When readers last read about Jennifer Samuels, she was running for one of the State House Seats in Legislative District 15 during the 2018 elections. While she did not prevail in securing a State House seat last November, Ms. Samuels and her team will build on the campaigning experience in seeking the Democratic nomination for Maricopa County School Superintendent.
If elected to become the new Maricopa County School Superintendent, Ms. Samuels pledges to be an advocate for all Education stakeholders, especially students and teachers.
A certified K-8 elementary school teacher Ms. Samuels has had additional experience as a special education teacher, a parent volunteer, a PTA Board member, a board member of the Arizona Federal Credit Union (where she once worked in marketing and branch operations) and is a graduate of Emerge Arizona (an organization dedicated to training women to run for office as Democrats.).
Ms. Samuels was asked several questions about why she is running to be the new County Superintendent, her preparation for the position, her goals if she is elected, and how she would be a better choice than her primary and general election opponents.
The questions and Ms. Samuels responses are below:
1) Please describe three ways your education and experience has prepared you to become the Maricopa County Superintendent of Education.
“I have been a teacher and a volunteer in the Maricopa County school system for over a decade. My experience includes work both in general and special education classes; I’ve been a coach, an athletic director, and Vice President of Desert Springs Preparatory PTA. My prior experience as a teacher in the California public system showed me back when I began my career just what education can look like when it is supported by proper state funding. As a teacher in Maricopa County, I know that our students need smaller classes, repaired infrastructures, and fully-funded classrooms whatever their zip code. They need a Superintendent who will use the office to advocate for such necessities at the legislature. They also need a leader who will address inequities among marginalized students: students with special needs, students of color, immigrant students, and students living in poverty.”
“Before becoming a teacher, I had a career at the second-largest credit union in Arizona, where I oversaw large funds, directed revenues, and executed marketing strategies. Because of my extensive experience in the financial services industry and Master’s in Organizational Leadership, I was elected to Arizona Federal’s Board of Directors in 2016 to advocate for financial literacy programs and help oversee policies concerning asset liability and risk management for Arizona Federal’s $1.6 billion budget. Therefore, when I am Superintendent, I will manage to fund for Maricopa schools responsibly, with an eye toward increasing opportunity for all students.”
“Lastly, I am an education activist. As the RedForEd movement was taking shape 50,000 strong around the State Capitol in 2018, I was inside calling out legislators who refused to fund public education in Arizona. Two months later, I addressed the House Appropriations Committee in order to alert them to the dangers their inaction posed to the children of Arizona. When so many of them proved indifferent to the hundreds of others who offered similar testimony, I felt dismay, then determination. In 2018, after lawmakers moved forward with a voucher expansion bill that would have bled the education system further, I decided to run for office as a Representative for Legislative District 15”
2) From your perspective, what are at least three responsibilities of the Maricopa County Superintendent of Education and explain why?
“The Superintendent’s first responsibility is to support educators in Maricopa County who are working to uplift students. This means supporting a vision of public schools where all are welcome, all are included, where everyone is respected.”
“County Superintendents have so much power at the local level. They can appoint members of local governing boards when vacancies come up; they can suspend or even dismiss school superintendents with whom they disagree; they can cut programs. They decide how revenues are spent. They can thwart the vision of public education we signed on for when we elected Kathy Hoffman as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.”
“In fact, that’s what the current Superintendent did when he cut programs to help educators improve their teaching skills in English, science, math, and also in working with children who have been traumatized. He’s cut programs designed to connect students with work opportunities. Many of these programs were valued by the principles, parents, and other stakeholders who advocated for their continuance. So, responsibility number one: support programs that work.”
“The Superintendent also has a responsibility to bring in the best talent regardless of party. The governing board positions the Superintendent appoints in cases of a vacancy are non-partisan positions, though the incumbent Superintendent has vowed only to appoint members of his own party. This is so destructive for Maricopa County schools.”
“Lastly, the Superintendent has a responsibility to advocate for Maricopa students by lobbying the State Legislature for greater support. The resources our students need cannot be attained without significant increases in state spending. The Office of the Superintendent should be a bully pulpit from which to broadcast the realities in our schools and the ways legislators can help.”
3) In your opinion, what are at least three issues that schools in Maricopa County face that your office can assist in addressing?
“Our schools are suffering financially. We have seen an exodus in teachers because of low salaries but also because of impossible working conditions in the form of failing infrastructures, scarce resources, and especially overcrowded classrooms. The Maricopa County School Superintendent should be someone who is energetic about explaining to legislators why we should all feel invested in student success and why that means greater levels of investment than those that currently place Arizona at 48th in the nation for per-pupil spending.”
“Our students who face mental health challenges are too often sidelined or actually delegitimized by personnel who are ill-equipped to respond more helpfully. We have far fewer mental health counselors in our schools than national standards call for. The Superintendent can intervene to alter those patterns through her spending directives. She can also help to raise awareness and also allocate resources to help students who suffer from mental health problems.”
“We also need to continue to give teachers a voice in Maricopa County. By calling upon more teachers whose ideas are often the best to improve our schools in any number of ways, we can transform public education for the better. Moreover, by providing high-quality professional development in curriculum and pedagogy, we can ensure the continuation and further evolution of best teaching practices.”
4) If elected, what are at least three goals you would pursue as the County Superintendent and explain?
“One goal I have set is to bring Arizona schools into line with state goals for immunization levels. The Arizona Department of Public Health has called upon Arizona schools to attain an 80% immunization rate for measles, for instance, though currently only 66.7% of our students are immunized. While I rejoice at the defeat of retrograde bills that would have worsened the problem this year, the Superintendent is in a position to assist public health officials to attain these urgent goals—if not by 2020, then by 2022, two years into my administration.”
“I intend to work with local governing boards and principals to restore effective programs the current Superintendent has cut: programs that train teachers to assist students who have been victims of trauma, for example, or programs to connect students with work opportunities.”
“I also intend to appoint governing board members on the basis of their expertise and their vision, not their political party.”
5) Please explain one to three reasons you would be a better County Superintendent than your Democratic or Republican opponents.
“The incumbent Superintendent does not understand how to support the students or educators of Maricopa County. He cuts programs that work and replaces them with social media stunts; he dismisses effective educators who disagree with him politically; he fails to address students’ needs in marginalized communities.”
“I am the only Democratic candidate shaped by the activism of RedForEd and Save Our Schools, and I am the only candidate with extensive experience in the finance industry. I was born and raised in Maricopa County, where I am also a teacher and where I have worked in public education in many other capacities as well. When I am Superintendent my experience in large-scale financial management will help me to allocate resources to promote the practices and support systems that help our students thrive.”
When considering who would best serve their children’s educational interests, voters should choose the candidate that will be motivated by ensuring student success and not the one who would crusade on reactionary dogma, questionable personnel decisions, and draconian budget cuts.
Ms. Samuels is a candidate for Maricopa County School Superintendent that voters should consider.