Governing Board Issue, Vol. 47, No. 3, Oct. 1, 2018

Four candidates compete in Governing Board race

Marcie Hutchinson, Rhonda Levenda, Jenny Richardson and Ben Smith are running for two openings on the MPS Governing Board. This issue of Mesa Agenda features their responses to our candidate survey.

Photo of Marcie Hutchinson Rhonda Levenda photo  Photo of Jenny Richardson Photo of Ben Smith 
 Marcie Hutchinson Rhonda Levenda  Jenny Richardson Ben Smith

School board overview

Mesa residents elect board members, who serve staggered four-year terms without pay. The board sets district policies and oversees the superintendent, who is responsible for day-to-day operations.

Incumbents Richardson and Smith have served since 2014. They are seeking another term.

Please join us at the Meet the Candidates forum

Hutchinson, Levenda, Richardson and Smith will participate in a Q&A session 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the Kino Junior High auditorium. The event will also be livestreamed at mpsaz.org.

Voter information

Voter registration deadline is 11:59 p.m. Oct. 9. Early ballots will be mailed Oct. 10. Polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 6. For more information, see the Maricopa County Elections Department website, or call 602-506-3535.

Meet Marcie Hutchinson

Children who graduated from Mesa Public Schools

Our two daughters Erin and Mary Beth attended Mesa Public Schools K-12 and graduated from Red Mountain High School.

Occupation

Retired Educator: Norwich, New York (3 years), Mesa Public Schools (28 years), Arizona State University (7 years)

Education

BA in Secondary Education, State University of New York at Oswego
MA in History, Arizona State University

Years in Mesa

39

Community and volunteer activities

  • Board Member, Arizona Academic Decathlon
  • Treasurer, Arizona Council for History Education
  • Educational Consultant, Mesa Arts Center
  • Grant Evaluator and Curriculum Consultant, Salt River Project
  • Treasurer, Melikian Center Advisory Board (Arizona State University)

Three greatest strengths of Mesa Public Schools

My husband Mike and I established our careers in Mesa because this community is committed to excellence in education. Mesa schools provide the mortar that supports strong families, the foundation of a strong community. Our future depends on strong public schools. In Mesa, public education is not a cost; it's an investment - an investment in our economy, our democracy and in each other.

Because of our commitment to public education, the district attracts some of the best teachers, staff, and administrators to educate our children. Every day these dedicated employees do their jobs, devoting themselves to the welfare of our students. No matter how big our district, employees work tirelessly to fulfill the MPS Promise that "every student in Mesa Public Schools is known by name, served by strength and need, and graduates ready for college, career and community."

As a result, Mesa has been the district that other Arizona districts look to for leadership in times of crisis.

Three greatest challenges facing Mesa Public Schools and how I would address them

In April, I was proud to be among the 50,000 who marched to the Capitol demanding restoration of public school funding in Arizona. Arizonans had to face the fact that Arizona teachers were some of the worst paid in the nation, teaching huge classes in unsafe and unhealthy buildings with outdated technology and books. We cannot attract the best district employees when they are not paid a competitive wage.

  • I care that every kid in Mesa gets a shot at a great public education. 
  • I care that every kid goes to a safe and healthy school.
  • I care that our kids are taught by professional educators and served by dedicated staff members, at fully funded schools.

I will work to ensure passage of the district bond and override, but as a public education advocate, I will continue the fight to secure long-term and sustainable state funding that will ensure the excellent education every Mesa kid deserves.

To retain great employees, I am committed to listening to the concerns and ideas of all who work in our schools: teachers, counselors, administrators, bus drivers, aides, technicians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, maintenance workers and janitors. Dedicated district employees must feel valued and the dignity of their work respected. Issues such as class size and workloads must be addressed so employees can focus on their mission - educating our kids.

In a district as big as ours, it is easy to come up with "one size fits all" solutions, but our schools and their communities are not all one size. I am committed to open dialogue with parents, students, members of the community and school employees seeking the best ideas to ensure a quality education at every school. Let's think about schools as centers that bring neighbors together in the best interest of our kids.

We must think and act innovatively for Mesa to remain the "city upon the hill" that other Arizona districts come to for exciting ideas in curriculum, teaching methods, operations, and finances.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I've taught innovative curriculum, engaged kids, listened to parents, trained principals, and worked with some of the most amazing staffs who create learning environments where kids thrive. My experiences as a Mesa classroom teacher, an ASU faculty member and a public education advocate has prepared me to work tirelessly with others for the benefit our community. I'm proud to have been a Mesa teacher. It's time to bring a Mesa teacher's experiences to the board's decision-making process.

I am Marcie Hutchinson. I believe "our strong legacy will lead us to a bright future." I am your choice to serve on the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board. Thank you for your consideration. I appreciate your vote.

Website and/or social media

hutchinsonformesaschools.com
twitter.com/Marcie_hutch
facebook.com/hutchinsonformesaschools

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Meet Rhonda Levenda

Children who graduated from Mesa Public Schools

Both my step-daughters (28 and 25) and daughter (19) attended Red Mountain High School. Husband, Mark graduated from Mountain View High School in '84.

Occupation

School psychologist

Education

B.S. in Human Services from University of Phoenix
Ed.S. in School Psychology from Northern Arizona University

Years in Mesa

9

Community and volunteer activities

  • Red Mountain Community Church, member/volunteer, 2010 - current
  • Red Mountain Precinct Committeeman, March 2017 - current
  • Focus HOA, Board Member at Large, 2016 - current
  • President and Director of Red Mountain Track and Field Booster Club, 6/2014 - 6/2016
  • Lead author of Smith Junior High A+ application (300+ volunteer hours), 2015/2016 SY
  • Math Blasters Coach at Red Mountain Ranch Elementary, 2010/2011 SY
  • Career Coach at Fresh Start Women's Resource Center, 2006
  • Counselor at Crisis Pregnancy Center of Greater Phoenix, 2003 - 2004

Three greatest strengths of Mesa Public Schools

The three greatest strengths within Mesa Public Schools are

1) school choice options offered within the district,

2) training and mentorship provided for new staff and

3) teachers and staff! Mesa provides a continuum of non-traditional educational settings, meeting unique needs of students. As a school psychologist in Mesa for over five years, I received excellent training, professional development, mentorship and administrator support. Mesa teachers are the backbone to our children's education, impacting success well beyond K-12. When in Mesa, I worked alongside some of the most talented teachers, support staff and administrators in our state.

Three greatest challenges facing Mesa Public Schools and how I would address them

Retaining and recruiting high quality staff, developing a self-sustaining budget, and meeting the needs of 21st century students are the greatest challenges facing Mesa Public Schools. As a Mesa School Board member I will bring a firsthand perspective as a former district employee of how to increase employee retention. During the five years worked in Mesa, I observed many areas of non-essential spending and will work towards making our budget and staff pay sustainable, regardless of funding changes. As a parent and school psychologist, I will be an advocate for positive changes to curriculum that encourage creativity, efficient use of teacher and student time, and equip our children with social and emotional skills needed for success beyond K-12 education.

Website and/or social media

rhondalevenda.com
facebook.com/Levenda4MesaSchools
twitter.com/MesaSchoolBoard

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Meet Jenny Richardson

Children who attend Mesa Public Schools

Riggs is a 5th grader at Emerson, Rex is a 10th grader at Westwood, and Abby is a senior at Westwood.

Children who graduated from Mesa Public Schools

Mallory, Randall and Ryan all graduated from Westwood.

Occupation

Elementary School teacher in UT and CA, 1990-1994
Full-time homemaker and school volunteer, 1995-present

Education

Emerson, Carson, Westwood HS, 1973-1986
Degree in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University

Years in Mesa

I was raised in MPS, and after going out of state to attend college, my husband, fellow Westwood grad Randy Richardson and I lived in Utah, California, Kentucky and Texas while he attended school and served in the Air Force. We returned to Mesa to raise our family in 2004.

Community and volunteer activities

I have been active in my children's school communities, from volunteering weekly in my children's classrooms, teaching Art Masterpiece, to serving as president of PTO, on SIAC committees, Booster clubs and on many Parent Advisory Committees at schools and the district level. I have served with the community based PAC through three different elections to help secure bond and override funding for Mesa Public Schools since 2012, and as part of the Imagine Mesa committee for the City of Mesa. I have been on the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board since 2014, serving as both the Clerk and Board President during that time. I am also active in my church community, serving as an instructor of a Thursday morning religious studies class and a Sunday School teacher of 17 year olds.

Three greatest strengths of Mesa Public Schools

1. I always think the greatest strength of Mesa Public Schools is our PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE! At every level of employee-administrative, teachers, operations, transportation, food & nutrition, office personnel-MPS is full of talented, committed individuals who all work to provide a quality education for EVERY student. Our people also includes wonderful students, involved families and a community who cares about having a great public school system in Mesa.

2. DIVERSITY is another wonderful strength of Mesa Public Schools, both in our population and our program offerings. Our nearly 65,000 students come to us with strengths and needs and MPS is able to offer so many supports that give every student the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, at a choice of school campuses that are tailored to suit many needs. While Mesa is rightfully proud of our award winning Academic, Arts and Athletic programming, we also support and supplement those with amazing CTE, AVID, SPED, and Counseling departments that allow for individualized education experiences based on student strengths and needs.

3. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY is one of Mesa's hallmarks. A historically conservative board has carefully managed debt levels to keep tax rates stable and MPS recognized nationally for having low administrative costs and for having high academic success with low expenditures. Our district strives to pay teachers competitive salaries and keep money focused on classroom spending.

Three greatest challenges facing Mesa Public Schools and how I would address them

1. The graduation rates in Mesa are too low. High school graduation is a key indicator in future success for our students, and currently nearly 25% of our students are not graduating on-time. Our schools are beginning to do amazing work with providing mentors to every student, as well as looking to provide earlier academic supports, and consistent intervention time. I will encourage and support more innovation like this, as well as seeking to help students find their academic strengths and looking for ways to help them feel a successful part of their campuses. I think our large, devoted classified staff will play a key role in this work

2. We continue to see an achievement gap across the district. Our higher poverty schools struggle with testing, attendance, home support and social-emotional needs. Focusing resources to help all students feel safe, successful and important has been a huge priority for me as a board member. While we have been successful in adding deans and assistant principals to our schools so that principals can increase their capacities as instructional leaders, as well as adding clinical social workers to some of our campuses-that work needs to continue to expand. We also need to dramatically increase the flexibility and quality of our professional development so that teachers have tools and support as they deal with our most at-risk students.

3. I continue to worry that we are "sucking the joy" out of education, one initiative at a time-for both our educators and our students. As a board member, I have advocated for the district to allow our teachers time to teach and work as a district to provide supports and resources to help students and teachers re-discover the joy of learning and teaching. I am encouraged as I weekly visit classrooms across the district and I see creativity and innovation at every campus. I will look to continue to recognize, protect, celebration and encourage that kind of work through expanded teacher recognition programs and spotlights on success.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

It has been an privilege to serve in Mesa for the past four years. Through my service, I have had the opportunity to have hundreds of discussions about how we can work to improve and support education in Mesa and serve all of our students AND our employees by their strengths and needs. As the only member of the board, and the only candidate with children currently attending Mesa Public Schools, I think I provide a unique and necessary parent voice in our discussions, as well as the perspective of former educator. I know what a difference a supportive school community and a quality education makes in the lives of our students and I will continue to work for the success of ALL of our students.

Website and/or social media

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Meet Ben Smith

Children who graduated from Mesa Public Schools

None of my children have graduated yet. However, my wife graduated from Dobson, which is where our foreign exchange student will graduate in May!

Occupation

Sr. Manager

Education

Masters in Business Administration

Years in Mesa

20 years

Community and volunteer activities

In addition to serving on the Mesa School Board for the past 4 years, I also volunteer my time as a Chairman for the Fiesta Bowl, where I raise money for charity and support the coordination of events like the Fiesta Bowl Parade. As a Sun Devil, my wife and I have also served on a number of Charity Committees for Arizona State University. Finally, I have been involved in fund raising for the Humane Society of the United States.

Three greatest strengths of Mesa Public Schools

The three greatest strengths of Mesa Public Schools include: 
1. Diversity within and across our campuses,
2. An amazing catalog of programs and opportunities, and
3. Certified and Classified Educators who understand the impact they have on the lives of learners.

Three greatest challenges facing Mesa Public Schools and how I would address them

We deal with a number of challenges within Mesa Public Schools. One of the top challenges is outlined in our promise, and that is understanding and addressing the unique needs of all of our students. With a vastly diverse socioeconomic population, we need to do a better job identifying struggling students and creating a plan to address their needs. To address this, I spent time on some of our struggling campuses, talking with the students, educators, and school leadership about their concerns. I took this information and visited schools across the state that excel with the same population and opened dialog between our District Leadership and theirs with the goal of sharing ideas to improve the lives of little learners. This work will continue.

Another challenge that Mesa Public Schools faces is drastic under-funding from the state. To address this I have worked very closely with the District Leadership to fully understand how and where the dollars we receive are spent, and have championed and celebrated internal efficiency studies. In addition to my work at the District, I have been very active at the Capital working with State Legislators and outside education groups to find ways to bring more money into our classrooms.

Finally, our schools struggle with a major teacher shortage. This has forced us to hire long term subs and increase our class sizes. This is an issue that goes beyond our district boundaries and needs to be addressed through supporting and expanding partnerships between MPS and Colleges. As a Board Member, I will continue to promote programs that bring us the best and brightest young educators, and will continue to look for innovative ways to decrease our student/teacher ratio.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I have been involved in Public Education for more than 20 years. Over the past 4 years as a current Board Member, I have gone beyond the Board Room to better understand our District as a whole. I spend time, not only with Teachers, but supporting Educators. I've ridden a Bus without AC, crawled through school attics with Technicians, and even went on skunk patrol with our Operations team. MPS is #oneteam, and I would be honored to serve another 4 years supporting those who support our learners.

Website and/or social media

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