Sarah Lindsay James is a 21-year veteran music instructor who wants to fight for school stakeholders as a new member of the Tempe Union High School Governing Board.
She would like to bring a teachers’ perspective to the Board.
If elected, Ms. James will fight for:
- Equity for all students regardless of demographic or socioeconomic grouping.
- Better pay and conditions for teachers and staff.
- A greater atmosphere conducive to learning that is geared towards students receiving the most accessible academic and social-emotional attention.
Ms. James was gracious to take the time to discuss her qualifications and what she would champion if elected to the board this November.
The questions and her responses are below.
1) What are your qualifications to serve on the board?
“I have been teaching for 21 years, and have taught at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. I am currently teaching music at Pomeroy and Lowell elementary schools in Mesa.I am active in my community, and passionate about advocating for our public schools. I am on the Executive Board for the Mesa Education Association and worked to help pass our bond and override in 2018 and 2019. I have two wonderful children in the Kyrene schools, so I see the celebrations and the hardships our students and their teachers often face from the perspective of a parent. Finally, I graduated from Tempe High in 1995, so I have a connection and love for this district that helped raise me.”
2) Please tell us three reasons you are running for the school board?
1) “Tempe Union has committed to taking care of our students’ social and emotional wellness. We know students cannot learn if their basic needs are not being met, so taking care of their mental health is paramount. I have seen firsthand students who desperately need counseling services and interventions, but our schools are under-staffed and our students suffer. The pandemic is exacerbating this issue; students are coping with the sadness and anxiety of the shutdown, they are experiencing isolation and insecurities, and they have a constant worry about getting sick. I will be an advocate for services in our schools that will serve our students’ mental health needs.”
2) “As a teacher, I know the importance of having a board that trusts educators and truly have our best interests at heart. I believe that if we are truly going to have an educational system that is best for kids, we must take care of our educators. When educators are empowered and trusted to work with students and their families to figure out what is best for their students, everyone wins. Teaching is an art-form where creativity and data can work together, and our educators know best how to make that happen. We must allow educators to use their craft, connect with students, and bring joy into learning and teaching.”
3) “I have witnessed the need for change in my 21-year journey as an educator involved in equity work. Ensuring our curriculum honors and represents our black students and students of color is vital, and providing a safe environment for our LGBTQ students is literally a matter of life and death. Advocating for restorative justice programs and revising discipline practices will be at the forefront of my priorities. All students deserve an education that values and represents them.”
3) How would you rate the current school board you are running to stay part of and please explain why?
“I think Tempe Union has the ability to lead the way in advocating for our students’ social and emotional wellness/mental health and also in tackling discipline reform. While I think overall the board seems to agree on the importance of addressing our students’ needs in these areas, some of the bold moves that will get us there are missing. For example, while TUHSD doesn’t have a zero-tolerance policy per se, they can still suspend a student for two years. This action effectively expels that child from the district, perpetuating the school to prison pipeline we should actively be fighting. If we can adopt a trauma-informed approach to education and incorporate appropriate services, we will see discipline problems decrease and academic success increase (https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-and-why-trauma-informed-teaching). I think our board has members who care deeply about our students. When compassion turns into action, we will see real changes for our kids.”
4) In your opinion, what are the three most important education issues schools and all stakeholders in the district face?
1) “ In Arizona, we have been fighting to increase our education budget to simply get back to 2008 levels, and now we are faced with the financial devastation brought on by COVID -19. We have already seen a mass exodus of teachers in Arizona and watched as we plummeted down the ranks in education. We must figure out a dedicated source of funding for education if we are to provide our students with the education they deserve.”
2) “ Arizona has the worst counselor to student ratio in the nation, with 905 students for every counselor. We know our students need counseling services, and students are more likely to visit a counselor if the counselor is on the school campus. We have to shift our priorities and create schools that provide appropriate services to our students so they can feel safe to learn.”
3) “Our district is diverse -it is comprised of students from Tempe, Guadalupe, the Gila River Indian Reservation, Phoenix, and Chandler. Our curriculum should represent and honor every child we serve. Equity also includes our LGBTQ students, and we must create a safe space where they too are seen, heard and represented.”
5) What are your views on the implementation of the district reopening in the fall? Or for summer?
“With COVID-19 numbers steadily increasing in Arizona, we must continue to monitor and adjust our plans based on the latest science. We have educators and students who are immuno-compromised and/or are living with other family members at high risk. We must figure out how to best accommodate employees who cannot physically come back and provide remote learning for our students who must continue to isolate. We know our school year will look different, but not knowing exactly what it will look like causes anxiety for everyone. We need to make sure we are confronting those anxieties so our students can learn, our teachers can teach, and our families can feel confident their children are getting the best possible care and education.”
6) To what extent should your school district ensure all students have access to high broadband and a laptop/tablet for virtual learning should the fall opening be delayed?
“Having access to a free public education is every child’s constitutional right in Arizona. If we are doing virtual learning, our district needs to ensure students can participate. Our budgets are already stretched thin, so figuring out the logistics behind providing these resources will not be easy. The district has allocated funds in the upcoming budget to provide incoming freshmen with devices so they will be 1:1. However, our 10th-12th grade students aren’t included in this equation, so there will be needs throughout the district that need to be addressed. The state needs to step in to help ensure districts like Tempe Union can provide devices and internet to any child who needs it.”
7) In your opinion, please advise at least one way your school district should make up for any of the lost learning time of this last academic quarter?
“Trusting teachers is of utmost importance in this situation. Teachers spend a lot of time learning our students; we learn their needs, their insecurities, and of course, assess where they are academically. When we return, not only will we be dealing with students who may not have read a book in five months, but we will also have students who have dealt with homelessness, food insecurity, and for some, abuse. We MUST trust our teachers to know when to deal with Maslow (a hierarchy of our basic needs, both physical and emotional) and when to dig into Bloom (a hierarchy of cognitive skills ranging from remembering to creating). Children are amazing, as are their teachers. The academics they missed will happen, but if we do not deal with the traumas many have faced, those academics will be lost. We need to spend time and have resources to deal with our students’ social and emotional needs. If we skip that step, we will have a much harder time catching up in anything academic.”
8) Is there anything not covered in the first seven questions that you would like the reader to know
“I think it is vital to have an experienced teacher on the board to give a voice to our educators. As a mother I know I can also bring a perspective to the board through the lens of my children and their experiences. I understand the importance of engaging the community and involving parents, teachers, and students in the important decisions our district is faced with. I will be an advocate for our students and families and will work to ensure our educators feel valued. Together we can ensure Tempe Union is leading the way for our children.”
For more information on Ms. James and her candidacy, please click on here webpage here, her interview with Maricopa County School Superintendent Candidate Jeanne Casteen here, and her Facebook Page here.
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