by David Safier
Wednesday night I moderated a forum with seven of the twelve candidates for the TUSD board -- in alphabetical order, Don Cotton, Miguel Cuevas, Ralph Ellinwood, Kristel Foster, Cam Juarez, “Betts” Putnam-Hidalgo and Mark Stegeman. I did my best to ask substantive questions without any "gotchas" attached and to give every candidate equal time and opportunity. Now that it's over, I'm putting back on my blogger's cap and stating my opinions about the candidates. The five who weren't present aren't people I would consider supporting, so these seven candidates are the ones I needed to see and hear to decide who I think should fill the three slots up for grabs.
In my opinion, two candidates definitely deserve your vote: Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster.
- Cam Juarez: Cam is a unique individual in the best sense of the term. He combines a Hispanic upbringing in the Yuma farming community, a physical disability, an education which led to a recent Masters Degree in Urban Planning, a Pima County job where he works with the Supervisors and makes financial decisons, a sharp intellect, strong analytical skills and an emotional understanding of what makes people tick. If he were only as good as the other candidates, I think I would support him just because of his ability to be a role model for TUSD students due to his story and his accomplishments. But for my money, he's simply the best candidate running. [Note: Cam is a strong supporter of the Mexican American Studies program, but his opinions are nuanced enough that some of MAS's most ardent supporters are often upset with him. He's staked out a position on the issue that's uniquely his own.]
- Kristel Foster: Kristel is a public school teacher, which is worth a whole lot in my book. Everything I write about education is filtered through my 30 years of classroom experience, which give me a much needed reality check. Kristel will bring that kind of rubber-meets-the-road perspective to the Board that none of the other members share. She will add a much needed dimension to the Board's discussions and decisions. It's also important that I agree with her basic stands on educational issues, which means I trust her to make good decisions based on the situations and the facts at hand.
Among the five remaining, I would like to see the two incumbents, Miguel Cuevas and Mark Stegeman, voted off the Board, and I don't think Don Cotton has the intellectual or personal qualifications to become a good Board member.
- Mark Stegeman: Mark is a very smart, knowledgeable guy, but he lacks the necessary emotive, empathetic side to be a complete school board member. If he were aware of his area of weakness, he could compensate for it, but unfortunately he lacks the humility to admit others might have a better perspective on classroom-related issues. So far as I can tell, Mark makes reasonable decisions on nuts and bolts District issues, but he seems to think his experience as a college Economics Professor gives him all the information it takes to understand how K-12 classrooms work. When he talks about what should happen in the classroom -- and especially when he explains his antipathy toward the Mexican American Studies program -- his lack of understanding of what it takes to encourage young, often unmotivated, often discouraged students to care about their own educations is on full display. If Mark were willing to take a back seat to others on these issues, his decisions wouldn't be so harmful, but he charges forward, believing his style of mathematically logical analysis yields all the answers he needs. He gives the impression he thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, no matter what the issue.
- Miguel Cuevas: My problem with Miguel is that I disagree with him on so many Board-related issues. During the forum, he indicated an anti-union bias which I find very troubling. As a Board member, he was one of the forces that lined up against the continuation of the Mexican American Studies program. And he gives more credence to standardized test scores in evaluating students and teachers than the tests deserve.
- Don Cotton: Don simply doesn't display a grasp of the issues or the analytic skills necessary to be an effective school board member. I had trouble figuring out his stands on the issues from his answers, which were unfocused and disorganized. He doesn't have the chops for the job.
That leaves either Ralph Ellinwood or “Betts” Putnam-Hidalgo for the third position. Both of them came off well in the forum, and I could see myself supporting either of them as the person to vote for after Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster. I'm going to reserve judgement about which would be the better Board member until I learn more.