Kyrene board candidates discuss more issues The Chandler Arizonan

Kyrene board candidates discuss more issues

October 6th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Kyrene board candidates discuss more issues
City News
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This is the second and last installment of questionnaires that the Arizonan sent to the five candidates for the Kyrene School District Governing Board. Three seats are up for election Nov. 3, with incumbent Michelle Fahy seeking a second term and four newcomers in the mix. Two board members are retiring. They are board President Michael Myrick, who is seeking a seat on the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board, and John King, who is retiring. The question below about Superintendent Jan Vesely was answered before her retirement announcement.

IVAN ALFARO

What is the biggest challenge confronting the district that must be addressed within the next two years and how would you propose addressing that challenge?

I believe education funding is the biggest challenge confronting Kyrene. Because of the decrease in tax revenue (sales/income) Kyrene will face a shortage in funding based on proposed state budget cuts. State and district leaders should ensure that any cuts made to education do not fall disproportionately on our high-need student groups.

I also believe that limited education dollars should only be invested in programs that improve student outcomes.

If funding became a critical issue for the district, would you be more inclined to cut programs or raise taxes?

If Arizona has to cut education funding, they should provide Kyrene with greater flexibility in how we spend our dollars. State and district leaders should ensure that any cuts made to education do not fall disproportionately on high-need student groups.

Knowing what you know now, would you vote to extend Dr. Vesely’s contract beyond June 2021 or buy it out?

Yes. Dr. Vesely has been a consistent leader since the start of her tenure.

Dr. Vesely and her cabinet executed on a vision that created layered plans, with flexible options that met individual family circumstances, along with responsive contingencies addressing a variety of scenarios or changing guidelines the ADHS and the Governor’s Office established. Dr. Vesely and her cabinet also developed flexibility in planning for a safe return to school based on medical expertise and science, not on politics or popular opinion.

What one area is the district not addressing adequately and what would you do about it?

One area the district is not addressing adequately is the advancement of innovative learning environments within our districts. I believe the advancement in social practices of teaching and learning and the use of learning spaces and technologies is the most effective way to prepare our learners for a global economy.

What is the one area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner and why do you think that?

One area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner is the active, continuous improvement and progress of our five-year Strategic Plan. Two areas that stand out are the performance and outcomes of learners (high-performing students) and the flexibility and design approach addressing COVID-19 learning environments (responsive organization).

Our current administration’s ability to not only be thought leaders but execute tactically and extend parental options in learning modalities (KOA, Flex, and In-person) is to be commended.

In what three areas has the current board not met your expectations and what would you do differently?

One area the current board has not met my expectations is that of culture, mutual respect, and the honoring of divergent opinions. I believe the best way to succeed as a board is to practice collaboration and respect (please note, collaboration and respect don’t mean consensus). However, our school board must establish a model of collegiality and collaboration that builds confidence across the Kyrene community.

 

MICHELLE FAHY

What is the biggest challenge confronting the district that must be addressed within the next two years and how would you propose addressing that challenge?

The biggest challenge is to provide quality educational opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must use data to prioritize the health and safety of students and staff. Mitigation strategies must be in place and improved/perfected before all students can return safely. We must find ways to address and prevent gaps in learning that may occur during times of school closure.

If funding became a critical issue for the district, would you be more inclined to cut programs or raise taxes? 

I will continue to advocate at the state level to restore funding so we can provide the programs and services our students deserve without relying on bonds and overrides from our communities.  A comprehensive state-wide funding strategy is preferable and more equitable. We constantly face difficult decisions to choose one program or purchase over another.

Knowing what you know now, would you vote to extend Dr. Vesely’s contract beyond June 2021 or buy it out?

Dr. Vesely and her team have worked hard to build opportunities for increased staff and community involvement in Kyrene and have done an excellent job during this pandemic to provide quality instruction and meet the varying needs of our students while also providing a safe and healthy environment for all. If Dr. Vesely were interested in extending her contract, I would certainly consider that, along with the wishes of the board.

What one area is the district not addressing adequately and what would you do about it?

We have great inequities when it comes to access to technology and internet services. Kyrene is moving closer to 1:1 during this pandemic but access to the internet is still a challenge for many families. We need to teach all students to use technology and so we need to find ways to ensure all students have access to the internet.

What is the one area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner and why do you think that?

Kyrene makes decisions based on its vision to provide excellent educational opportunities for all students to achieve to their maximum potential to become the problem solvers, creators and visionaries of tomorrow. They show commitment to their mission of student success for all, by providing engaging, challenging educational environments which promote and inspire passion for learning, leading, and achieving transformative life outcomes. 

What three accomplishments as a board member are you proudest off?
I worked with fellow board members to create a clear mission and vision for the District.

I have worked with fellow board members to approve the purchase of a variety of curricular resources to replace very outdated ones and approved the purchase of resources and professional development on equity.

I have encouraged the District to focus on equity and increased transparency and accountability.

 

WANDA KOLOMYJEC

What is the biggest challenge confronting the district that must be addressed within the next two years and how would you propose addressing that challenge?

The continued threats to properly fund public education will be the biggest challenge facing the district. The expenses incurred and loss of state revenue due to COVID-19 will present unprecedented difficulties. I plan to support leaders who value public education as the pillar of democracy it represents and to use my business skills to help navigate through the challenge?

If funding became a critical issue for the district, would you be more inclined to cut programs or raise taxes? Since the 2008 recession, schools have been trying to recover financially. Teachers are reaching in their own pockets to purchase supplies for their students. The state has a teacher shortage and are challenged to retain the teachers we do have. I believe that we should support our schools better financially. I support Save Our Schools initiative to help accomplish this.

Knowing what you know now, would you vote to extend Dr. Vesely’s contract beyond June 2021 or buy it out?

Absolutely I would extend Dr. Vesely’s contract. She is smart and she cares deeply about children getting an excellent education. Also, she has proven to be an unwavering leader during this difficult pandemic.

What one area is the district not addressing adequately and what would you do about it?

Community members have expressed concern their neighborhood school may lack needed programs. This concerns me. If the schools were adequately funded, all the schools in the district would provide the programs needed. This will always be my focus: to get school funding back to levels that provide needed resources to all schools.

What is the one area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner and why do you think that?

Kyrene’s population is diversifying and educators often come to the job with little training in cultural and socio-economic differences. Teachers have expressed to me a strong desire to be the best advocate they can be for all their students. I am pleased to see the district begin to address this issue with equity training.

In what three areas has the current board not met your expectations and what would you do differently?

I have been very impressed with the current school board. With few exceptions, they seem to work together well towards the common goal of providing excellent guidance to make Kyrene the best it can be for the community. I believe that my experience and skills can help Kyrene’s continued mission of providing excellent education for all.

 

TRINÉ NELSON

What is the biggest challenge confronting the district that must be addressed within the next two years and how would you propose addressing that challenge?

We need to look at potential funding challenges within the next two years due to a loss of revenue from the state. Kyrene, like many other Arizona districts, has been tasked with doing more with less. Funding shortages impact our ability to provide quality education to all students and to attract, and retain, quality educators.

If funding became a critical issue for the district, would you be more inclined to cut programs or raise taxes?

When faced with these decisions in the past, the community has been very generous and voted to approve bonds and overrides to avoid the loss of critical programming. Ultimately, if voters did not approve similar measures in the future, it would be up to the governing board to examine the budgets and find cost-saving areas that would have the least amount of impact on the quality education offered to students.

Knowing what you know now, would you vote to extend Dr. Vesely’s contract beyond June 2021 or buy it out?

Dr. Vesely has provided a steady hand in a continually changing circumstances. She has worked, in concert with the governing board and administration, to address the independent audit findings through strategic planning. If she wanted to extend her contract beyond June 2021, I would vote to extend her time with Kyrene.

What one area is the district not addressing adequately and what would you do about it?

The district has done a good job communicating to the community about COVID-19 impacts. I would like to see this model of communication followed in other areas. One example would be around the equity work within the district. While the work being done is vital, there is a lot of misunderstanding within the community about how success will be measured and what it entails for staff and specific school sites.

What is the one area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner and why do you think that?

I have been impressed with Kyrene’s response to COVID-19. From the creation of Kyrene Digital Academy to the recent decision to purchase HEPA filters for classrooms. Kyrene has been responsive to the needs of the community while adhering to data, not political pressure. …We’ve seen Kyrene mobilize to provide meals to the community throughout the school closures and facilitate laptop distributions to over 12,000 students,

In what three areas has the current board not met your expectations and what would you do differently?

One need is to have greater transparency with the community on board actions. Having a unified board voice that provides communication to the community about upcoming study sessions or votes would allow greater insight into pressing district issues. While the board agenda is available prior to the meeting publicizing the information on different platforms might reach more of the community.

 

MARGARET WRIGHT
What is the biggest challenge confronting the district that must be addressed within the next two years and how would you propose addressing that challenge?

Our comprehensive audit illuminated Kyrene’s strengths and weaknesses. Recent school closures have provided obstacles against the implementation of our strategic plan. Getting back on track with our five goal categories and communicating that progress will be my focus. This essential work needs to continue with our RISE UP schools, equity initiatives and efforts to close the achievement and discipline gaps.

If funding became a critical issue for the district, would you be more inclined to cut programs or raise taxes?

The power to fund schools through taxes rests with the voters and their elected legislators. We are fortunate that our community consistently funds Kyrene with bonds and overrides. The critical issue is the wise management of school funds by the governing board. I will analyze budget priorities to keep money where it will most effectively benefit students.

Knowing what you know now, would you vote to extend Dr. Vesely’s contract beyond June 2021 or buy it out?

Kyrene has excellent leadership in Dr. Vesely, her cabinet and the leaders she has placed at each school. Throughout the pandemic Dr. Vesely has been proactive and transparent in addressing needed policy changes. Kyrene’s position as one of Arizona’s leading public school districts is only possible with a highly skilled superintendent. Yes, I would extend Dr. Vesely’s contract.

What one area is the district not addressing adequately and what would you do about it?

For my family, the district is addressing all of our needs. Meeting the needs of 16,000 students is a formidable task and if this isn’t the case for your family, I want to hear about what is missing for you. We can set the example for our children and use our words to communicate with respect and kindness.

What is the one area the district is addressing in an exceptional manner and why do you think that?

Kyrene has extraordinary school choice opportunities for families. Leadership programs, Dual Language, International Baccalaureate, Traditional Academy, Fine Arts, Gifted and SPARK show the great efforts Kyrene makes to meet the needs of students. These programs are run by exceptional educators that inspire the unique talents of their students. Kyrene produces students that are learning, achieving and leading. 

In what three areas has the current board not met your expectations and what would you do differently?

I would encourage greater civility among board members, district leadership and the community. The non-partisan nature of this elected office is a powerful tool that should be used in community outreach. Board members need to embrace their role as ambassadors for public education and reach across political and social divides for the benefit of our children and their public education. 

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