On Sept. 21, seven of the nine candidates running for the three open slots on the Peoria Unified School District board attended a candidate forum, where they outlined their ideas, perspectives and plans.
More than 35,000 students attend PUSD schools in Glendale and Peoria.
While Linda Busam and Rebecca Hill were unable to attend, CJ Williams, Kirk Hobbs, Davita Solter, Kacie Franklin, Bill Sorensen, Devon Updegraff-Day and David Sandoval participated in the online event.
Candidates were asked about issues that prompted them to run for the governing board.
A mother of three children and lifelong West Valley resident, Franklin outlined her plans for educators throughout the district.
“One of the primary issues for me is our teacher retention. We have a history of bringing in fabulous people but not being able to retain them due to a number of factors,” said Franklin. “I truly believe that we need to look at significant ways to retain our wonderful educators, because they are the reason that we keep moving forward and that we produce some of the most stellar students in the state.”
Hobbs, the father of three PUSD students and a 10-year volunteer in the district, said concerns in regard to student success rates led him to become a candidate.
“When I really looked at the concerns that most parents I come in contact with have, I think probably the biggest issue is concern with getting students back on track in regard to overall performance. In many of our school districts, we’re seeing our juniors are failing on the state ELA (English Language Arts) tests somewhere at somewhere over 50%. We’ve got close to 44% who are not passing our math state test. So, my concern is returning PUSD back to the school district of choice,” said Hobbs. “My wife and I chose where we live 15 years ago because of the school district’s reputation, so I’d like to see us return to that excellence.”
Sandoval, the president of the school board who is seeking reelection, reflected on the aspects of the board that inspired him to rerun. His fellow board members Monica Ceja Martinez and Judy Doane are not running for reelection.
“We’ve seen a lot over the last three-plus years,” Sandoval said. “The dynamics of the Red for Ed movement, the hiring of a new superintendent and now through the pandemic. I’ll continue to be present and listen first to understand, be very informed and make data-driven decisions with a focus on our most important assets—our youth.”
After serving over three decades in the district, Solter said passion for service and education led her to run.
“In 2012, I retired from the school district and I currently work in Glendale Elementary School District as the Wellness Program specialist. Because of my part-time ability, I am able to volunteer in five of the PUSD sites. I’m also very active in the city of Glendale with different volunteer organizations,” said Solter. “My passion is service and education, and I’m ready to go.”
Updegraff-Day outlined the experience in her field that she felt would allow her to advocate for diverse issues.
“I’m a practicing physician assistant, and I own a dermatology analogy practice with 17,000 active patients. … I have experience with the Child Protective Services adolescent department in the Baltimore area, as well as working with the House of Ruth, which is the escape for domestic violence, working with the children for those families,” said Updegraff-Day.
Williams noted she has family who served for the board and a kindergartener starting this school year.
“It’s in our blood,” Williams said. “My entire family serves the public interest of our students across the state. … The tradition continues. I’m invested for the long haul. I currently have the privilege for serving as the administrator for West-MEC and have served in public education for the last 19 years.”
Sorensen, a former principal of Centennial High School, cited his 17 years as an educator.
“There’s something about community and seeing the people around you every day that makes you want to add value. As a principal and assistant principal, I pride myself on being an active listener and I work for you. So, the concept of listening to our parents, to our students and to our teachers, to our leaders and creating meaning together in the name of community and connection and ensuring every single PUSD resident feels that they belong, is an absolute mission to our soul,” said Sorensen.