The governing boards of both school districts serving Ahwatukee will each have at least one new member after the Nov. 8 General Election, according to the ballot petitions that made the July 11 deadline.
That’s because Tempe Union board President Brian Garcia has decided not to seek a second term and Kyrene board member Margaret Pratt has set her sights on a Tempe Union seat.
A 10-day period for filing challenges to candidates’ petitions in all three races expires after July 25 and the candidates are campaigning for November votes since there is no primary for school board seats.
Two seats are up for election in both five-member boards as compared to some neighboring districts.
While some Valley districts have as many as eight or nine candidates vying for two seats on their boards, only three candidates are in the hunt in Kyrene and four in Tempe Union.
Garcia told the Ahwatukee Foothills News his decision not to seek another term was partly affected by the death of his father from pancreatic cancer recently, which prompted him to want to spend more time with his family.
“The Governing Board and the District are in a good place to continue the ongoing work of our students, staff, families, and community,” Garcia said. “After serving in leadership for all four years of my term, I have dedicated the majority of my time to school board service.
“We have accomplished a critical and substantial amount for our students, staff, families, and community,” Garcia added. “I initially filed a Statement of Interest to allow myself time to consider whether to run again. While I am not running again, I am repurposing my energy to support a candidate to succeed me.”
He also said he intends to “be available as a resource to support current members as they navigate through the inevitable nuanced challenges that come with the job.”
Here’s a look at who is running in both districts. All the candidates were asked last week to explain why they are running but some did not reply.
Kevin Walsh, a Tempe father of two who is a partner in the law firm of Quarles & Brady LLP, is in his second consecutive one-year term as president of the board.
He is a volunteer in a number of organizations, including a member of the Phoenix One Foundation Board, a legal mentor for the small business organization Gangplank and an ambassador for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
He is a member of the Volunteer Lawyers Program, the Clemency Project 2014, Valley Interfaith Project and chair of Jobs For Arizona’s Graduates.
“I’m running because it’s so important to keep strong public schools in our Kyrene community, and I believe that my experience and proven leadership make me uniquely qualified to ensure that our Kyrene students are given the best opportunities to learn, develop and thrive,” he told AFN.
“Kyrene is at the heart of our family. My children are second-generation Kyrene kids. They come from a family of educators, and their grandma is entering her 24th year teaching in Kyrene. I’ve served with the PTO as a board trustee for many years, and I’m a regular volunteer in the classroom.”
He said he believes he has gained “invaluable experience” on the board “that sets me apart from others” and regularly visits each of the district’s 26 schools.
“As a parent of young children, I saw first-hand how COVID impacted many students, and I’m grateful that we succeeded in keeping schools open for in-person learning all of last year. If I am re-elected, I will remain committed to ensuring that our students have the resources they need to succeed. I will continue advocating for our teachers and support staff to be valued and treated as professionals. There is a lot to celebrate in Kyrene, and there is always more that we can do.
“I am balanced and pragmatic, with a proven track record of achieving results. I’m proud of the great work accomplished during my term on the Kyrene Governing Board, including increasing teacher/staff pay by $10.5 Million last school year, while still decreasing spending. My experience as a business professional enables me to provide strong financial oversight, and the Arizona Auditor General has continually shown that Kyrene is among the best at keeping dollars in the classroom.”
Ahwatukee resident Triné Nelson has been in education for 18 years and is currently the curriculum design director for Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.
She told AFN, “As a mom with children in the Kyrene district for the past nine years, I have spent extensive time volunteering in classrooms, serving on PTO boards, the Superintendent Community Council, and most recently as the co-chair for Keep Kyrene Strong, whose work is integral to the success of the 2021 M & O override continuance election.
“I am deeply committed to the continued success of the Kyrene School District, not just as a parent, but as a community member. I have spent over 20 years working in, and around education and have seen first-hand the link between educational success and community involvement. The Kyrene community is engaged and focused on creating a positive environment and for our students and staff.
“I am running for a seat on the governing board to foster continuous improvement in a variety of areas like student achievement, educator support, and sound administrative practices. As a governing board member, I will serve the community by collaborating with parents, educators, administration, and other community members to find solutions that best meet the needs of our children. I will work with other board members to build on the success Kyrene has experienced and make sure that we share progress and achievements with the community.”
Kristi Ohman, also an Ahwatukee resident and a mother of two, has been a teacher for both charter and public schools, including Kyrene.
“I am running for Kyrene School Board because I want to be an honest voice for Kyrene kids and truly listen to all parents, teachers, and community members,” she said.
“I am proud to bring a current teacher and parent’s perspective to the Kyrene Board. I want Kyrene to be every parent’s first choice for their child. Kyrene is an amazing district and can reach its highest potential by focusing on education fundamentals, transparency, and accountability for all. The pandemic has left us in a severe academic slump and regression of social skills, work ethic, and behavior. We need to prioritize our Kyrene students and classrooms. The strength of our community relies on our public schools.”
Andres Barraza of Tempe is seeking a second term. The owner of a coffee and team import company bearing his name, he is a former senior firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service who often has talked about how he earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from ASU.
He has been active in the school community as a volunteer and advocate for students and staff. He does not appear to have a website for his campaign as yet.
Stephan Anthony Kingsley is an Ahwatukee resident who has been in education for over 15 years, and was an English teacher at Corona del Sol High School.
He is now a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology at Grand Canyon University. Stephan consults and collaborates on diversity and inclusion initiatives with business, education, and community leaders as well as researchers at the national and international level, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute website.
"I am running for the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board because as a former teacher for the school district I offer a unique perspective to amplify voices for students, teachers, and community members," he said.
"These last few years have been particularly difficult for everyone. I experienced it alongside my students and fellow teachers. I have direct insight into how students have struggled mentally and emotionally as well as academically. Alongside teaching my own students, I have worked closely with teachers to understand the support they need to effectively teach their specialized content, desired class sizes and adequate compensation to care for their own families.
"The conversations with parents, families, and community members have been invaluable," he continued. "I have listened to their ideas for school improvement, support for students, and how school programs can invest in making the community a place where parents will choose to live and send their students for a public education.
As a member of the board, I can build on this foundation, continue to listen to students, teachers, parents, families, and community members because their stories and voices matter and should drive our work."
An Ahwatukee mother of four who is winding up her first term on the Kyrene board, Margaret Pratt said she is running because "three of our daughters will be in Tempe Union over the next four years. I would like to take what I have learned serving in Kyrene and help in Tempe Union.I have learned so much serving on the Kyrene School District Board."
On Facebook, she also said, "I would love to take that experience and with your support, serve on the Tempe Union Governing Board."
She has been an active parent volunteer in Kyrene schools and is a small business owner who holds a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders.
Chandler resident Amanda Steele is a community activist and parental advocate for public schools and students with disabilities, She is a speech therapist and President and co-founder of EPIC Disability Advocacy .
“I am running for the students, for the teachers, and for the community,” she said. Eight years ago, I was a mom on a mission to support my son. I built collaborative relationships and initiated conversations which led me to participate on committees at the school and district level.
“I saw the needle moving in the right direction, but realized there was much more work to do, so here I am.
As a society, collectively we are in need of picking up the pieces caused by a global pandemic which impacted all students’ educational experience. Students across the district and state were facing disproportionate achievement scores when assessing at a national level, prior to the pandemic.
“Today more students are showing delays and/or falling further behind in their academics, social emotional well-being and overall development. And teachers are struggling mentally and emotionally from the trauma consumed over the last several years.”
Steele said Tempe Union “would benefit from the accessibility lens I bring as a mother to an autistic adult with an intellectual disability, a neurodiverse woman herself, and an advocate wanting to listen to your voice. I’m a passionate community leader here to inspire impactful change; igniting conversations that shift mindsets to include all.”
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