Questions about employment and MAS purity: Will the real Kristel Foster please stand up?


by Pamela Powers Hannley

Activist and educator Kristel Foster began campaigning for a seat on the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Governing Board not long after the board voted 4-1 to shut down the embattled Mexican American Studies (MAS) program– rather than lose $15 million over a program that had been declared illegal by the state of Arizona.

From the get-go, Foster made it clear that she was running as a "save MAS" candidate. In fact, when Foster and fellow "save MAS" candidate Ralph Ellinwood spoke at Drinking Liberally (DL) in June, the audience was twice the normal size, due to a strong showing of MAS stalwarts who came to cheer them on– including ThreeSonorans blogger Abie Morales and Tucson Weekly reporter Mari Herreras.

Unfortunately for Foster, since the August 8 Drinking Liberally kibitz fest, Morales has started attacking her for being an MAS turncoat. (He's even calling for MAS supporters to suggest possible write-in candidates.)

The special guest for the August 8 meeting was supposed to be Cam Juarez (also a "save MAS" candidate). Unfortunately, it poured down rain that night, and the DL turnout was very low. As a result, Drinking Liberally reverted to DL Classic Mode (ie, everyone sits around and endulges in free-form political discussion, with no official speaker). On that fateful night, four TUSD board candidates were present– Foster, Juarez, Betts Puttnam-Hildalgo, and incumbent Mark Stegeman. 

Stegeman asked the others the $15 million question: Would they have voted to shut down MAS in order to avoid the $15 million fine from the state? Puttman-Hildalgo and Juarez said, No. They said they would have defied the state ruling and voted with board member Adeltia Grijalva to retain the program– regardless of the cost to the district. (This is the MAS true believer stance.) Foster said she would have voted with the majority to shut down MAS, hence the attack from the ThreeSonorans blog. This looks like a giant flip-flop from a long-time, in-the-trenches MAS supporter.

After the jump is her Facebook explanation. Also, the plot thickens with the question: Should a Sunnyside School District employee vote on the next superintendent of TUSD?

Kristel facebook-smHere is Foster trying to soft-shoe out of the MAS controversy on Facebook. She's correct in saying that the vote was not to eliminate MAS all-together; the vote was to shut down (she says "suspend") the classes until the new and improved version is revealed. MAS has been placed under protection of the desegregation order. Meanwhile Auggie Romero– former MAS darling, now also labeled a vendido by Morales– is working on the new multicultural curriculum, which would include some form of MAS. (As an aside, how small will the MAS true believer tent get before it collapses around Morales? Demanding 100% pure ideological loyality, he is now attacking Foster, Romero, UA MAS Chair Tony Estrada, and TUSD Board members Adelita Grijalva and Miguel Cuevas.)

Personally, I applaud Foster for having the guts to say this. MAS supporters do not tolerate dissention in the ranks. They demand 100% obedience from true believers; consequently, the attacks on Foster are highly predictable.

Frankly, I wish someone had asked Puttnam-Hidalgo and Juarez how they would have explained their "No" vote to TUSD's parents and taxpayers. (In fact, if either of you are reading this post, please put your answer in the comments section.) I don't think throwing away $15 million to save a program that has served an average of 400 students per semester (out of 32,000 Latinos in TUSD) is a popular position with mainstream voters. I look forward to the new version and actually called for rebuilding MAS back in January.

Beyond MAS, there is a bigger issue regarding Foster's employment. Although her campaign website says she is employed by the University of Arizona, her LinkedIn page says she's employed by Sunnyside Unified School District. When I noticed the inconsistency between her campaign website, LinkedIn, and what I had seen on her Facebook page recently, I sent her a private e-mail asking where she currently works. She said that she has always been an employee of Sunnyside, but that she did a three-year special project at the UA, which has now ended in June. She is a progan specialist in the Language Acquisistion area.

The big question is: Is it appropriate for a TUSD board member to work for a competing school district? Sunnyside is actively (and successfully) recruiting students away from TUSD. 

In the coming year, TUSD Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone's contract will come up for reveiw; the unpopular Pedicone could be given a pink slip. Should an employee of a competing school district decide who the next TUSD superintendent should be? I think not. This is a huge conflict of interest. (Of course, I think Putnam-Hildalgo also has a conflict of interest being employed by TUSD as a part time teacher, according to the Arizona Daily Star.)

Below is how Foster's resume is listed on her campaign website.

Kristel campaign site-sm


Here is Foster's UA faculty page in the College of Education. It used to have content, but now there is only a frame with no text where her biographical sketch and other information was.

Twelve candidates filed their paper work on time to run for an unpaid position on the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. You'll note that there are no "Ds" or "Rs" by these names; the school board election is non-partisan. (Now who said that non-partisan races draw less interest?) Here are the official candidates for TUSD school board.

Business candidates

  • Debe Campos-Fleenor, Allstate insurance agent
  • Don Cotton, retired postal worker, owner of online printing business
  • Robert Medler, VP of Government Affairs, Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce

Pro-MAS candidates

  • Ralph Ellinwood, attorney
  • Kristel Foster, Language Acquission Project Specialist with Sunnyside School District
  • Cam Juarez, neighborhood reinvestment project coordinator
  • Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, activist, parttime landscaper, parttime ESL teacher, and parttime "Outdoor Inquiry" teacher with TUSD
  • Menelik Bakari, retired teacher

Conservative (and anti-MAS candidate)


  • Mark Stegeman, UA professor
  • Alex Sugiyama, UA Professor
  • Miguel Cuevas, supervisor at Afni.


  1. Pamela,

    What qualifications do you have to call yourself a researcher? It is obvious based from your conclusions on the data that you know very little to nothing on quantitative data analysis.

    Irrespective of the lack of factors that you claim are not controlled for, the fact is that the overwheming majority of students enrolled in our classes were Latina/o and poor – closed the achievement gap – and outperformed their similarly situated peers.

    Not bad for a bunch of Mexican kids, que no Pam?

    Ever inquire about running a rigorous study that tests the statistical significance of student performance?

    I understand that one has been conducted. I cant wait to see those p-values!

  2. Pamela – why were only 1 in 4 students in the enrolled in the program? Was it because students were not interested in taking the classes? Or, was it because the TUSD Governing Board and TUSD administration placed barriers and restricted students from taking MAS courses.

    For consecutive years, the amount of students who initially enrolled (via “open” class registration)in MAS HS courses far surpassed that of “traditional” US History and English courses. Your homeboy Stegeman and TUSD admin flipped out when this happened and restricted this increase in MAS classes. TUSD made their own rules of “open enrollment” and immediately broke them when the outcomes of Latinas/os enrolling in MAS classes did not properly align with their racist agenda.

    I intimately know these things – I ran the numbers, I have extensive documentation of this taking place. TUSD has always restricted students from enrolling in MAS classes.

    These classes fostered critical thinking among brown youth – facilitated a classroom environment that is sorely missing in “traditional” classrooms where positive self-identity development took place (look at the extensive literature on the importance of ethnic/cultutral identity for Black and Latina/o youth)- therefore posing a serious threat to the oppresive power structure that you and your compa Stegeman benefit from.

  3. You are welcome, Betts. I want to give kudos to Pam, too, for publicizing and focusing on the data. The data on MAS is terrific. But reasonable people can disagree on the conclusions, and Pam, you do a service by drawing attention to the facts. I still dispute whether your views on MAS are progressive and I will call you out every time you try to pose Stegeman’s false choice, but I appreciate your willingness to engage on the data.

  4. Thanks for the answer to the homework assignment Jana. I just want to point out that DESPITE the race-baiting politicians, etc., educators from all over the country DID descend upon Tucson to learn how to replicate the TUSD miracle during Tucson Freedom Summer (July). In addition, the book banning or whatever you prefer to call it inspired many many educators to both use the Tucson case as a case study and to educate their classes about the issue. So the Districts’ strategy backfired if the intention was to try to “put a lid on”–it all had the opposite effect. (betts*)

  5. Thanks very much, Pamela, for linking to your January post and all of the data. Far from knocking off rose-colored glasses. This stuff is a rose garden! As for enrollment in MAS, averaging the enrollment over ten years is pretty meaningless. Why aren’t you looking at the trend?

    By the way, I see you started off with Stegeman’s false choice of either shut down MAS or take a $15 million cut. He bamboozled you, too, huh?

    The program started off very small and in a couple of schools. It expanded into more schools and served more students according to what the availability of resources and trained staff would allow. From 00-04 school years, you see around 200 students enrolled per semester. But from 06-10 there were consistently around 700 students enrolled. And then there was a phenomenal jump from 700 to 1100 in 10-11! That was right before Horne and Huppenthal invoked HB 2281 and Pedicone came on board. I think you will find that in the early years, MAS was only offered in 2 or 3 schools, not in the 6 schools that offered it in the later years. The only reason that you and Stegeman use the 10 year average enrollment is to minimize. And again, if you look at graduates from 07 to 10 at those 6 schools, an average of one in every four took the classes. I believe in 2010 it was 28% of graduates. Also, enrollment is a snap shot for a given semester. If you look at graduates, you see how many were exposed to the program.

    The data also clearly shows that MAS has served its target group, which are lower-income Latino students. So when we look at graduation rates and AIMS scores, keep in mind that these are the majority of the MAS kids. We know that this demographic is on the lowest end of both of these measures.

    Now it gets good. For very low income students, MAS graduates 79% vs. 64% for non-MAS. For low income, 83% MAS vs. 75% non-MAS. For 2010, this combined group of low-income MAS students represents more than 200 living, breathing souls who made it across the finish line and hopefully beyond.

    Moreover, these primarily low-income Latino students who had initial AIMS passing rates around 15% lower than non-MAS students, closed that gap to graduate with the same passing rate as all TUSD students, which includes students from University, Sahuaro and Sabino High Schools.

    I expect any TUSD administrator worth his or her salary to sit down with MAS staff and figure out what MAS is doing to come up with numbers like this. But Pedicone has done none of it. Of course the data does not prove definitively that MAS is responsible for the achievements. But it sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you think someone should look a little deeper?

    If this program was not targeted by race-baiting politicians, aided and abetted by the SILENCE of a large portion of Pima County Democrats, educators from all over would be descending upon Tucson to learn how to replicate the TUSD miracle. By eliminating a program with results like this when there were better options available, Stegeman threw those kids under the bus.

    Thanks for the homework assignment.

  6. Hi-Betts Putnam-Hidalgo here (thats Putnam, not Puttnam). As I had clarified for Kristel and Adam Kinsey in the Democratic party many months ago when I first announced my intention to run, an employee of TUSD may RUN for an office, but may not HOLD the office. This was my first question to Judy Burns, when I spoke with her a few weeks before she died about the possibility of running for office as a parent. Since my position is extremely part-time, obviously I will look for work elsewhere if I win. Please give me credit for the basic intelligence to ask that question before I embarked on something as serious to me as running for TUSD Board!

    What would I have said to the community after the vote, assuming that my vote changed the outcome? 1-Programs that succesfully respond to the diversity of our students should be important to us and supported by us. The MAS program issue is not only about Mexican Americans–its also about Gate kids, ELL kids (of all nationalities), kids with special needs, etc. 2) I support the program but even if I didn’t, the way it was suspended was a very bad precedent. WHERE should our important curriculum decisions be made…and by whom? I don’t live in Maricopa County and to the extent that I can keep Maricopa County or the state legislature from deciding what my child is allowed to learn, I will do so. Politicians who may or may not have my child and others’ best interests at heart should not be making decisions that affect our kids’ learning. While an adult makes a decision to build a political career, our kids have one shot at an education. Board decisions, and particularly this one, have a considerable effect on student well-being and opportunities. 3) I would have taken my lumps on the firestorm of criticism that my decision would have caused. The Board was in for it either way on the MAS vote–and that is no coincidence, any more than the incredibly fearful and divisive climate it created in TUSD was an accident. It was a masterfully planned and executed swipe at Pima County by a couple of state officials who had elections of their own to win, and personal grudges of their own to express. It was playing politics at its ultimate, and guess who gets damaged by not fighting against these tactics (and for the program) harder? TUSD supes, board members, teachers and most importantly, kids.

    All of that said, I would like to think that had I been on the Board, the vote would not have been so easily taken. As giving all kids an equal opportunity for a good education is extremely important to me, I would have fought very hard for Board support of the program from its inception. My understanding is that the classes were very often all full, and I know from experience that at least one school that wanted a class or help from the program was unable to get one because the program was under attack and the insecurity was somewhat crippling. I have seen the District work by attrition before–when I spoke with some neighborhood parents in an area where a school was closed down, many agreed that the school had been all but abandoned in the three or four years leading up to the closure. I think that lack of Board attention to and support for the program allowed the deadly “only 400 students” to be bandied about, and allowed a fatal framing of the issue to occur. Altogether, I think the District could have protested the law far more than they did, as pointed out in some of the posts above.

  7. Here is how we know that Dr. Stegeman is not working to further the educational needs of Latino students. He sees data that shows amazing gains by Latino students. He doesn’t say, “These are tremendous results. We need to look closely at this data to see what it means and how we can improve.” Rather, he just points to the fact that the data doesn’t definitively prove that MAS was the factor that caused MAS students to close the achievement gap. Any sane board member, or superintendent, would jump up and down and show the world this data.

    You are incorrect that it is only the 2010 grads who closed the achievement gap. It happened for graduates from 2007 to 2010 in every one of the three AIMS sections. See the data here:

    Dr. Stegeman shames himself by sitting in his ivory tower and merely criticizing the data as not proving definitively that MAS is responsible for the amazing gains made by these at-risk students. This is not a person who seeks to discern how to promote and grow successful programs.

  8. My data is not from after 2281. I have 10 years of MAS data from TUSD and some from the MAS program itself. Check out my January 2012 TucsonCitizen article with 6-7 graphics from that data. You are including the year they had 1000 students enrolled but not the years they had 150 enrolled.

    I believe it is the 2010 cohort shows an improvement in Aims scores when compared to the first time the same students took the test. Obviously this is a good thing, but there are no controls for confounding variables on this data. In other words, from a research stand point, you cannot say MAS made the difference. MAS enrollment is only one variable. (I work in research, BTW.) When Richard Martinez told Amy Goodman that the program was “proven effective every year for 10 years” that statement is not born out by the data. Goodman asked him where that data are published, and he changed the subject.

    You and Morales are assuming the new curriculum will be unacceptable. I am not judging somethong that does not exist. There are several minority populations not served by Ethnic Studies in TUSD, most notably non-Mexxican Latinos and refugees. What about them? At Drinking Liberally, when I asked Kristel Foster about these other groups, she naively said they could go to MAS classes. They are not going to attend classes labeled Mexican. If you think they will, then you don’t know as many non-Mexican Latinos as I do , and you have not heard how Mexicans treat them.

  9. With open enrollment, every public and charter district competes for students. Kristel could work for any district and your conclusion would still be that she and any other K-12 teacher has a conflict of interest. Therefore, any working K-12 teacher has a conflict of interest and should not be voted onto the board. That’s not hyperbole, it is the natural conclusion of your assertion. And you are right: it has nothing to do with her qualifications as a teacher, just that she is one.

    As for parsing the data, look in the mirror. You use data after HB 2281 was passed and after the powers that be, both inside and outside TUSD, did their best to drive students away. I did not look for a few years with the highest enrollment. MAS had been expanding to meet consistently increasing student demand until 2010, when HB 2281 was passed and Pedicone came on board. The data for those students graduating from 2007 to 2010 is not something I parsed. It is what TUSD’s director for Accountability and Research, David Scott, produced in response to the board’s request for data. By the way, what did the board do with that data? Oh yeah, nothing.

    MAS started from the ground up, as a small program with teachers trained in its method. That is the strength of the program. If you know anything about the program, a garden-variety teacher cannot be handed a book and told to teach MAS. It is about much more than sprinkling brown faces throughout the curriculum. It expanded as quickly as it could to meet demand and as resources allowed. If you look at Scott’s data, you will see the steady increase in students before HB 2281 came into effect. MAS was a choice. It was not a top-down, across the board, institutionally- imposed curriculum like the upcoming multicultural curriculum that TUSD is developing (which is NOT an MAS curriculum, and please stop saying that it has anything to do with MAS or is the new, improved version of MAS. As the program existed in TUSD, it is not amenable to imposing on thousands of students and their teachers in one fell swoop.) We will see if students in the new curriculum will close the achievement gap in AIMS test scores as MAS graduates did in every test section in every year from 2007 to 2010. Again, see Scott’s data. Students say the program turned them into learners. Even if MAS only reached a segment of at-risk students, that is a successful program.

    If you are truly interested in seeing what worked in the program, look at Scott’s AIMS data. AIMS data drives every decision in this district, is the measure of Arizona’s new school and district grading scheme and Pedicone will soon be singing the praises of the schools that improved AIMS scores. When MAS students closed the achievement gap in AIMS scores., Pedicone and the board were silent.

  10. Wow, Attorney Happel, where do I start? Talk about going over a cliff.

    Foster works for a district that competes directly with TUSD for students; that’s a conflict of interest. It’s got nothing to do with her qualifications as a teacher, and your insinuations are ludicrous. Period. Save the drama and hyperbole for the courtroom.

    A tiny fraction of TUSD’s Latino students took MAS. Period. Morales and others like to talk about the majority of TUSD students being Latino and hinting that MAS was serving them. The fact is that the vast majority of Latino students *were not* being served by that program. So, you want to parse the data to a few years when the program had its highest enrollment? Fine. 1 in 4 is 25%. That leaves the majority not served. Period.

    Back in January, I called for MAS to learn from the last 10 years, take an honest look at what worked and what didn’t, and rebirth the program. (No program is beyond improvement– even this one.) Instead, the stalwarts like yourself dug in and fought every inch– even to the point of praising Adelita for blocking the usage of the MAS text books.

  11. Wow, Pamela. Did you really just suggest that no currently working K-12 educators have any business being on the governing board? And because of a conflict of interest conspiracy theory? Really?

    Yeah sure. Voters need to understand that someone who has dedicated her entire career to educating kids might be seeking the wholly thankless, uncompensated and overall dreadful position as a TUSD board member in order to carry out her nefarious plan to intentionally drive the district off a cliff to increase enrollment in the Sunnyside district. Yeah, sure, that could happen. And then what would she get out of it? A seven figure bonus? (This script will never be made into a movie because industrial espionage plots don’t work so well in public school systems.)

    Besides, the current board is doing a terrific job of taking the district over the cliff, even without a plan to benefit a neighboring district.

    A school board should have members with varied expertise and perspectives. Maybe TUSD’s board suffers BECAUSE none of the members have the intimate knowledge of K-12 education that a professional would bring to the mix.

    Stegeman is intellectually dishonest when he poses the so-called $15 million question, i.e. “whether they would have voted to shut down MAS to avoid the $15 million fine from the state?” The truth is that the board was not faced with only those two choices, as much as Stegeman would like the public to swallow that fabrication. The best option would have been to put the matter in front of Judge Bury in the desegregation case and let him decide whether he would enjoin Huppenthal from applying the penalty to a program mandated by a federal court order. If the board had done that, it would have had cover no matter what Bury did. If Bury issued an injunction, TUSD would be protected. If Bury declined, the board could have moved to terminate the classes without being in violation of federal law. The board also could have appealed Huppenthal’s decision to state court to have a real judge rule on the constitutional issues. The administrative law judge said that he didn’t have the authority to rule on those issues.

    (And before anyone jumps in to say that Bury declined to get involved two months after the board shut down the program, there is a huge difference between asking a judge to issue a temporary injunction to preserve the status quo BEFORE the board votes to shut down the program and asking a judge to go in AFTER the fact to undo a mess by ordering a state governmental entity to recreate the program. The chances of a judge agreeing to the former are infinitely higher than the latter.)

    Both of these option were in front of the board, but Stegeman wants people to think is was either shut down MAS or lose $15 million. That is baloney and he knows it.

    You and Stegeman love to cite the small number of students enrolled in MAS after 2010 when the anti-ethnic studies law was passed and when Horne, Huppenthal and Pedicone instigated their “inside-outside squeeze” agenda to drive students away from MAS. Chew on this. By TUSD’s own numbers, between 2007 and 2010 one out of every four graduates who had the opportunity took MAS classes. Stegeman doesn’t like to talk about that statistic.

    Pamela, what are you doing on this blog? I read BFAz because I like to get progressive perspectives. Progressive views from BFAz bloggers may vary, but outside of your pieces, they are all progressive. If I want to read a blog that comes from the perspective of undervaluing the role of teachers in our society, there are plenty of places I can do that. If I want to get the opinions of MAS-haters and people who think that there is nothing wrong with a law that specifically targets a program BECAUSE it is “designed to enhance the academic achievement of Latino students,” I can certainly find that. (In case you missed it, Huppenthal really did say MAS is illegal because one of its goals was to increase the academic achievement of Latino students.) Progressive? I don’t think so.

  12. Yes, it is legal for a Sunnyside employee to be on the TUSD board (and illegal for a TUSD employee like Betts). My point is, from a TUSD parents viewpoint, is it wise to elect someone to the TUSD board who works for a competing district?

    In an open-enrollment world, you work for the enemy. It would be like electing someone who owns or works for a charter school to the TUSD board.

  13. No misleading info on my employment, I’m just a busy candidate who needs to update her resume. I was assigned to the College of Education from 2009-2012 and as of July 23 of this year, I am a program specialist with the language acquisition department at Sunnyside. As for a Sunnyside employee serving on the TUSD Governing Board, it is legal and has happened before. Both Bob Miranda and Jim Christ are/were Sunnyside employees. I do also understand that Betts Putnam is an employee of TUSD, and state statute says employees may not serve on their own school boards.

  14. You looked everywhere except Cuevas’ Facebook or actually heard board meetings. Cuevas conveyed that he is the only board member that works for a private company.

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