The three remaining candidates seeking the three open seats on the Litchfield Elementary School District Governing Board discussed their views on education during a virtual candidates’ forum Thursday, Sept. 24.
Incumbents Danielle Clymer and Melissa Zuidema, and newcomer August Jeremy Hoenack can’t be declared winners in the race despite the Aug. 31 and Sept. 24 departures of write-in candidates Dr. Tawnya Pfitzer and Ryan Risselman.
Both have to submit a notarized candidate withdrawal form to officially bow out of the race, LESD Superintendent Jodi Gunning said in a prepared statement Thursday shortly after Mr. Risselman notified her he was withdrawing.
“We are grateful to the community leaders who are committed to our educational excellence. Dr. Pfitzer and our current board members are a valued part of our Litchfield family and we look forward to welcoming Mr. Hoenack to our noble work in January,” Ms. Gunning said. “Voters will see Danielle Clymer, Jeremy Hoenack and Melissa Zuidema on the ballot. They are running for three four-year seats.”
LESD’s Educational Foundation hosted the forum. Foundation President Kathryn Prusinski served as moderator, inviting each candidate to give a three-minute opening statement.
“Jeremy, you’re going to be our lucky number one,” Ms. Prusinski said after drawing names to determine the order. “Thank you, all candidates, for your time tonight and for your commitment to being an actively engaged partner.
Mr. Hoenack, of Buckeye, is an inventor who is retired from the motion picture industry. He moved to Arizona in 2006 and raised five boys.
“Kids’ minds are really flexible. They need their imagination,” he said. “There’s a lot of baggage that kids come to, but you can catch their mind and get them going. Working with the board, I know that we can deal with COVID, we can get all of our kids to excel; all of them.”
Ms. Clymer, of Goodyear, is governing board president. She is a marketing consultant who has lived in the West Valley for 16 years and has two children who attend school in the district.
“2020 has brought more interest in our school district and matters that come before the governing board than I have ever seen. I’m hopeful that we can harness this passion from parents and staff, community members alike and return that effort by helping them understand the role of the governing board and what our vision is for the district and where we’re going from here,” she said. “Public education just works better when all parts of the community come together to focus on one common goal, and that is doing what is best for students.”
Ms. Zuidema, of Litchfield Park, is a mother of four whose oldest child graduated from Millenium High School in May. Her 13- and 9-year-olds attend LESD schools, and her 3-year-old is an upcoming preschooler.
“I want to make sure that we are looking at what’s best for kids each and every day, and not just some kids but all kids,” she said. “I am a very, very big advocate for making sure that every kid at every campus has the same access to all programs and resources, and making sure that we are giving opportunities to all our kids to grow and excel.”
After opening statements, Ms. Prusinski and foundation Secretary Mary Cavanaugh-Marsh asked each candidate nine questions submitted by district residents. Questions were not shared with candidates in advance. Independent Newsmedia is sharing highlights from the Q&A; to watch the full forum, tune in below:
What type of skills and experiences will you bring to the board, and what steps have you taken to prepare for board service?
Mr. Hoenack said he developed a lot technology for the motion picture industry. “Nobody had computers and I was phased with having to teach them sound editing and how to use a computer,” he said, adding he also will bring years of problem-solving skills to the board.
Ms. Clymer said she’s a mom who is passionate about children’s education and believes communication is a vital part of her board service. “I feel like it’s important to know what’s going on in our community, what are our kids facing, what do our parents see and how do they feel about things,” she said. “Nothing makes you quite as passionate as your kids.”
Ms. Zuidema said her 14-year background with district parent-teacher organizations and her work as a board member have helped her build critical relationships that benefit the district. “I’m not one to shy away from asking hard questions or getting hard work done,” she said.
What do you see as the board’s role and responsibility in the district?
Mr. Hoenack said the superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day operations and “the board is kind of the steering, the direction it wants to go.”
Ms. Clymer said the list is long, but her top three are governance, providing a vision for the district’s direction and representing the community. “It’s our job and our role to help people understand what we do and how things work,” she said.
Ms. Zuidema said the board is a meeting point between the community and the school administration. Board members and administrators work together to create and implement a strategic plan, and the board employs and oversees the superintendent, adopts policies and oversee how taxpayers’ dollars are spent.
What responsibilities do board members have regarding advocacy?
“They should be advocates for the best possible education for kids,” Mr. Hoenack said.
Ms. Clymer said board members must advocate for students, for the district in the community and for funding and public education in general along with other districts.
Ms. Zuidema said board members have a responsibility to advocate for students daily, to support parent groups, and to advocate for funding.
What is your opinion on bonds and override elections as a funding mechanism. If elected, would you support the continuation of a bond and override election?
“They are crucial for funding for our district. They aren’t my favorite thing, but they are necessary,” Ms. Zuidema said. Overrides fund programs and allow competitive pay for teachers, and bonds fund new schools, she said, noting LESD isn’t slated for a new school until 2027.
“In business, you look at what you have what’s available and you try to make the best out of that ... and depending on how badly you need it you go out and do what you’ve got to do to get the fund to do it,” Mr. Hoenack said. “If you need to build schools and you have to pass a bond to do it, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”
“Nobody likes taxes, nobody likes increasing taxes, nobody wants a new tax ... as Melissa pointed out, bonds and overrides both are a necessary evil. It is what it is in Arizona until the public education funding formula is changed,” Ms. Clymer said. “We could not achieve what is in our vision for the next year, three years, five years without bonds and overrides. Period.”
What do you see as the role of technology in education?
“Technology is awesome, and we should use it,” Mr. Hoenack said, noting LESD must determine the resources it has and how to use them, and teach kids how to use technology positively and effectively.”
“Technology is a resource for teachers, for students, for families. It’s a way to connect our students to the rest of the world,” Ms. Clymer said. “It’s not a teacher. It’s not a replacement for one-to-one education. It is not a replacement for social interaction for children or for families as we are experiencing it right now.”
“Technology is only going to become more and more advanced and more and more integrated as we move forward,” she said, agreeing it’s not a teacher. “We need to make sure we separate the technology from the human feel that these kids need. They need to have the interaction with their teachers and their friends but have to embrace technology and not shy away from it.”
After the Q&A, each candidate was invited to make a closing statement.
“I love serving on this board and I’m excited to be able to continue doing that in the future, Ms. Zuidema said. “I hope that the community knows that I am here to listen to anybody and everybody and what they have to say. I really value feedback of all our stakeholders, whether its good feedback or bad feedback. I care about it all.”
“I believe we all have a common goal of creating a learning environment for our students that is safe, first and foremost, academically challenging, socially well-rounding and taught by teachers by that are treated well and inspired to do a job they love,” Ms. Clymer said.
“We’re in a situation where we’re forced to kind of reinvent the schools with COVID, so let’s just make them fantastic,” Mr. Hoenack said. “Let’s try stuff ... there are just limitless possibilities. We should try them out without being dreamy. We have to be realistic.”
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-963-1697.