Opening Queen Creek Unified School District to in-person instruction Aug. 17 was the right idea, four out of the five candidates for Governing Board believe.
That day was the earliest Arizona schools could go back to in-person learning because of concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, in coordination with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, had declared over the summer.
There are three four-year positions open on the QCUSD No. 95 Governing Board at the Nov. 3 election, with candidates Sean Bohart, Patricia Campbell, Jennifer Revolt and Matthew Riffey, and write-in candidate Taryn Haight.
Independent Newsmedia reached out to all QCUSD Governing Board candidates seeking answers to a variety of questions, which can be read at yourvalley.net/queen-creek-independent.
Below are their answers on if they agree with the QCUSD Governing Board’s decision on reopening schools Aug. 17, and what are three current challenges facing the Governing Board and what are their ideas on how to accomplish them.
While supporting the return to campus, a phased approach should have been implemented at Queen Creek Unified School District, said Mr. Bohart, 47.
“I believe that QCUSD, out of all the East Valley districts, provided the best options for parents. However, I think the district should have included teachers’ input in regards to those options,” he said. “I voted for Option 2 in the survey. I wanted to see a phased approach in the return of the large population of students. Option 2 was the closest option to that. I would have directed staff to provide further details regarding a phased approach prior to the board meeting on the evening of Aug. 11. All three plans should have been figured out prior to Aug. 11,” he said.
“I support the return to campus. I know from firsthand experience that the return to campus would work. From June to July, I assisted with the marching band on-campus practices, including a week-long ‘camp’ that was at the high school. We took temperatures of the students using digital thermometers purchased by the Band Booster Club. We took attendance each day and checked that the kids were not sick prior to entering the program each day. So, I know that having students on campus during this time can work,” Mr. Bohart said.
Communication, planning and collaborating with teachers and parents are three current challenges facing the Governing Board, he said.
“The district can do a much better job communicating with the community. As a board member, I would direct staff to ensure their communication plans are not cumbersome to the teacher and not overwhelming to the parents. I would like the district to better utilize their website and social media platforms to communicate with the community to make it easier for people to find agenda items, important topics and dates for meetings,” Mr. Bohart said.
“I believe the district can improve planning through better communication and collaboration. The earlier that information can be provided, the better plans can be developed. I would encourage staff to present ideas and issues early on in order to facilitate better planning,” he said.
“Also, the district can do a better job including teachers as sources of information when making decisions. I prefer to listen to many sides of the issue in order to make an informed decision. Teachers are a valuable source of information that I see as underutilized. The district should do a better job at working with teachers rather than burdening them with policies. As a board member, I would insist on such collaboration to include teachers’ input,” Mr. Bohart said. “Finally, there has to be a better way to collaborate with the community. I would like the opportunity, as a board member, to utilize my skills to develop a plan to work with the community better, creating working sessions to review agenda items, and incorporate input from the public to be able to make informed decisions.”
Mr. Bohart has a master’s degree in technical management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Arizona State University
He worked for 22 years at Honeywell International Inc. and now is a lead data engineer for Honeywell Connected Enterprise.
Previous public office, boards and commissions include: Treasurer of the Queen Creek Band Boosters, 2019-present; president of the Remington Heights HOA, 2006-07; member of the Finance Advisory Council at QCUSD, 2019-present; member of the site council at QCHS, 2018-present; member of the parent teacher organization at QCHS, 2018-present; member of the site council at NBMS, 2018-present; member of the PTO at NBMS, 2018-present; member of the site council at DME, 2018-present; and member of the PTO at DME, 2010-present.
Opening the schools Aug. 17 was the right decision and provides students with a sense of stability and safety, said Ms. Campbell, 58.
“I fully agree with the Governing Board’s decision to give the opportunity to our children to attend in-person classes. Now, more than ever, we need to provide our children with a sense of stability and safety. Additionally, I fully support the online alternative method for those students with medical risks and other reasons,” she said.
“Our school district is resilient because of our ability to think about each student with individual needs. COVID-19 has taken an emotional and mental toll on so many children and parents in our world and communities. Our district has paved the way for so many other districts to strategically and safely provide for our families once more. We need to continue to keep our students, teachers and staff safe in a healthy and reliable environment to sustain in-person teaching,” Ms. Campbell said.
COVID-19, community growth and parent unrest are three challenges facing the Governing Board, she said.
“COVID-19: We need to continue to keep our students, teachers and staff safe in a healthy environment to be able to continue in-person teaching. By continuing to provide a stable and efficient reopening model, our community will learn to feel safe again. It is also important to form these models around immunosuppressed individuals as well,” Ms. Campbell said.
“Community growth: Queen Creek is one of the fastest-growing districts in Arizona. With this rapid growth, it is imperative to ensure all students have their individual needs met in the classroom. It is important to avoid classrooms that are overcrowded and less personalized. This will become a negative environment for our children. In Queen Creek, our students aren’t just numbers, they are family,” she said.
“Parent unrest: Parents’ anxiety is at the highest peak in years. We need to ensure them that Queen Creek is doing everything possible to ease their tensions. Being a parent during these trying times is very difficult,” Ms. Campbell said. “We need to remind everyone that we, as a board, are there for them and that we understand their position to strive for the best education Queen Creek has to offer for their children. We can best display these efforts by being more available on social media sites and being more accessible to the public.”
Her education includes Arizona State University. She works as an American Airlines flight attendant.
Previous public office, boards and commissions include: parent teacher organization president at Desert Mountain Elementary, 2006-11; site council member at Queen Creek Junior High, 2006-08; site council member at Queen Creek High School, 2009-12; PTO president at Queen Creek Junior High, 2012-13; site council president at Newell Barney Junior High, 2014-15; site council member at Queen Creek High School, 2016-19; and vice chair of the 2019 Queen Creek Bond/Override Committee, 2019.
In-person instruction should have been delayed until issues were resolved and/or health guidelines were met, Ms. Haight said.
“Safety in our schools is imperative. Arizona Department of Health guidelines were not met when our school board voted on opening schools for in-person instruction. I questioned whether there were enough safety measures and precautions in place to open for in-person education at that time. I was also disappointed to find out that unlike the in-person option, the online platform did not offer teacher-led instruction and support,” she said.
“Without being a member of the school board and having a greater understanding concerning their reasoning and decisions related to education and safety, it is hard to understand why the decision was made to open. I would have preferred to delay in-person instruction until those issues were resolved and/or the guidelines were met,” Ms. Haight said.
Many teachers did not feel safe returning to school, she said.
“Quality education begins with highly qualified teachers and support staff. Unfortunately, the decision to return to in-person instruction prior to the health guidelines being met resulted in the resignation of too many highly qualified educators in our district. Many teachers, staff and students did not feel safe returning to school. I would have liked to have seen a plan that strived to retain and accommodate our quality educators, in addition to accommodating the needs of both in-person and online students, Ms. Haight said.
Queen Creek’s virtual learning program did not meet the needs of many students requiring special education services, she said.
“This also left many parents feeling abandoned and pressured to choose in-person instruction in order to receive the appropriate educational services for their student’s individualized education plan. Again, this is another area where teachers and staff could possibly teach in-person or online to help support parents and the students needing the specialized services,” Ms. Haight said.
A decline in trust, insufficient communication and a lack of transparency are current challenges facing the Governing Board, she said.
“Trust is built on communicating clearly and effectively with others, valuing relationships and not taking them for granted, listening to others, being honest and transparent, admitting when you are wrong and keeping your word. I feel striving to do all these things within our QCUSD community will eliminate these challenges our Governing Board currently faces,” Ms. Haight said.
Ms. Haight has a registered nurse license and K-12 CTE teaching certificate; and is a former Queen Creek Unified School District career and technical education teacher.
Most parents Ms. Revolt, 38, heard from as a QCUSD Governing Board member requested that the district return to school as soon as possible, she said.
“The decision to open up our schools was not an easy decision or one that I took lightly. I dove into research from as many different angles as I could, including the CDC and the American Association of Pediatrics. I also reviewed and made recommendations regarding our district’s mitigation plan,” she said. “I also spoke with numerous teachers and staff and I read all emails that were sent to me. Our board has consistently put students first. We also value our teachers and staff as evident by our leadership and emphasis on salary improvements.” Ms. Revolt said.
“The majority of the feedback that I received from parents in our district was of the opinion and request that we return to school as soon as possible. As a district, we have never wavered from our desire to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. Our community overwhelmingly asked us to do so,” she said.
Teachers said it was difficult to provide quality education in the virtual format, Ms. Revolt said.
“As elected officials, we represent our constituents and our duty is to take into account their needs. I also care very deeply about our staff. I spoke with teachers ranging from five to 30 years of experience, and they shared that it is so difficult to provide quality education in the virtual format,” she said. “I know that the last five months have been very difficult for our teachers and staff. Unfortunately, we did lose some great staff members. I know that our decision to return may not be right for each staff member or their family. I do hope that when things return to a level that they feel is safe, that we will be able to welcome them back to our district.”
COVID-19, funding and maintenance are three current challenges facing the Governing Board, she said.
“At the forefront of all challenges, districts are grappling with considerations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Queen Creek there are many different challenges related to opening and maintaining a safe learning environment. We also have to consider the economic challenges related to staffing, procuring PPE, and other related expenses,” she said. “It is important for the district to follow the mitigation plan in all schools to provide a safe learning environment for students and staff. It is also critical for the board to be regularly updated on the state of finances so that we can continue to maintain a healthy financial outlook.”
Thinking more long-term, hypergrowth and funding are the biggest challenges in the district, she said.
“As the fastest-growing district in Arizona, maintaining adequate square footage to keep up with growth is a constant and ever-evolving challenge. At the same time, we have to balance new growth with the capital needs of our older facilities. Furthermore, while taking hypergrowth into account, it is imperative that we maintain and further push our academic goals,” Ms. Revolt said.
“We have also worked hard to obtain funding from the state to help with our building and repair demands. Our administration works very hard and has been able to secure land and rooftop donations from builders. This allows us to make the most of our locally funded bond dollars,” she said. “Over the last several years, we have added 117 acres of new land, 530,000 square feet of new buildings and five new schools. All projects have been completed on time and under budget. We need to continue to work with our legislators to make education funding a top priority. It is important to continue to be fiscally responsible with our bond and override spending.”
She has a master’s degree in elementary education and works as a pre-kindergarten teacher/director outside the district.
Previous public office, boards and commissions include: Bachelor’s of Science Physical Therapist Assistant Program Advisory Board community member at Pima Medical School, October 2019-current; school site chair at a political action committee, November 2015-current, organizing all schools in the Queen Creek Unified School District in campaigns to pass overrides and bonds; Parent Teacher Organization president at Desert Mountain Elementary School, July 2014-18; Strategic Planning Committee at QCUSD, October 2015-current; and Financial Advisory Committee at QCUSD, January 2015-current.
Mr. Riffey, 51, supports the Governing Board’s decision to reopen schools for in-person learning on Aug. 17.
“I try not to ‘Monday morning QB’ other people’s decisions, but I supported the return-to-school decision as did the majority of the folks polled. My thoughts are if the CDC finds it acceptable to return, then I do, too. Is there a risk? Of course, but I feel like the district is doing a reasonable job of mitigation,” he said.
The Queen Creek area’s rapid growth, COVID-19 response and the evolution of curriculum are three current challenges facing the Governing Board, Mr. Riffey said.
“Rapid growth puts pressure on the resources of the district. It’s a good problem to have in my opinion, but it does require addressing. I think COVID has and will continue to change how some families choose to educate their children. Online choices cannot only relieve some of the pressure on the district’s physical resources but can also be a way to educate kids from those families who prefer the online approach. Offering more hybrid/online programs that benefit these families and the district is an option,” he said.
The COVID-19 response and draw-down plan are concerns, Mr. Riffey said.
“I think the return-to-school plan has mostly been well-received in our community. To date, I am not aware of any large-scale infections, and we are seeing other districts opening in-person instruction as well. I think a difficult task will be to know when it is appropriate to stop wearing face coverings, the relaxing of social distancing, reversing full block schedule, etc. My decision-making process on this would be to follow the advice of the experts but temper it with the district’s particular circumstances,” he said.
“The evolution of curriculum: I feel the things our kids need to learn are sometimes overshadowed by other agendas. The goal of a curriculum should be to churn out well-rounded, engaged and productive young adults. We should always be asking whether the subjects we are teaching our kids will serve them well and prepare them for their next challenge whether that be the workforce, trade schools or college/university. If given the opportunity to serve on the governing board, I’d like to keep asking that question and hopefully have the flexibility to pivot if in the best interest of the student,” Mr. Riffey said.
He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration, and works at Intel Corp.
Public office, boards and commissions include a board for a trade organization his company belongs to — the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council in Washington, D.C., where he was voted onto the board in late 2019.