Sending students back to school for in-person instruction Sept. 8 at the Higley Unified School District was the right thing to do, three vying for Governing Board said.
There are three four-year positions open for HUSD No. 60 Governing Board with candidates Michelle Anderson, Michelle Bugg, Kristina Reese, Tiffany Shultz and Greg Wojtovich.
Independent Newsmedia reached out to all Governing Board candidates seeking answers to a variety of questions, which can be read at yourvalley.net/queen-creek-independent. HUSD Governing Board candidates Ms. Bugg and Ms. Reese did not respond.
Below are their answers on if they agree with the HUSD Governing Board’s decision on reopening schools Sept. 8, and what are three current challenges facing the Governing Board and what are their ideas on how to accomplish them.
The district was right in returning to in-person instruction and providing remote online learning options for students and staff, said Ms. Anderson, 43.
“I agree with students returning to the classroom, especially following the metrics and benchmarks. The community was surveyed — more than once — and the data was in favor of returning. The survey of staff supported returning as well. I am glad the district provided remote/online learning options for students and staff. Individual health is vital and our community should have safe options,” she said.
Three challenges facing the school board are returning to in-class instruction and sustaining safe and quality learning and environments; holding online/remote instruction and in-class instruction simultaneously, with the possibility for students to return to the classroom after the semester; and the recent change in the superintendent, Ms. Anderson said.
“One, in order to sustain in-class instruction, students, staff and parents will need to work together to promote and follow practices that eliminate/reduce the spread of bacterial and viral microorganisms. Consistency will be key. The district will also need to be careful to not overextend, overexpose and overwork staff during this time. There will need to be close examination of the budget to look for money to staff in areas that will take some other duties as assigned off the plates of educators so they can focus on instruction,” she said.
“Two, simultaneous instruction for in-class and online learners and instructors needs have continuous communication among teachers and administrators regarding pacing, assessment and transition,” Ms. Anderson said.
And third, the superintendent needs to build relationships and gain trust, she said.
“A new superintendent, not vetted by the community and determined rather quietly and quickly by the acting Governing Board, will need to be visible on sites and in the community in order to build relationships and gain trust. I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Foley and am familiar with her. She is a very intelligent, hardworking, talented woman. Others need to have the opportunity to determine that,” Ms. Anderson said. “There may have been more-qualified individuals for the position, but the opportunity for others to apply and interview was not given. Dr. Foley will need to prove herself to be the most qualified and capable for this position in other ways.”
Ms. Anderson has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with an emphasis in biology plus an additional 18 hours in mathematics.
She works at Queen Creek High School as a chemistry and physical science teacher.
The plan the district put in place for reopening schools Sept. 8 will keep teachers, students and staff as safe as possible, said Ms. Shultz, 39.
“There have been many other industries across the state and country who have been able to open safely. I have great respect for our teachers, staff and administration. I believe the plan the district has put in place will keep teachers, students and staff as safe as possible,” she said.
“The option was given to teachers and students who didn’t feel safe to be able to stay home, which was an equally important decision. And I applaud both. Opening when the benchmark numbers were continuing to trend in the right direction was the right decision. It was a hard decision but the right decision. We don’t have crystal balls, but we have to do what is best at the time with what we have to work with when it comes to uncharted waters like these that we are in,” Ms. Shultz said.
The budget, technology gaps and supporting special programs are three current challenges facing the Governing Board, she said.
“The board is always facing budget issues. I hope to work with community leaders to bring more donations and partnerships to the community,” Ms. Shultz said.
“Technology gaps: The schools need more technology that is consistent across every campus. I would love to see the budget put together that provides adequate technology for students to allow them to be better prepared for the workforce. Special programs across the district need more focus, support and money. It is important to create programs that appeal to a variety of students and to make sure all programs are supported evenly across the district,” she said.
Ms. Shultz has a bachelor’s degree in political science and mass communication from Arizona State University, and is owner/operator of Levitate Agency.
Previous public office, boards and commissions include: Coronado PTO president, Coronado PTO board member at-large, Gilbert Leadership, 35 under 35, and various small business and public relations committees.
The decision to reopen was not made lightly and was the right decision, Mr. Wojtovich said.
“As a current member of the HUSD Governing Board, I agree with our decision. Even so, I want our communities to know this decision was not made lightly. The decision to open is not an easy task. We needed to ensure that when we open it is as safe an environment as possible for our students and staff. The decision came about as a result of countless hours of meetings that discussed what would make it prudent to open and created a plan,” he said.
“We had to ensure that the metrics in the number of cases, percent of positivity and COVID-like illness on the state and county public health dashboards continued to trend in the right direction. I am the current HUSD board member who ensured that the schools would only reopen only if we saw a decline in the reported weekly metrics. We were happy to see the trend in the right direction so we opened as planned,” Mr. Wojtovich said.
“Our schools reopened on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The HUSD community can be proud of the HUSD administration, teachers and staff who have dedicated countless hours to ensure our schools have met the state and county public health dashboard guidelines for a safe and healthy environment. We want our students to be excited, not fearful, as they begin their school year whether online or in person,” he said.
Ensuring the safety of students, keeping students competitive and funding are three current challenges facing the Governing Board, Mr. Wojtovich said.
“I know that nothing can replace being with one’s friends and engaging in all the activities our district has been known for. We look forward to resuming those when it is safe to do so. The HUSD community is in this together and will work tirelessly to ensure all students succeed,” he said.
“Keeping students competitive: My experience as a career adviser at Chandler-Gilbert Community College has helped me to understand the importance of assisting students in their transition from education to the job market. I see the vital role education plays in creating a brighter future for our young people and their families every day. I know the value businesses place upon having an educated workforce and the prosperity it brings to a town when a business chooses to locate in the area,” Mr. Wojtovich said.
“In addition to the outstanding music, civic, arts and sports programs our students participate in, we need to continue to infuse our classrooms with the technology, science and critical thinking skills that employers need. Investing in teacher training and classroom infrastructure is the way to meet the changing needs of our community and to our students competitive both locally and globally,” he said.
Funding education within the state budget is important, Mr. Wojtovich said.
“An educated workforce both attracts and retains businesses to a state. With healthy commerce, there are jobs and opportunities for its communities and everyone thrives,” he said. “Currently, Arizona is missing opportunities by consistently funding our schools as it did over 12 years ago. As a state, Arizona ranks 47th in per-pupil spending. On some metrics, we fare even worse,” he said.
Everyone wants to fix the problem with legislators changing laws, but they don’t fund those changes, Mr. Wojtovich said.
“This means districts don’t even have the funds to train the teachers on new mandates or make the purchases needed for implementation. Education funding needs to be addressed at the state level and it needs to become a higher priority in the state’s budget. I propose it’s time we realize that our students’ success is the key to our state’s ability to grow and thrive,” he said. “As a board member, I will continue to advocate for a reallocation of funds within the state budget to better support Arizona’s future through education.”
Mr. Wojtovich has a bachelor’s degree in human resources from the School of Education at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
Employment and volunteer work includes working with students, teachers and staff in the educational settings of Higley Unified School District as a board member, six years; Chandler-Gilbert Community College as a career adviser, 13 years, retiring in 2020; Mesa Unified School District as a career adviser, one year; Utica Community Schools/Michigan School District, board member, 12 years; and Michigan Department of Corrections, agent, 25 years.
His community involvement includes: Arizona Association of School Boards member; adviser to the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Hispanic Student Organization; Chandler Boys and Girls Club Community Thanksgiving dinner volunteer; Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities National Conference chaperon and participant; Chandler ICAN Children’s Christmas Wrap program volunteer; U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute National Conference chaperon and participant; Chandler Relay of Life 2014 Committee member (funds for cancer research); and committee chairman of Chandler-Gilbert Community College Coyote Heroes Relay for Life Team.