School board candidates open up to community - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

School board candidates open up to community

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Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010 2:00 pm | Updated: 10:49 am, Wed Jun 6, 2012.

Candidates for the Kyrene and Tempe Union High School district governing boards participated in a forum on Tuesday, Sept. 21 which involved community members asking some pressing questions about their respective districts.

There are two spots open on each governing board, with five candidates for TUHSD and three for Kyrene.

The only incumbent on either board running for reelection is TUHSD's Mary Lou Taylor. The high school governing board president Robin Arredondo-Savage will finish her term in December. In addition to Taylor, the other candidates in TUHSD are David Schapira, Dave Wells, Sandy Lowe, and Duane Washkowiak.

On the Kyrene side, Rae Waters and Patrick McGill are giving up their seats with Bernadette Coggins, Beth Brizel and Ben Benedict vying for their spots on the governing board.

The Parent Network and the Kyrene Chapter of Stand for Children hosted the event on Tuesday. Close to 50 Community members wrote questions on note cards to be read by the moderators. Each candidate had about one minute to give their answer.

The questions touched on topics like the learning gap between ethnic groups, how best to use technology in the classroom and preparing students for the future.

Several candidates talked about the need to get creative in the classroom with funding being cut for certain programs and increasing class sizes.

Brizel, who was a past president of the Sureno and Cielo PTO board, talked about how offering more programs at Kyrene can entice residents to stay in district schools.

"By offering more programs and more choices, we can compete against charter schools," she said.

Benedict, a lawyer, talked about how important it is financially to maximize student enrollment.

"We need to focus on retaining the children that currently live inside our boundaries," he said. "(And) identify reasons why students who live in the boundaries make other school choices...and when appropriate, bring in students from outside our boundaries."

Coggins is a longtime Valley resident who has worked on the Kyrene Parent Superintendent Council since 2007. She praised Kyrene for its transparency and will look to continue the trend if elected.

"They really open it up to the community, to the teachers," she said. "I've been very impressed with that...it's about being transparent and inviting everyone to the table."

On the subject of the learning gap, Washkowiak said the district should look at places around the country and see what they are doing right.

"There are other places in the country that has solved that problem and we need to take a look at those," he said.

Lowe is a current member of the Kyrene Superintendent Council as well as the Tempe Union Education Foundation. She said of the learning gap, it is all about being proactive.

"You can't let (students) fall of the charts in sixth grade and try to fix it in tenth grade," she said. "We need to pinpoint where it happens at the beginning, to get as much correction as possible."

Schapira, a former teacher who is also running for state senate said fixing the learning gap is all about the quality of teachers.

"Kids of different races...do not learn differently," he said. "We have to make sure we put the best teacher in every classroom."

Wells, who is a senior lecturer at Arizona State University, said it is imperative that there is communication between districts.

"It is important that our schools talk to each other," he said. "(Communication can be) really good at one high school and not nearly as good at the other."

Taylor has been on the TUSHD school board since 2002 and was a public school teacher for 38 years. When asked what was the most important thing about a district, she said, "(When you look at) student achievement, optimizing resources, and recruiting and keeping good teachers, you can't choose (just one), all three of those work together."

Stay tuned to the AFN for more coverage of the school board elections.

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