Get to know the Peoria Unified school board candidates: CJ Williams

Independent Newsmedia
Posted 9/23/20

In the November election there are nine candidates vying for three seats on the Peoria Unified School District governing board.

The three seats are currently held by Monica Ceja Martinez, Judy …

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Get to know the Peoria Unified school board candidates: CJ Williams


In the November election there are nine candidates vying for three seats on the Peoria Unified School District governing board.

The three seats are currently held by Monica Ceja Martinez, Judy Doane and David Sandoval.

Mr. Sandoval is seeking re-election, while Ms. Ceja Martinez and Ms. Doane have chosen not to run.

The candidates are: Linda Busam, Kacie Franklin, Rebecca Hill, Kirk Hobbs, Mr. Sandoval, Davita Solter, William Sorensen, Devon Updegraff-Day and CJ Williams.
The Peoria Indpenenedent will feature each candidate leading up to the election.

Get to know Mr. Williams here.

Age: 40

Career and education: CTE administrator with West-MEC; bachelor’s degree in secondary education and master’s degree in educational leadership and supervision from Arizona State University.

Years as an Arizona resident: Arizona native

Family: Father

What do you think is the most important thing to consider regarding instruction during the pandemic?

The physical and emotional well-being of our students and families is paramount. I have always said that learning comes second only to safety. To that end, a district our size must provide flexibility for families and employees. Most agree that students’ needs are best met in-person and we all want this to be the reality sooner than later. Providing families the option of virtual or in-person learning will allow for them to make a decision that best meets their needs through this pandemic. Whether in-person, virtual or a combination of the two, we must remain committed to engaging, highly effective, standards-aligned learning experiences for all students.

What ideas do you have to support PUSD schools in maintaining programs during a budget-strapped pandemic?

A transparent, evidenced-based approach to fiscal management should be the standard, regardless of budget conditions. Voters will decide whether or not PUSD receives a maintenance and operations override in November. Should this override not be continued, the district will need to reduce its expenses by over $9 million dollars in fiscal year 2022, as well as again in fiscal year 2023 and 2024, for a total of about $28 million. If faced with this reduction, the district will need to engage our stakeholders to identify where the cuts are made. The district will have to look at alternative scheduling, energy usage, facility utilization, contracted services, transportation, staffing and more. We can be innovative, but this kind of budget reduction will not be achieved without sacrifice. While I will continue to advocate that school funding be addressed at the state Legislature. I also know that we have an opportunity to make an investment at the local district level through this override. Our local schools bring significant value to the communities they serve and I believe this is a worthy investment for taxpayers.

How will you identify and advocate for the resources needed to ensure healthy and safe schools during the pandemic?

The district will provide quality virtual and flex learning options until county health benchmarks are met and all students are able to return to in-person learning. Once students are able to return, we will have a clear, comprehensive mitigation plan that aligns with CDC guidelines. Equally important will be our district’s plan to respond to any cases or potential spread of COVID-19. Communication of these plans and protocols will be critical in gaining the confidence of our students, staff and families as they return to our facilities. State and federal resources have been made available to schools and should be maximized for this purpose.

What will you do to see that schools do not become overcrowded and how will you try to alleviate those schools that are already at capacity?

I remain hopeful that our voters will see the value of a critical needs bond for PUSD. This investment will provide the needed resources to upgrade aging facilities, enhance school safety features and purchase land for a much-needed high school. Whether a bond is approved or not, our district must engage our community and staff in a public process of reviewing the current utilization of all district facilities and make recommendations to the governing board that reflect community voice, district priorities and available resources. Other considerations associated with potential overcrowding could be a review of school boundaries, flexible scheduling, and blended virtual learning options for students.

How will you deal with inequities and other systemic barriers that keep low-income students and students of color from thriving? How will you strive for equity in the school system?

PUSD serves a diverse student population, and our commitment to pave the way for every single student to realize their full potential should be at the heart of everything we do. All students deserve to have neighborhood access to a highly-effective, quality education. As a community of educators, it is incumbent upon us to be the first to stand up for those who are under-served and/or under-represented. I will advocate for every student and remain unapologetic in my approach to serving their interests. Whether it is additional instruction time and support, extending resources to the home, partnering with community organizations, food and nutrition services, we must listen and respond to the needs of our students and families.

With the pandemic affecting the social and emotional well-being of students, how do you plan to support wrap-around services for children?

Our district has a long history of providing quality social and emotional supports for our students. We must continue to ensure these same services are available whether the student is at school or at home. Students, without question, have been impacted by this pandemic and the resulting closures. As educators, we must rise to this challenge and work to repair what’s broken, recover what’s lost and restore a thriving environment of learning that our students and families depend on for so much.

What ideas do you have for addressing teacher retention in the district?

Without quality teachers and staff, the rest doesn’t matter. A culture that promotes teachers as professionals and difference makers, investing in professional growth and career pathways, recognizing achievements, engagement in decision-making and fair compensation are all ways to attract and retain effective teachers and staff. If this crisis has shown us anything, it is the value of education and our local schools.