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, Bill Sorensen, Devon Updegraff-Day and CJ Williams.
The Peoria Indpenenedent will feature each candidate leading up to the election.
Get to know Mr. Sorensen here.
Career and education: High school teacher and coach for eight years, entering 10th year in educational leadership. Currently work as an assistant principal in the Tolleson Union High School District. Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University; master’s in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, Doctorate in educational leadership from GCU.
Years as an Arizona resident: Arizona native
Family: I have twin 10-year-olds who attend Oakwood Elementary School.
What do you think is the most important thing to consider regarding instruction during the pandemic?
The most important concept for instruction during the pandemic remains the same as before the pandemic — student engagement. Activities should be planned intentionally to break up the day and increase student participation. Online learning should not be about programs and student compliance. Programs are not instruction, and if we rely too heavily on program algorithms and artificial intelligence devoid of engaging interactive learning activities, we defeat the purpose of a public school. Public education perpetuates so much learning that is not academic, these interpersonal skills must also be built and fostered through engaging learning activities to create students that are prepared for life.
What ideas do you have to support PUSD schools in maintaining programs during a budget-strapped pandemic?
I take an investigative approach to determine how we should allocate resources. Where are we spending our funds unnecessarily? Which of our programs provide the highest return on investment for our community? Is it a matter of revenue or spending? Where is our money going? According to the PUSD website, in the 2017-18 school year our district spent 71.6% on teachers, classroom instruction and student instructional support, but that doesn’t tell us enough. We need to dig deeper into our spending as a district and look more closely how the 71.6% is actually being spent. Our community is funding education. The community deserves to see how we spend these resources at a micro level to achieve real transparency. This is critical to ensure we have built trust. We need to know what results are important to our community so we can prioritize spending on those results. As a principal, I was deliberate on measuring the relationship between spending and exit outcomes and plan to do the same as a board member.
How will you identify and advocate for the resources needed to ensure healthy and safe schools during the pandemic?
I would ensure that as a district we are monitoring and moving quickly through the process to obtain resources, including grants, as efficiently as possible. If we are efficient and effective in obtaining those resources, it will go a long way in ensuring we have what we need as a community to maximize health and safety. We must also continue to reach out to business partners and local commerce to secure additional resources. This includes resources from local parent groups. While working in PUSD, I witnessed robotic and binary decision making that actually pushed community members away from helping. We must embrace the help from our community and continue to build positive relationships.
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?
An additional high school is needed in the northwest portion of our district. New construction of a high school will help with overcrowding. If bond monies are not approved by our voters, we need to look at repurposing some of our schools that have low student enrollment. We must be open-minded and creative.
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?
We must be reflective as a district to address systemic failures. Through reflective data analysis at the district and individual level, we will address our weaknesses within the context of equity. It is important to view data at a macro and micro level as whole scale big data can perpetuate these inequities (reference the book - “Weapons of Math Destruction” by Cathy O’Neil). In addition, I would take a hard look at how we are allocating our Title I funds that are meant to serve low-income students. Is every dollar we are spending creating the highest return on investment for those students? I would take an inquiry-based approach that looks for evidence to form conclusions that can be used to build a more inclusive school district.
With the pandemic affecting the social and emotional well-being of students, how do you plan to support wrap-around services for children?
In order to support the social and emotional well-being of our students, we must create a feeling of belonging for every one of our community members. Students will find a fulfilling life through building purpose, identity and community within our school systems. During this time of online learning we must build community and a feeling of belonging through reaching out to our community. I also support bringing back a limited number of students who need additional support. This can be a scaled approach that is built upon as time progresses. The district plan to bring back students is not happening yet, so I will be curious how well the plan is conducted.
What ideas do you have for addressing teacher retention in the district?
The two most significant components to teacher retention that I have seen in my 17-year career as an educational leader are salary and educator quality of life. Our salary schedules are not competitive with similar districts surrounding us. This is a problem that must be addressed and can be accomplished by taking a closer look at PUSD finances and determining where the money is being spent unintentionally. I have witnessed questionable spending as an employee within the district and have a right to transparency as a parent of the district. From there I would prioritize educator pay within our budgets. The next and sometimes underrated component is treating teachers like professionals and holding all teachers to high expectations. The best teachers I know work tirelessly for their students, and just like in all professions there are some teachers that are not meeting the high standards we expect. These standards should apply throughout the entire organization. This includes intentional focus on where we allocate time for teachers and ensure our professional development is engaging and meaningful.