When Paul Maryniak, the editor of The Ahwatukee Foothills News, offered school board candidates a chance to write a column for the paper to allow community members insight into those running in the race, I felt challenged to settle on one issue to write about.
I would begin to think and write about one topic, but then I would find something new had popped into my consciousness demanding its consideration.
It is cliché to say that our world is changing daily, but our world IS changing daily and the most pertinent and compelling topic seems to become less relevant within 24 hours of contemplating its consequence.
I finally decided to return to the primary reason that I chose to run for school board in the first place.
I believe education is a pillar of democracy and access to academic excellence is vital. This notion, and its critical import, seemed to underlie the myriad of topics that were swirling through my brain.
Our schools literally underpin our democracy, and democracy is something many of us take for granted in the United States of America.
However, with a raging pandemic, social unrest and increasing polarization within our communities, our democracy seems more vulnerable than ever before.
It seems to follow that our pillars must be shored up and attended to more than ever before as well.
Something struck me as I participated in a forum for school board candidates sponsored by the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce and SRP: all five candidates expressed admiration and respect for their fellow candidates (who were also their competitors, I might add) – genuine respect and admiration.
Although our views do not completely align, we understand at the heart of it all, we want the same thing: a desire for a great learning environment for our children and the professional teaching community that supports it.
I believe we were modeling what leaders must exhibit: passion for our values, respect for others – especially with those whom we disagree – and a humble willingness to serve.
I think people are beginning to understand the critical importance local elections play in their lives. School board members set the tone of the district and the community.
Leadership replete with respect and a willingness to work together across differences will model to our students how to interact across disparity.
It is at the community level we have the opportunity to strengthen our democracy through excellence in education, but also through modeling civic engagement and dialogue across ideological differences.
Kyrene School District has many students from varied and interesting backgrounds. In a country where we seem to be increasingly divided and segregated, Kyrene schools offer an incredible opportunity for enriched interaction, appreciation for different cultures and practices and discovering common ground.
This practice must be fostered and it must be modeled.
When leaders step up and provide this standard, I believe students will flourish and lead the way out of our malaise.
The dizzying barrage of distressing news and constant din of partisan sniping reveals the critical importance of local governance. Our schools, as the heart of our community, offer the chance to teach our children to lead through respect, kindness and genuine admiration.
I can’t think of anything our country needs more than that right now.