Oct. 20, 2004 - Maribel Lopez said her passion for education led her to run for the Marana Unified School District governing board.
She used to teach third grade in the Sunnyside Unified School District, and now, as the Title I project facilitator at Drexel Elementary School, she understands the pressure felt by some students to pass the AIMS tests.
She wants to get involved in the district because her daughter began attending a Marana school after they moved here during the summer.
"I take it to heart, what my children's education is, and what's happening," Lopez said. "I've always been on top of it."
When she saw the district amid a storm of controversy surrounding the resignation of Superintendent Rick Lesko, she decided to run for a seat on the board.
Lopez, along with Patricia Teager and Mel Kaster, are endorsed by the group "Take Back Our School District," which formed in an effort to replace the current school board after it accepted Lesko's resignation.
Board President Janice Mitich and board members Dan Post and Debbie Schmich (see stories pages 6, 7 and 8) will reach the end of their terms this year. They are currently running for re-election, which means Marana residents will be able to select from six candidates in the Nov. 2 election.
The organizers of "Take Back Our School District," and many members of the public, reacted in outrage to the board's treatment of the community when it made the decision to accept Lesko's resignation. Community members complained about a lack information surrounding the events and demanded an explanation from the board.
Board members said they could not reveal any further details surrounding Lesko's resignation, because at his request, the meetings to evaluate his performance were closed to the public.
Lopez said she would help return control of the board to the community and facilitate the flow of information between the board and its constituency.
"I think you should have an open door policy for parents, because they are the community, and the community is what makes the schools," Lopez said.
The board members, Post, Schmich and Mitich, have maintained that the public has always had control over the district.
The board needs to have a broader perspective on the district, and know that its employees and administration can handle the everyday activity within the schools, Lopez said. The board's job is primarily the allocation of resources, she said.
"That goes to show you, you need to have that trust within the school district," she said. "You have principals overseeing the teachers needs, and the principal then goes to the assistant superintendent for needs and concerns, and then it goes to the superintendent. So you're trusting that you have quality people and leaders. You're just overseeing it to make sure that things are OK."
A major concern for parents throughout the district is whether or not their children will be sufficiently prepared for the AIMS test, or Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. Students who graduate in 2006 are the first who will have to pass the tests in order to receive their diplomas.
Lopez said her experience at Sunnyside Unified School District will provide an asset in addressing parents concerns about these tests.
"The first step, is you need to assess each student and see what level they're at, and see what needs to be done," Lopez said. "You have to have a child be able read at their grade level before you can move them into any other curriculum."
Lopez said each child needs to be addressed individually, because when students begin to fall behind early, it becomes difficult for them to catch up.
She said MUSD may have many programs in place - such as after-school tutoring and teacher's aids in the classrooms - to prepare students for the tests, but the district needs to work continuously because the tests change each year.
"It's a new AIMS this year, so nobody really knows what's going to happen until that time comes," she said. "And it'll be changed again next year. But it's just keeping up with the current state standards."
As the Title I program facilitator at Drexel Elementary School, Lopez has direct experience in dealing with students that come from diverse backgrounds, said Drexel Principal Lorena Escarcega. She helps ensure that teachers have updated resources and materials, and coordinates the school's curriculum to the reading and writing standards, Escarcega said.
"I think she has value not only as a program facilitator but also as a classroom teacher," Escarcega said.
She said both of these qualities would provide an asset to the MUSD governing board. Escarcega added that she depends on Lopez's leadership skills in situations where parents raise concerns about their child's education.
To prepare for growth in the district, Lopez said the district needs to plan ahead with Marana developers. She acknowledged that the current board has had some success in doing this. By looking five years into the future the board can prepare the district for growth by applying early for grants and finding other sources of income.
During the selection of the next superintendent, Lopez said the board should make sure public input is considered. She would like the final candidates to participate in a panel where members of the community and district employees can ask them questions. She said the next superintendent should be a strong leader that has a variety of fresh ideas to draw from.
Lopez said her personal interest in the welfare of the district stems from growing up in the area and attended MUSD school's as a child. When she got to college she realized that she hadn't been provided the same opportunities as other students.
An increased availability of educational programs would benefit Marana students and help them compete at the university level, Lopez said. Already MUSD schools are losing Title I funds, which provide federal money to low-income schools. Given state budget limitations, she said the board needs to come up with creative ways to fund these programs by applying for grants and looking for unused resources within the community.
"You need to get out there and find the funding because there's so much out there that goes untouched," Lopez said.
Lopez said the three challengers to the incumbent board members have a vested interest in the children, because she and Kaster both have a child attending school in the district, and Teager has grandchildren that go to Marana schools. She added that they have come to know each other and begun to work effectively as a team.
"We've found that we think on the same level and our focus is on our children," Lopez said.
The challenger's overarching goal is the improvement of the school district, she said.
"It's time for a change because we deserve a world-class school district," Lopez said.