing an incomparable learning environment, teaching our children a sense of community may be public education’s highest calling,” she said.
Ahwatukee resident Trine´ Nelson is the curriculum design manager at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business and the mother of two boys in Kyrene schools.
With 15 years in education fields and currently in charge of creating “effective educational models” to “prepare students for the future,” she also has worked with foster youth and the juvenile justice system.
Since her early years in working with foster youth and those in the juvenile justice system, she said “my understanding of the integral relationship between education and community involvement has only grown.”
“It’s critical that we have board members who are able to lean in, listen and ensure that Kyrene’s community values are represented in the education and operation of our school district,” said Nelson, saying she’s running for the board “to address the needs and concerns brought forth by community members with diverse viewpoints.”
Promising she “will strive to address those needs with transparency, civility, and my ability to work collaboratively to build consensus,” Nelson said, “Schools are the cornerstone of a community and I am deeply committed to the continued success of Kyrene.”
“As a governing board member, I will serve the community by collaborating with parents, educators, administration, and community members to find solutions that best meet the needs of our children.”
Margaret Wright of Tempe is an adjunct biology professor with a child in the Tempe Union school district and two others in Kyrene schools.
Having lived in the district for nine years, she said all three children “have greatly benefited from the outstanding educators and programs offered through Kyrene” and that she has “a deep desire to give back to this community.”
“I have spent extensive time volunteering in classrooms and serving with the PTO as a board member, committee chair and PTO president,” she said, touting her background as an educator and a co-owner of a business with her husband.
“I understand the importance education can make in determining one’s livelihood and ability to thrive and I want to make a difference in the educational lives of our students,” she said, stressing her “vested interest in the success of the Kyrene School District” as a parent.
“I am kind, considerate and able to make intelligent decisions with facts and data as my guide,” Wright said. “I am passionate about helping all stakeholders come together for the well-being of our children and the enhancement of our schools.”