In recent weeks, there have been news accounts of state and local school boards attempting to create standards that cloud the separation of church and state or eliminate renowned historical figures from curriculum standards or advance intelligent design. These boards, in Texas and Arizona, appear to have forgotten what the number one mission for school boards is as Tempe Union High School Board Candidate Brian Garcia relayed in a conversation with fellow Democrat Andres Barraza “It is the job to prepare kids for the next step in their lives.”
With two openings on the Tempe High School Governing Board, both Barraza and Garcia want to build on the strong foundations set by the current board and help enact school policies that benefit all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff.
At the LD 18 office in Tempe, both Barraza and Garcia relayed why they are the right fits to be on the board.
What are your qualifications to serve on the board?
Andres Barraza: “ I am a 2002 graduate from Marcos De Niza. I understand the district from a student perspective. My son was a graduate at Marcos. I went to ASU and became an Incident Commander with the Cave Creek Fire Department. Often, I dealt with interagency budgets and policies, and multi-level government management, which is a skill set that I bring to the table. I am also a school committee member with Tempe Union serving in the Community Diversity Advisory Committee. This committee was formed with looking at ways to create more inclusive campus environments. I have worked with local education institutions like ASU on race and diversity and suicide prevention to create better campuses.”
Brian Garcia “ Education has been my key to the American Dream. I graduated from McClintock High School in 2011. My brother is a senior at Corona. I hold Bachelors of Arts in Global Studies and have a Masters in legal studies and am a second-year law student at ASU. I worked on education issues with Representative Sinema and outreach coordinator for her house office. I have worked in the classroom. I was an AVID coordinator where mentored and helped kids succeed in college and otherwise. I was also a student prosecutor at the Salt River Indian Community who handled domestic violence and victim’s rights. I will prioritize the success, safety, and well being of our students and advance the need for teachers to be respected for empowering our students to chart their own path.
Please tell us three reasons you are running for the school board?
Andres Barraza: “There are three main reasons for running: the cutting of budgets, vouchers, and the working conditions for teachers. A lot of what the current board is doing is good but we can be doing better. We are above the national and state average in the SAT and ACT exams but we need to support teachers and outside student interests like clubs and other alternatives to college like trade schools (EVIT or something more and in-depth in-house career pathways options to reinforce it). Finally, we need to set the tone for growing teachers, students, and organizations.”
Brian Garcia: “I am the first one to graduate from high school let alone college and law school. My first reason is to protect public education, which has been at risk. We need to prioritize the well being of our students and what they want to do. We want to ensure the physical and mental wellness of the students and do the best we can for them. Teachers need to be well treated for shaping kids to go on the right path. We are doing great but what can we do better.”
How would you rate the current school board you are running to become part of and please explain why?
Andres Barraza: “It depends on how well we are graduating students and providing opportunities /investments for them. I believe the board is serving the district well and that is why I am focused on growing opportunities and programs and building upon district successes. I am grateful that the board ensured that every student, like DACA students, feel safe. I am also grateful the Board stood by teachers involved in Red for Ed.”
Brian Garcia: “ I believe the board is doing a great job but we can do better. Tempe Union is proving a great foundation but we want to do more. We need to listen to teachers and students more. The board does listen but we can do more and be more proactive and supportive. We need to empower teachers and students to do the best they can like the role models that helped him.”
In your opinion, what are the three most important education issues schools and all stakeholders in the district face?
Andres Barraza “First, the strengthening and growing of student clubs and services. They help attendance rates and graduation rates. We also want to look at postgraduate opportunities, not just college. We should reach out to trade schools and job placement like 501c3’s to reach out and coordinate placement alliances. Support teachers so the kids have the tools to do one and two.”
Brian Garcia “ To promote the success, safety, and well being of our students: preparing our students for life and success including college, noncollege, financial literacy (like knowing how to balance a checkbook and their finances) and working with our families and handle diverse cases and situations. Furthermore, we need to promote school safety on a proactive basis and provide resources that schools need on all matters ranging from internal safety to counseling to protecting all students including those in the LGBTQ community. We do this by partnering with organizations that already do this work. Tempe Elementary, for an example, partners with AARP where retirees help tutor kids in reading and math. Finally, we need to find innovative ways where all stakeholders can help our students thrive as we are adjusting for the different characteristics of each school.”
What are your views on the implementation of ECAP and other student exit mechanisms?
Andres Barraza: “ECAP must always emphasize student arts and work-based education programs, which means the State must continually support them as well. We are looking at the district and what are the district results to build on. We need to be flexible and expand overall opportunities with improvements across the board. If the community understands the numbers, we will be able to have a better conversation with parent stakeholders.”
Brian Garcia: “We need to fulfill the core curriculum. Tests are not always a great indicator of student success. We need to make sure we are not only judging kids based on tests but on all aspects of the educational experience. We also need to be mindful of the demographics of the different parts of the district and that we are doing the best we can.”
What are your views on the current graduation and college attendance rates?
Andres Barraza: “We need to recognize not every job that is technical requires the collegiate route. I think of my past experiences as a firefighter as one example. It is difficult for many local employers in blue-collar professions to find skilled workers regardless of high starting pay and job availability. We need to offer opportunities for students that want trade schools and career pathways. We are worried that the path would not be set for non-college students. Apprenticeship programs in high school should be believed in.”
Brian Garcia: “I agree with Andres. To build off, our job is to empower students. I want to emphasize what my former teacher Patricia Ladue said: our job was never just to get kids to graduation. It is the job to prepare kids for the next step in our lives. Organizations like Achieve60 AZ are dedicated to having a strong diverse and rich workforce. The task is to ensure that 60 % of Arizonans 25 and older have a certificate or college degree by 2030.
Our states and country can not move forward if school board members think climate change is not real, Hillary Clinton is not important to the American Historical Narrative, and schools should be run as a business. The Democratic Nominee for the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, often comments that the future of our state “is in our schools.” Elected school board members should have the temperament and foresight to steer our schools in a forward direction that champions student development and success, facts, critical thinking, and active citizenship, not sectarian interests or the bottom line. Remember that consideration when voting for school board members this year. Remember that when considering the candidacies of Andres Barraza and Brian Garcia as they offer what is needed in school board members. Links to their sites are provided below for further review and consideration.
Full disclosure: The author of this piece is a PC in LD 18