School Board Candidates Address Hot Topics At Forum - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

School Board Candidates Address Hot Topics At Forum

October 8th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
School Board Candidates Address Hot Topics At Forum

By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

The six candidates vying for seats on the Chandler Unified School District governing board focused on their strengths and pledged to work on student achievement and wellness if elected.

The five newcomers and incumbent board member Bob Rice answered questions and mingled with the public at the Chandler Chamber of Commerce forum last week.

Candidates were asked about the board’s most important goals, what type of financial experience they had that would help them and what they thought about the district’s new equity and inclusion program.

The newcomers who are trying to persuade voters to elect them in November are Joshua Askey, Lara Bruner, Noemy Esparza-Isaacson, Lindsay Love and Jim Robinson.

Askey is a controller for a medical facilities developer in Chandler. He and his wife, Lisa Askey, have three sons, including one at Basha High School and one at Santan Junior High.

Bruner has been a teacher for 26 years, and she currently teaches in the Tempe Union High School District. She has three children, including her youngest, who attends Perry High School.

Esparza-Isaacson is a singer, visual artist, Spanish teacher and IT professional, and has three biological children who attend Knox Gifted Academy and Arizona College Prep – Erie Campus.

Love is a licensed clinical social worker, who has nieces in local schools. She graduated from Hamilton High School in 2003.

Robinson is the owner of a real estate development company and has three daughters in the Chandler district.

Rice was first elected to the Chandler school board in 2002, and he retired from Intel.

Bruner emphasized her extensive educational background including having taught special education for 13 years before switching to teach psychology and history.

Rice touted the district’s Journey 2025 plan, which has a mission “to empower all students with the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary to excel in college, career and life. “

“There are very few districts in Arizona that have anything like this,” he said.

Esparza-Isaacson called herself “a permanent fixture in my kids’ school” and cited her volunteer work in the community.

Esparza-Isaacson also talked about her “eclectic” background, which included recording Latin pop music professionally for many years while also working in the IT field.

Robinson said he was born in the Chicago area and his junior high years “were difficult.”

He said his seventh-grade science teacher connected with him, and “she really changed me around.” Later he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and a master’s in business administration.

Askey said he has lived in Chandler since 1996 and has bachelor’s degrees in accounting and business administration. He said he has been involved in the community for many years, including as a soccer coach and as chairman of the Chandler Museums Advisory Board.

“I believe with my financial background and unique vision I bring to the board, I can make Chandler the preferred choice,” in school districts, Askey said.

Love stressed her experience as a social worker helping children and families.

“I’m a proud CUSD alum,” she said. “This is my community, and I’m proud to come here and serve for a district I believe in. I am passionate about public education because public education has worked for me.”

Candidates were asked what they thought was the “most important role of a governing board member and how have you prepared yourself to run for a position.”

Rice said hiring the superintendent, setting policies and setting goals and expectations.

Esparza-Isaacson said providing “oversight for the superintendent” and hiring the superintendent are top roles, as is making sure the district meets the goals of the Journey 2025 plan.

Robinson also said getting feedback from people in the community is important.

“I believe the most important role is decision-making, based on policy and vision,” he said. “It’s critical board members have the ability to take input from all stakeholders.”

Askey said holding the governing board and administration “accountable to taxpayers” is the biggest function.

Love said “collaboration and that connection with the community” are the school board’s most important roles. The board and teachers need to “do what’s best for kids” by canvassing and talking to the community, she added.

Bruner also cited the importance of communicating with the public.

“Listen to the community,” she said. “Listen to the students, staff and parents. Use evidence-based research for hiring a superintendent, setting goals. Consider all stakeholders.”

The school board candidates were also asked which of the four pillars of the district’s Journey 2025 they thought were most important and why.

Esparza-Isaacson said, “Teachers .. really plant the seed. They’re the ones teaching us how to think and learn.”

Robinson said, “It always starts with students and teachers. Every decision we make, it starts and ends with what’s best for our students. Teachers, student safety, emotional wellness, are at the top of our concerns.”

Askey said “outstanding students” and that “I believe teaching students about America will produce outstanding students.”

Love said, “In order to turn out these outstanding students, we definitely have to focus on equity and excellence.”

She said students need to graduate prepared for “all job markets” and ready for college. Making sure “diverse families” moving into the district feel welcome is important, Love added.

Bruner said teachers are most crucial to students’ success, and it is important everyone “contributes to a culture in a school that is meaningful to students” and teachers are supported.

Rice said “staff members” are the most important. “Without the right people on the bus, you can’t be outstanding,” he said. “The reason the district is great is because of the teachers.”

Rice added district Superintendent Camille Casteel hires “the best people and lets them do their job.”

The candidates were also asked why the district’s new equity and inclusion program was “so important to CUSD and the community.”

The goal is giving children “access to an equitable and inclusive learning environment where they’re valued and excellence is demanded.”

Askey said he was not a fan of the program.

“I’m not real keen on looking at a person’s skin color when making decisions on whether to be friends,” he said. “It’s not what I would have chosen for the board. We give them all a fair shot.”

Later in the forum, Askey said his Caucasian parents adopted “four of us Koreans” when he was a child.

Love disagreed, saying “while we want to believe we live in a color-blind community, we’ve definitely had a lot of experiences in the district with fighting that racism.”

Bruner said “there have been significant challenges in the district” regarding equity and inclusion and that “our district has made great strides towards addressing some of these issues.”

Bruner said equity and inclusion are “not just about race” but also disabilities and other things that make students different.

Rice said the district needs to “empower all students” and make sure they all have “a fair chance” at succeeding.

“We realize this is a long process,” he said. “This is a culture change. We want to be the district in America that does the best job of this.”

Esparza-Isaacson said, “The diversity in our community is one of the biggest strengths. Children need to feel like, ‘I’m welcome, like I belong here.’ In order to be here, we need to crunch some numbers.”

Robinson praised the equity and inclusion program.

He said Intel has a “strong diversity program” and companies perform better when diversity and equity are addressed.

When asked what two or three issues they would focus on if elected, Love said supporting the board in the inclusion and diversity goals and “making sure students feel safer.” She also said supporting teachers so they “have resources to help students.”

Several other school board candidates mentioned students’ safety and wellness as among the goals they would focus on if elected.

“Suicide is now the number two cause of death of our teenagers,” Bruner said. “We need to be purposeful and look at what research is showing.”

Rice said the district’s “culture is an area of focus.”

“Student safety and suicide prevention is a key factor,” he said. “Our society has changed. We need to do what we can to get everyone involved in helping students.”

Esparza-Isaacson said students “need to have access” to a “well-rounded arts education.”

“The arts can solve social problems, give coping skills,” Esparza-Isaacson said.

Improving teachers’ pay is another one of the areas she said she would emphasize if elected.

Robinson said “school safety and emotional health of children” would be his top two topics of focus.

Askey said strategizing how to address the “build-out” in the district and “teaching our kids about the greatness of America” were his goals.

During a “lightning round,” candidates were asked questions and they could only answer “yes” or “no.”

Audience members, who included teachers, parents and others, left with different impressions of the candidates.

“There were some good questions definitely,” Basha High dance teacher Pamela Simmons said. “I was impressed with Lara (Bruner.) She knew what she wanted to say and she was concise.”

District parent Laura Latimer said Askey’s opinions on equity and finances and his goals “make sense to me.”

She said she would probably also vote for Rice because “he’s a known component,” but she is also considering Robinson as “there’s some things he said that spoke to me.”

Isabel Isaacson, 21, a Chandler High graduate and stepdaughter of Esparza-Isaacson, said that in addition to voting for her stepmother, she was also impressed with Love.

She said Love could help the district address “emotional wellness,” as “there is a lot of bullying going on.”

The two candidates elected Nov. 6 to the Chandler school board will serve a four-year term.

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