Maricopa County School Superintendent

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  • Candidate picture

    Michelle Robertson
    (Dem)

  • Candidate picture

    Steve Watson
    (Rep)

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Biographical Information

Why are you the best person for the job?

What makes you the best candidate for the office of County Schools Superintendent?

What is the single most important thing a County Schools Superintendent can do to help improve schools?

The Maricopa County Education Service Agency performs numerous administrative, financial and research functions for local school districts. Specifically, what do you consider this agency’s most important function, and why?

What would be your three top priorities for the Maricopa County Education Service Agency during the next year if elected?

What is the most significant topic not being discussed publicly about the Maricopa County Education Service Agency?

Voters in May approved a proposition to increase education spending in Arizona by $3.5 billion over 10 years. It that enough to improve Arizona schools, or is more money needed? If more money is needed, where would it come from?

Can Arizona schools be substantively improved in ways that do not require additional funding? If so, how?

Do you think Arizona lawmakers should change the current education-funding system? If so, explain how and why.

What specifically can educators do to help schools increase academic achievement among Latino students?

Arizona assesses school quality largely through standardized testing. Do you agree with this approach or would you change it, and if so, how?

What is the best piece of political advice you ever received?

What is your favorite book (besides a spiritual text)?

What favorite movie has meaning for you?

What is your favorite place in Arizona?

Which Arizona political figure past or present do you most admire and why?

Age 51
Family Proud mother of two daughters, and recently became a grandmother.
Education Master Degree in Education Bachelor of Arts - Major in Communication, Minor in Sociology
Work history Teacher President and Negotiation Chair of the Cartwright Education Association Social Services, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Adoption Case Management Director of Social Services Domestic Violence Counselor
Previous public office None
Campaign Phone (623) 340-7292
How long have you lived in Arizona: Native to Arizona - 47 years.
how long have you been registered as a member of your party: 20
Previous public offices you’ve sought/held: None
Civic organizations in which you’ve been active: Cartwright Education Association Arizona Education Association National Education Association Child Abuse Prevention Council
Maricopa County needs a superintendent that will always put our children first. As a teacher and leader in the educational community, I have first hand knowledge of the challenges our kids face everyday and experience with the best teaching practices to improve student performance. I respect and understand the crucial role of our school governing boards, and this office oversees those elections and appointments. However, it falls short in providing support and resources to those governing board members. Under my leadership that would change. Most importantly, I am a relentless advocate who will never be missing in action when our schools and educators are suffering, nor make kids pay the price for inaction. I will be accessible, visible, and accountable to those I represent and serve.
The most pressing and critical issue in the Arizona education system today is inadequate funding of our schools. The Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools must be a proactive and tireless advocate with the Legislature and Governor for meaningful and permanent increases in education funding. We have to begin restoring the nearly 20% in funding cuts imposed yearly since 2008.
The most important function is to proactively provide the resources our students, teachers, and school districts need. I am running for office because the agency has been stagnant and is currently underutilized in many of its designate responsibilities. We must engage parents and leaders within our community to work together to improve the quality of and support for public education. The most important function aside from securing funding is that of the governing school board elections and appointments. This office must consistently collaborate with the school superintendents and district governing boards to help them be efficient and effective.
Priority number one is to increase education funding at the state level. Second, teachers are leaving in the profession in record numbers and Arizona will lose nearly 25 percent of teachers to retirement over the next four years. We have to retain and recruit qualified teachers. Thirdly, we have a duty to provide enrichment opportunities for early childhood education and ensure that our resources are equitably distributed to all students, so a child’s zip code does not predetermine their success in school.
I have said it over and over, the biggest issue this agency has chosen to not discuss or advocate for is adequate education funding. The current Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools has remained silent while our governor and legislature have made budget cut after budget cut during his terms in office. These drastic funding cuts, combined with ever increasing toxic testing and evaluation requirements, increased class sizes, minimal pay increases for educators, and teachers leaving the profession in droves; has left our kids paying the ultimate price. This office has a duty to secure and provide the resources our schools need to provide our kids with a quality public education and I will work relentlessly to provide them.
Prop123 was not a funding solution; it was the only resolution offered for a desperately needed infusion of cash to settle a lawsuit the schools had won against the state. We have to begin by restoring education funding to pre-recession levels. Over the past few years our state has had a budget surplus which ought to be used to replace funds that is was argued were only cut because of recession time budget shortfalls. There is money available to increase funding for schools, the lack of additional funding is the direct result of the Legislature and Governor choosing to fund prisons and support corporate tax cuts over providing our kids with quality public education. Our leaders have chosen to invest in special interest not the best interest of Arizona’s children.
There are two major ways we can improve our schools. Firstly, we must treat our teachers as the professionals they are by ensuring that they receive the respect, support, and resources they need to do their job. Our teachers have to have livable wages and benefits, otherwise, what incentive do we give them to stay in the profession so important to our future? Secondly, our school curriculum and evaluations must be focused on meeting the needs of the students, not those of politicians or special interests.
The funding formula is out dated and in many ways no longer effective; it needs to be changed. We have to be careful, however, because we cannot create inequity in allocations of funding. In particular, formulas must take into account the impact on currently successful programs, particularly in our inner city schools, so we do not unfairly impact children in lower income areas. We all know that lack of prevention and intervention programs leads to decreased student achievement, higher dropout rates, and increased crime rates. We cannot adequately prepare our kids to compete nationally and globally if we don’t provide the needed resources to ensure the success of every child. Any changes to the formula should focus on increasing the flexibility for schools so they can utilize funding in the most efficient way possible based on their specific needs, and in a manner that always put the needs of the students first.
We need stop segregating our students for whom English is a second language. Make no mistake this is happening in our school districts that have a high percentage of English Language Learners. We must focus on early childhood preparation for school and increasing parent involvement. We need to evaluate students in their primary language in order have an accurate measure of their knowledge base. By not doing this we often times are labeling second language learns as special education students when their not. We have to change the state mandated regulations related to our English Language Learners. We need to provide culture awareness training to educators. The reality is the same best practices should be used for all students to ensure increased achievement for all students.
We over-test our kids. Research and data clearly tells us this chronic testing is damaging the learning process and hurting, not helping our kids. Our schools are spending 6 to 8 weeks per year on testing; this means we are losing 6 to 8 weeks of direct-targeted instruction. We can only solve this problem by getting rid of the all or nothing stakes of our current testing protocol.
“Make decisions based on the issue, not party affiliation, because your decisions should be about the betterment of all, not a select group.”
Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy.
Little Women. I love this movie for so many reasons. Simply put it sends a powerful message about empowerment, equality, the importance of family, acceptance, tolerance, integrity, and perseverance.
As a native Arizonan, I love the entire state. One of my favorite places is the White Mountains, where I spent time as a child with my grandparents fishing, exploring our natural wonders, visiting the reservations, and bonding with my family.
There are many great political figures in Arizona. I would have to say that the one who comes to mind first is Carolyn Warner. She has been a dedicated advocate and public servant who is a staunch supporter of quality public education. She understands and has always fought for right of quality education at every stage from early childhood to the university. Carolyn Warner worked across the political aisle to make great things happen for Arizona’s children.
Age 45
Family I've been married for 17 years and have six children. I'm the youngest of five siblings.
Education B.A. Spanish University of Alabama Birmingham. M.A. Education University of Alabama Birmingham
Work history 10 years Teacher Boulder Creek High School. 4 years Teacher Shelby County Alabama. 6 years multimedia/web development
Twitter @educationsteve
Previous public office None
Campaign Phone (520) 276-5770
How long have you lived in Arizona: Born and raised in Phoenix: life long resident (university out of state)
how long have you been registered as a member of your party: Since I was 18 years old and first registered to vote.
Previous public offices you’ve sought/held: None
Civic organizations in which you’ve been active: Boy Scouts of America
I have seen our schools from all angles: a student, a parent, and a teacher. I have the experience, skills and leadership to bring all stakeholders together and implement policies that are best for our children. As a native of Phoenix, I have a unique understanding of our values in Maricopa County. I will work so that every child in the county has the best education. Regardless, of income, race, gender, or neighborhood, every child deserves access to a quality school with excellent teachers. I am fiscally responsible. I will work so that our tax dollars are being spent on the programs that benefit students most.
I have seen our schools from all angles: a student, a parent, and a teacher. I have the experience, skills and leadership to bring all stakeholders together and implement policies that are best for our children. As a native of Phoenix, I have a unique understanding of our values in Maricopa County. I will work so that every child in the county has the best education. Regardless, of income, race, gender, or neighborhood, every child deserves access to a quality school with excellent teachers. I am fiscally responsible. I will work so that our tax dollars are being spent on the programs that benefit students most.
Ensure that the best teachers are in the classrooms teaching our students. Too many good teachers have left (and continue to leave) the teaching profession. It is easy to say that teachers are leaving because of low teacher pay, but that is just one factor. Only 64% of teachers believe that their school is a creative learning environment. Only 48% of teachers feel that they have a voice at school. We need to build an environment where students and teachers enjoy learning and being at school. Good teachers want to teach and inspire students. We need high standards for entry into the teaching profession, and then to trust those teachers to do their job.
Working with school boards. A lot of action happens at the local level: budgets, salaries, teacher hiring, curriculum adoption, override elections, student learning, and more. School board members are volunteers. They have a tough (and often thankless) job. I will help them grow in their role as public servants and learn to navigate their responsibilities.

I also look forward to hearing from school boards about their needs. The role of County Superintendent isn’t about imposing his/her will on school boards, but listening to and helping them serve their communities. Working with school boards we can implement proven steps to improve student learning.

1. Early childhood literacy: If kids can’t read, school isn’t fun. My eight year old is dyslexic. He doesn’t fit the mold of what a traditional student looks like. Kids like him get left behind. We have research proven techniques to help all kids read regardless of learning ability. Focusing on reading and literacy, especially in the early grades, will help improve all academic areas. 2. Teacher Retention and Training: One of my goals is to help good teachers become the best teachers. I will work to develop a positive work environment where teachers want to come back to the profession. Every student deserves a great teacher in the classroom. 3. Leadership: In our state and county politics we have a leadership void with respect to education. I will be an advocate of children and their families in Maricopa County. I will work with the legislature, school boards, and public to ensure that we have the best educational opportunities for our students. I am a parent and a teacher. I get it.
The current superintendent is collecting a taxpayer-funded salary, but has a reputation for not being at work.
I wish we had unlimited funds for educating our children. We operate on a budget dictated to us by the state legislature and voters. My job is to get the best academic outcomes with the money budgeted.

I believe voters want more money for education. At the same time, they want to see current funds being spent wisely. As we continue efforts to improve education, I am committed to working with state and local leaders to adequately fund education.
Absolutely. We need to change the educational climate in Arizona. Research shows that when students and teachers have a greater voice in what happens at school, performance increases. Politicians and bureaucrats are over regulating and stifling innovation in education.

We also need to take a look at how current funds are being spent. Are they being spent in the places that maximize learning? I believe we can move some funds into the classroom where they will best improve student learning.
I am open to changes in the current education-funding system, but I don’t believe in change for the sake of change. It needs to be a change that simplifies the formula and benefits the student and the taxpayer. At the moment there are several ideas being floated by different parties. I am willing to look at each one and support a change if I believe it benefits education and families.
First, believe in the Latino community. I spent the first ten years of my life in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. Latino parents want the same as any parent: quality education for their kids. I have a B.A. in Spanish, an M.A. in Education (with a focus on teaching languages), and lived in Latin America for a few years. I feel uniquely qualified to reach out to the Hispanic community.

Second, we need to create a positive work environment for teachers in Latino communities. Our current teacher shortage is affecting the Hispanic community particularly hard. We need to create incentives for good teachers to teach and stay in communities that need them the most.
Students are over tested. In Arizona we don’t have quality testing data in part because we can’t decide on a standardized test from year to year (Stanford 9, AIMS, PARCC, AZMerit). Standardized tests are one tool, but used alone they are a terrible measure of school quality. Other data should be used in conjunction with standardized tests. Graduation rates, employment rates, college acceptance, parent/student satisfaction, coupled with school demographics all help paint a better picture of school quality.
Stand up for what you believe. Respect others and their beliefs.
I have a book by Reader’s Digest called The World’s Best Fairy Tales. My mom used to read it to me when I was a kid. Now I read those same fairy tales to my children. I feel I am creating a bond through generations when sharing these stories with my kids. I love autobiographies. Yeager, and Rickenbacker also are two favorites.
I like the Bourne movies. Matt Damon is a stud, and Jason Bourne is a guy who is trying to do the right thing, protect the innocent, and make amends for past ill deeds. I love film. My students know I could talk all day about symbolism in cinema.
I have hiked Havasupai a few times. One time, we got a late start hiking into the canyon. We ended up pulling out our sleeping bags and sleeping in a clearing along the trail. I woke up at midnight to a horse running around the clearing. As I looked up, I could see every star in the sky. It was amazing. That night I thought a lot about my place in the universe. I’ve been all over Arizona, but that was a special moment in a special place. I tell anyone headed to Tucson to go to the Titan Missile Museum.
We have had a lot of great ones, but Sandra Day O’Connor is pretty special. It is easy to think she is great for being a terrific Supreme Court Justice. However, we often forget about her work in Arizona in the Attorney General Office, and Senate. It took a lot of courage for her to retire from the Supreme Court when she did.