election 2022

Learn more about Peoria Unified School District candidates: Academics

Posted 9/22/22

To give residents another opportunity to learn more about the Peoria Unified School District governing board candidates, the Peoria Independent has submitted a second questionnaire inquiring about their stance on certain issues.

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election 2022

Learn more about Peoria Unified School District candidates: Academics

Posted

To give residents another opportunity to learn more about the Peoria Unified School District governing board candidates, the Peoria Independent has submitted a second questionnaire inquiring about their stance on certain issues.

Two seats are open on the board, with three candidates running — Melissa Ewing, Heather Rooks and Devon Updegraff-Day.

This batch of questions were going to be used in a candidate forum sponsored by Peoria Independent planned for Aug. 30. However it was moved to virtual due to safety and security concerns.

Ultimately the forum was canceled because of the safety concerns, including concerns from Rooks, as well as because of the reactions from the Rooks and Updegraff-Day campaigns.

In the interest of providing voters with the information they need to make an informed decision at the ballot box, here is the first of three articles that will feature questions that were going to be used at the candidate forum.

Melissa Ewing

Standardized test scores have been down. What can you do to improve academic success?

Learning and test scores are not the same thing. If we improve learning, test scores will rise. As a school board member, I can ensure the district is using curriculum, resources and methodologies that are scientifically based and data driven that utilize various modalities of teaching to reach all learners. Two consistent ways to improve test scores is building students’ test taking skills and teaching them how to use those skills to solve problems on the test.

Second, instead of “teaching to the test,” which promotes rigid thinking, we should teach students content standards, which is more effective and gives students a core of knowledge to answer questions and navigate school and life successfully.

Lastly, monitoring and re-evaluating programs for effectiveness is necessary for any comprehensive approach to increasing test scores.

Aside from the decrease in test scores, what other things can you do to close the education gap caused by the pandemic?

Ensuring that students are making up for learning lost during the pandemic is a critical responsibility for school board members and educators. Assessing students for knowledge is an important part of tailoring a learning plan for individuals as well as the whole classroom, as is tracking student growth to evaluate teaching methods and curriculum. I will promote building positive working relationship with students and parents by involving them in assessing academic progress and identifying any potential obstacles.


Heather Rooks


Standardized test scores have been down. What can you do to improve academic success?

Peoria parents are concerned with their children’s academic struggles in the classroom and as a result had to hire outside tutors for their child. But not all parents could afford this extra tutoring expense. What is frustrating to me is the lack of support for the students, parents, and teachers inside the classroom throughout the school year. I believe the Peoria Unified School District should have used federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for hiring tutors for our students. Instead, the mindset seemed to be using these learning loss funds for summer school and employee bonuses. Charter schools and private schools utilized tutors for students who needed support in their academic education, so why didn’t Peoria Unified do the same? When asked what I can do for improving academic success, my answer is getting the funds down to the classrooms with tutors for the students and focus on core academics.

Aside from the decrease in test scores, what other things can you do to close the education gap caused by the pandemic?

The academic struggles were happening before COVID-19. I believe Arizona school districts lost their way believing their job was to raise our children. The whole focus was anything but the academics for the students. So, another approach I will work on as a Peoria board member is to filter out the things that are not a school’s job.

Devon Updegraff-Day

Standardized test scores have been down. What can you do to improve academic success?

As a parent who pulled their children from a public school during the pandemic, I have noticed one major difference between how public and charter schools differ in addressing academic loss.

Many local charter schools offer free weekly tutoring in both English and math. It is my understanding that each teacher is required to provide free tutoring to their students twice a week either before school or immediately after. It is an amazing service, and I am so grateful to have that readily available for my children.

Peoria on the other hand seems to address academic loss through funding summer school. For me, it is yet another example of the district not being efficient or effective with both district funds and school hours.

Aside from the decrease in test scores, what other things can you do to close the education gap caused by the pandemic?

Aside from providing students with accessible tutoring on a weekly basis, the district needs to focus less on standardized test performance. I am a strong believer in teaching students’ phonics. It was not until I moved my now seventh grader and now fourth grader into a charter school, that I realized my oldest son was not able to break down a word phonetically or identify consonant blends. Schools today simply teach children how to memorize the English language rather than giving them the ability to sound out any new word. After transferring schools, my second grader started the year with a third grade reading level but finished the year with a sixth grade reading level. I attribute his success to phonics.

Next, I would move away from emphasizing reading speed and accuracy and move toward comprehension. Reading fluency is great but can limit the access to more complex content reading to students who have the same comprehension ability but struggle at fluency.

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