Governing Board candidates agree on most issues

By: 
CAROLYN DRYER, Editor

Peoria United Parent Council hosted a forum Oct. 2 for candidates seeking election to the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board. Lois Brechner, former president of League of Women Voters Northwest Valley, served as moderator, and the four candidates for two seats on the Governing Board answered her questions without hesitation.

Brechner asked the candidates to give their backgrounds and explain why they felt they were qualified to serve on the Governing Board.

Dr. Michael Gard said first, he was a parent of a child in second grade. He has been an educator 13 years, seven of those years as a science teacher. He is now working as an assistant in registration for an inner-city school district in the Valley. He said he understands the inner workings of finance and budget, salary and benefits. He has a masters and doctorate degree in educational leadership from Arizona State University.

Beverly Pingerelli said it has been an honor to serve four years on the Governing Board, and if she wasn’t qualified four years ago, ‘I am today.” Pingerelli said she has the important qualities of temperament, leadership with conviction and the ability to make decisions based on data.

Davita Solter said she worked in the PUSD 31 years, and during that time taught in elementary and high schools, and she also served as an elementary and high school principal. She then retired and worked in the Glendale Elementary School District in the human resources area at Melvin E. Sine Elementary School. Solter said she is the only candidate who lives in Glendale, where she is active in the community, has the experience and “passion for service and education.”

Cory Underhill said in the last four years, she was a third-grade teacher, and has a “developed in the trenches perspective.” She worked in a nonprofit for a number of years and holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management. She said she has a wealth of experience as a teacher and parent.

Brechner asked the candidates to describe what they see as educational gaps in strengths and weaknesses in the district.

Pingerelli said, for Peoria, a strong turnover of teachers was a weakness, and to counter that, for the past four years, the Governing Board has tried to give teachers a reason to stay in the district.

Solter said she agreed that retention was a weakness and it has put a strain on administrators. As a strength, she said the district shows support for teachers and one of its efforts has been the Modified Mondays program. That is to support ongoing professional development for district employees. On Mondays this school year, students are being released two hours early.

Underhill said the weakness gap is the leadership changes and curriculum direction and challenges at the state level. The strength is the district’s higher than average SAT scores and graduation rate.

Gard said retention and teacher satisfaction are weaknesses and the strength is the educational programs offered in the district. But even that came with a caveat.

“We offer these great programs, but some students do not have the opportunity to take advantage of those programs,” Gard said.

Brechner asked the candidates if they could change one thing in how PUSD educates their children, what would it be?

Solter said, “Every student given the opportunity to play at their strength, smaller class sizes, teachers certified in every classroom.”

Underhill said, “More meaningful and fewer assessments.”

Gard said, “Over assessment is a big problem,” that his second-grade daughter is stressed already, concerned about a standardized test (AZMerit), and the state has yet to prepare a proper testing format.

Pingerelli said, “Something as simple as getting back to basics, back to basic biology.”

Pingerelli said the Governing Board is also trying to bring in higher qualified teachers in math sciences for special education.

The next question was, “Why is having a teacher’s voice on the board important?”

Underhill said, “It’s kinda hard to know what’s going on when you’re in a classroom and then new policies are in place that don’t fit.”

Gard said he understands what’s expected in a classroom, a whole new perspective to understand the impact.

“Every decision we make needs to be a positive,” Gard said.

Pingerelli said, “I am the only non-educator (seeking a seat on the Governing Board). The board represents the community … I don’t think you have to have a teacher background.”

Solter said, “I think it’s important — educate the public and members of the board. Sometimes, things are done by the board and they don’t understand education.”

All of the candidates said they support the $189 million bond that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Gard said, “That money is going to make a huge impact. The bond passing is essential for Peoria.”

All candidates also agreed the changes of standards for teaching biology put forth by outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas are not good.

Pingerelli said, “I’ve heard nothing but bad things about biology. I would hope they would not go out as they stand now.”

Compensation, respect, engagement, listening, partnership development, classroom resources — all were cited as ways the Governing Board could support teachers.

Each candidate gave specifics about how to retain teachers, from giving them autonomy, wellness programs, connect with different activities, incentivize to have the best teachers, including a longevity inventive.

All of the candidates expressed interest in getting classified employees involved at their own schools. Pingerelli said this year, classified employees “need a bump” in their pay.

Candidates were open to suggestions for the old Challenger Space Center building, and they agreed privacy and safety need to be balanced, with the use of cameras — how and where — should be weighed differently at each school.
 


CANDIDATE BIOS

MICHAEL JAMES GARD
My name is Dr. Michael Gard and I am asking for your vote for a seat on the Peoria Unified School Board. I am running for School Board because I believe in the power and importance of public education in Arizona. I have committed my professional career to public education first as a high school science and CTE engineering teacher then an Assistant Principal. In my 13 years as an educator I have gained extensive knowledge of school finance, the need for school safety, teacher effectiveness, career & technical education, and student support. My Master’s Degree and Doctorate Degree from ASU in Educational Leadership serve to enhance my working knowledge of the educational system.
 
During the last year, I have taken an active role in supporting growth in the PUSD by being a voice for the Bond that is going to be on the November Ballot. I attended the Citizen’s Advisory Bond Committee meetings to listen and voice concerns. The outcome of the committee work initially included a bond package that did not include a new high school to address the growth in Peoria. I made this decision public and we saw great concerns coming from community members. The district took note and administration added the construction of a new high school to the bond package. Funding from this Bond is imperative in addressing concerns about growth and to provide needed funds to aging facilities throughout the district. After careful consideration, I intend to vote yes on the PUSD Bond.
 
If elected, I will support efforts to increase student opportunities in specialty programs (for example career & technical education, arts education, and gifted education), increase student support services and safety, and fight for increased salaries for teachers and staff. I am running for School Board because I believe I can work collaboratively to ensure we are providing the best education for our students, supporting our teachers and staff, and addressing the needs of our community. If you want a Board member with the passion of a parent and the knowledge of an educator then vote for me on November 6th.
 
BEVERLY J. PINGERELLI
Education
Bachelor of Science, Biological Sciences; American Society for Clinical Pathology Cytogenetics Certification, CG(ASCP)CM for Laboratory Personnel.
I work full-time at Grand Canyon University setting up undergraduate biology and chemistry laboratory classrooms, and part-time in the Molecular Medicine Laboratory at St. Joseph’s Hospital performing infectious disease testing.
 
Political Experience
Peoria Unified School District Governing Board President 2017; Board Clerk 2015 and 2018.
Family, background and why I am rerunning for school board
My husband Peter and I are celebrating 30 years of marriage. Our youngest daughter Angela is a senior at Grand Canyon University in Hotel Management and our daughter Kayla graduated in 2017 from Oakland University in Michigan and is pursuing a theater career in New York City. Both of our daughters attended our district schools, Desert Harbor Elementary and graduated from Centennial High School.
I grew up just outside of Detroit in a low-income family neighborhood. I had support of a loving family, perseverance to learn and benefits of attending a public school just a few blocks from my childhood home. I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate high school and the only one to complete a college degree. I believe public education led me to a better pathway, and our district community reflects my past personal experiences.
I am rerunning for school board to continue my service to our community and help improve public education in Arizona. While our district has overcome challenges within the past few years, the need for strong, principled, unabashed leadership are vital to continue charting courses to academic and operational excellence. As a governing board member, I believe my votes have reflected these characteristics, and are based on data-driven analysis. I remain steadfast in supporting public education, and if reelected will continue making decisions which best serve all district stakeholders. My experiences have reminded me to lead by conviction and not just consensus.
 
My goals if elected:
We live in an age where just about everything is measured, including our student performance on AZMerit and Science AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) state academic tests. Overall our district is performing at or slightly above the state average on AZMerit, and I believe this simply is not good enough for a district our size, serving 35,000 students. And, while improvements have been made to our science curriculum, our district continues to witness declines in scientific literacy for graduating seniors according to AIMS. Certainly, multiple factors affect these scores, but I believe it is of overriding importance as a governing board member, we work intensely with district leadership, parents, teachers and students to identify areas to markedly improve academic performance for all students.
In the past, superintendents and governing boards from districts across our state have preached about high graduation rates, but we must honestly confront these academic performance issues in order to improve public education for students graduating from Arizona schools.

DAVITA SOLTER
I am running for the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board because I have great passion for education and service. After 31 years of employment as an administrator and teacher in this District, I feel qualified to hold this position, knowing the importance of serving the community and staff. Since retiring, I now work part-time in a neighboring school district which gives me a great perspective and the time to dedicate in serving as a board member. My platform falls right in line with PUSD’s strategic plan: supporting all employees, student success, financial sustainability, school safety and community engagement. I will be a dedicated, dependable and determined school board member, working to move the Peoria Unified School District forward, having had the experience in the classroom, making decisions as an administrator, and parenting a PUSD graduate. I would appreciate your vote!

CORY A. UNDERHILL
As a former third grade PUSD teacher and proud parent of two sons who attend PUSD schools, I am honored to be running for the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board. Education has always been my passion. To me, public education represents the promise that individuals, regardless of background or circumstances, can acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue their dreams. As a PUSD Governing Board Candidate, my aim is to help ensure our strong and growing district can continue to offer the highest quality education to our students, thereby strengthening our community, sustaining and enhancing property values, encouraging business development, and building the overall competitiveness of our city and state. I believe that we can accomplish this by continuously improving our ability to attract and retain top quality staff, by working to enhance student achievement consistently across our district, and by working to identify resources and partnerships to support growth and modernization. Most importantly, however, we need to rebuild a commitment to a shared vision among stakeholders that is driven by student needs, not politics. I believe a key asset to making forward progress is building relationships with stakeholders throughout our district – so that we can seek to understand each other, value each other’s opinions, and make decisions based on what is best for all our students. We must also be assertive in having conversations about the challenges our district faces – so that we can move on to productive solutions.
In my career, I have had the opportunity to work in the educational arena in many different roles, including serving as a classroom teacher (both in public schools and in alternative settings for troubled youth), as a statewide early childhood initiative coordinator, and as a program director in an early college awareness program (GEAR UP), among others. I have also owned my own business, providing strategic planning, program development, and grant writing services to a broad range of health and human service agencies. Through my experiences, I feel that I have developed a broad community perspective, along with an “in the trenches” classroom perspective, that will allow me to be a highly effective governing board member for the Peoria Unified School District.
 

 

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