North Central News

Candidates vie for school board spots

By Colleen Sparks
Residents in November will have a chance to make an impact on local children’s education by electing governing board members.

In the Madison Elementary School District, four people – three incumbents and one newcomer – are seeking the three seats on the board. Board President Scott Holcomb, vice president Sarah Speer and board member Matt Gress are running for re-election while newcomer Karen Gresham is running.

A mother of three and former certified public accountant, Gresham has served on many parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) and district committees.

“I just want to make sure we continue to earn our great reputation,” Gresham said. “One thing I want to do is make sure all our schools have the same opportunities and resources.”

Gress, who is budget director for the State of Arizona, is a former schoolteacher, who was elected to the board initially in 2016. He said he has “set my priorities by listening to parents, teachers, principals and community members – and then taking action.” One of his top goals if re-elected is ensuring all students have access to a device for at-home learning.

“The district must be there to support our staff,” Gress said.

Holcomb, an attorney, has served on the board for 16 years, and has three biological children and a foster daughter who attended Madison schools.

“My goals for the district are really focused on the strategic plan,” he said. “We’re proud of the strategic plan and implementing that, which is focused on not just academics but serving the needs of the whole child, with emotional-social issues.”

Speer, a mother of three, owns Clever Bird Communications, a small writing and marketing consulting firm. She was first elected to the board in 2012.

If reelected, Speer said “continually making sure that our staff and students are safe and healthy in the face of Covid-19 is my primary goal right now and the foreseeable future.”

Four candidates are running for three seats in the Washington Elementary School District. Current board President Tee Lambert is seeking reelection, as are incumbents Aaron Jahneke and Nikkie Lynn Whaley. Newcomers Jenni Abbott-Bayardi and Lindsey Peterson also are vying for seats.

Lambert, first elected to the board in 2004, is a Title Technician in the Paradise Valley Unified School District and her children attended district schools.

“My immediate goal is to move towards reopening schools in the safest manner possible,” she said. “Once we are past the Pandemic, I want to be on the board that guides WESD in reviewing and evaluating how we can continue to improve equity.”

Whaley, who has been on the Washington board since 2017, is a Board Support Specialist with the Arizona School Boards Association. Her son attended district schools and her daughter attends a district school.

“If re-elected, I would like to continue to pursue: social emotional wellness, student/family engagement, educational equity and teacher recruitment, development, and retention,” Whaley said.

Abbott-Bayardi, a mother of three who attended district schools, works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I deeply believe students’ success can be hampered if their mental, emotional, social, and physical health are not actively cared for in all areas of their lives,” she said.

Peterson, a mother of five children, is an English teacher at Apollo High School.

“As a teacher advocate, and a parent with diverse experience in the WESD (my oldest has severe autism, and attended the WESD self-contained autism program; my middle is in the Gifted Learning Center in the WESD, and my kids have attended six WESD schools), and many years to still go in the district, I felt I had a unique ability to be that voice,” she said.

Jahneke, could not be reached for comment, but he is an independent insurance agent and associate dean, School of Business with CollegeAmerica in Phoenix.

In the Phoenix Union High School District, there are two seats up for grabs and five candidates running. Lela Alston, who also is a state senator, is seeking reelection. Newcomers Girmar Anwar, Debbie Cross, Aaron Marquez and Nedra Sheppard also are running for seats.

Alston taught for 34 years in the Phoenix Union High School District. She has been on the Phoenix Union governing board for 12 years.

“One challenge is helping families and teachers adjust to a virtual learning situation, especially when technology isn’t always available,” Alston said. “We are providing additional training for teachers and staff, equipping students with computers and wifi hotspots, and allowing choices for both students, faculty, and staff on whether they want to work in a virtual, in person, or hybrid when it becomes safe for in person.”

Anwar is an educator, who said he will “seek to create an environment of accountability in order to make the changes necessary to move towards a higher success rate amongst our students, staff and community.”

Marquez, who has served in the U.S. Army Reserve since 2009, is currently a member of the Individual Ready Reserve and he has a daughter and stepson.

“Our first goal has to be to find a way to open schools in a way that follows the best science and expert recommendations,” he said.

Sheppard, a retired Phoenix Union district teacher, is now a substitute educator.

“My goals for Phoenix Union are to improve accountability and facilitate change among students, parents, teachers, administration, by working closely with the leadership team to identify, recommend and modify systematic practices that will foster student academic and social achievement,” she said.

In the Glendale Union High School District three people are vying for three seats. Voters will not have to choose governing board members in the Osborn Elementary School District, either, as three candidates have sought three seats.

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