There are three open seats on the Thatcher Unified School District governing board and six candidates running: Debbie Chapman, Jeremy Devlin, Nicholas Elkins, Kate McCluskey, Kenny Smith and David K. Udall. We asked each to participate in a short Q&A. Here are the answers of those who participated.
Please introduce yourself:
Jeremy Devlin: My name is Jeremy Devlin. You may not recognize my name as I did not grow up in the Gila Valley. I was born and raised in Clovis, California. However, my wife grew up in the area and has deep roots in the community. We decided to relocate to Thatcher about 12 years ago as we wanted to raise our family in a small town. We have three kids who are all very involved in Thatcher schools ranging from 9th Grade to 4th grade.
Nicholas Elkins: My name is Nicholas Elkins and I am running for the Thatcher School Board. I’m an interventional pain management physician who returned to Thatcher one year ago after completing my medical training at the Mayo Clinic. I attended 5th-12th grades at Thatcher schools, graduating in 2003, and currently coach the boys freshman basketball team. At Mayo I learned the importance of collaboration. I’ve formulated my opinions regarding the following questions after personal discussion with students, parents, pediatricians, administrators, teachers, school psychologists, early childhood development professors, coaches and current board members.
Kate McCluskey: I have worked at Eastern Arizona College for over 30 years and I am asking once again for your vote for the Thatcher School Board. I have found that I do like social distancing. I have found that a small cluster of friends is sufficient and I have found that just going home in the evening is about all I need. I have also found that Thatcher is my home and the people I have met in all my years have been honest and hardworking and have no intentions of changing any aspects of my quiet little life.
Kenny Smith: I am Kenny Smith and have been a resident of Graham County and Thatcher the majority of my life. I graduated from Thatcher High School, Eastern Arizona College (AA), Arizona State University (BA), and Northern Arizona University (MA). I have been in the education field my entire life as either a teacher, counselor, coach or administrator. I am currently the Dean of Student Services at EAC. Currently I am serving on the Thatcher School Board and have served for five years. I am married to Anneta Smith and we have five grown children, who all graduated from Thatcher High School, and five grandchildren in the Thatcher school system currently.
David Udall: My wife Kristie and I raised six children in the Thatcher school system from 1998-2020. Being involved in our community is important to me. I volunteered as a coach for wrestling, T-ball, and soccer. We’ve supported many fundraisers and helped graduation parties keep our kids safe. I was also a scoutmaster for 12 years. In my profession, I have garnered millions of dollars for the EAC Foundation for scholarships. I want to help our schools maintain their areas of excellence and have the resources necessary to overcome their challenges. www.facebook.com/VoteDavidUdall
What do you believe are the top three issues facing students inside and outside the classroom and how would you work to address them?
Devlin: We need to focus on better preparing students for life after high school. We need to offer our high school age kids more “dual credit” classes with EAC. I know we have a few, but there are neighboring districts that do a much better job than we do with this program.
We need to overhaul a lot of our facilities. Our primary school is in dire need of a remodel or even a rebuild. The classrooms are extremely old and outdated. We need to provide our students and community with schools they are proud of. The students deserve to have classrooms that inspire learning.
We need to start teaching our students more about cyber safety. Kids are “on-line” from a very young age and are unaware of the trouble they can easily get into. Some of our students don’t get that lesson in the home.
Elkins: Three major challenges students face are technology, mental well-being and substance abuse. Technology, in some ways groundbreaking in facilitating education, can be extremely distracting, depersonalized and add layers of social pressure, anxiety and avenues for bullying that didn’t exist in past generations. I believe the best way to combat this is education and training for staff, parents and students regarding healthy technological and social media use. With unrealistic expectations that technology can promote, mental well-being is also a major challenge. COVID has only intensified this, not only with uncertainty and fear, but also with the disruption of routines and in-person interactions. Substance abuse can be used to cope and is more prevalent than ever. Vaping has made nicotine and marijuana more accessible and appealing to young people. Access to education, counseling and psychological services is imperative to giving our kids the tools to cope with these challenges.
McCluskey: The fact their world has changed and it may not go back to what they are used to right away if ever. Students of all ages may have to learn to move forward and adapt to make their situation fit their immediate needs and long term goals.
Confusion: from teachers, parents, news outlets, churches. Everyone in a position of authority to a student may be saying something different about the current pandemic.
Uncertainty: Do I get my senior year, do we play sports, do I wear a mask or not, will I be ready for college or the next grade, will I be able to…
Addressing these issues will take time, patience and some hard lessons. Consistency would be important but with so many factions pulling in different directions, we are in for a tough, long road.
Kids (students) need to feel they are safe and secure and we as adults need to reassure them they are and will be productive as time goes on. However, again as adults, the message needs to be the same, we are in a “situation” and we do not know the outcome. So for the time being, we do the best we can to control what we can control.
Smith: Top three issues facing students inside and outside the classroom.
1. Adapting to the unpredictability of educating during a pandemic. Teachers, and administrators are tasked with meeting the educational needs of ALL students in different ways. Every student receiving a robust education is our goal at Thatcher schools. I will support our superintendent and his leadership team in exploring new and state of the art ways to deliver the curriculum. We have already done an excellent job of this, but want to promote even more innovation in this area.
2. Maintaining, building and upgrading our classrooms and facilities. This is an ongoing battle for a school district. We are already looking closely at Jack Daley Primary school as it needs major work or possibly a new building to meet the needs of our students and teachers. We need to look closely at passing a bond for improvements to our facilities.
3. Recruiting, Retaining and Compensating the finest faculty, staff and administration. Thatcher Unified Schools has a long tradition of educational excellence. I believe as a school board member I have an obligation to maintain the traditions, educational expectations, consistency and educational rigor expected by our community. This will be done by continually listening to the Thatcher community and giving them a voice through my service on the board. It will be imperative to continually search for new streams of income for our district to compensate our fine staff.
Udall: Thatcher schools are a wonderful place to learn new skills, develop talents and grow in confidence. Our students face difficulty from a world that is losing civility. Negativity and bullying make their way even into our small-town schools. Students also need proper role models and many lack self-esteem.
School board members start by modeling civility and hiring a superintendent that also models civility. The superintendent provides leadership and points a clear direction and goals for the school district.
Administrators, teachers and staff can all be good role models. Hopefully, students can experience in school and school-sponsored activities models and mentors that help them be successful in the future.
Growing up is hard on its own. From top to bottom, the school experience should never have district employees who tear down a student’s self-esteem. I appreciate the hard work our district exhibits to help each student have a positive and safe learning experience.
What would you try to do to help teachers and administrators complete their mission?
Devlin: Teachers and administrators would like to see more transparency and consistency from the district. They want to feel that they have “a say” in decisions that affect them or their school and explanations as to how decisions are made. They need better “tools” and access to modern resources (technology) to do their job. We can’t expect our teachers to teach students in 2020 the same way teachers taught in 1980.
Elkins: Success starts at home, but I also subscribe to the “it takes a village” mentality. I was lucky enough to have two supportive parents, but my upbringing and value system was highly influenced as well by teachers and coaches. What about those without an ideal home life? Teachers are at the forefront and should be supported with active efforts to show respect and gratitude for what they do. We cannot lose talented teachers to neighboring districts due to substandard compensation, lack of appreciation, and dilapidated facilities. In this vain, I prioritize improvements to the primary school campus and compensation optimization.
McCluskey: My main reason for being on the board is to support teachers in the administrations mission and goals. I am not meant to be in the lime light, keep that where it belongs on the teachers and students.
Thatcher, you are lucky to have an administrative team that puts in the extra effort to follow the laws, rules and expectations set forth by the local, state and the federal government and a faculty that will work under the average pay scale because they are a part of Thatcher and want to make sure your child is successful.
We do not all have to agree, but we all have to understand the end game is student/staff education and safety and the best attempt we can provide at normalcy. That may/will upset people and cause accountability for those to accept it.
Smith: Be clear about what our expectations are as a board for each of them. I believe that we have a leadership team from our superintendent to our principals, counselors and staff that are messaging a clear goal. They in turn will support, and listen to our teaching staff to allow them to do their job and teach our community youth. If everyone understands the goal of excellence in education, it becomes a team effort and we will be successful as a district.
Udall: First, I want to thank the teachers and administrators. Throughout this challenging year they have adapted to the frequent changes, taught in new ways, and worked hard to help students and their families.
I will encourage regular and consistent communication from the superintendent to all employees about the goals and mission of the district. I will listen to the opinions of teachers, parents and students to understand their concerns.
Additionally, I will work with representatives at the state legislature. Funding education properly should be a high priority at the state level.
What’s something unique about yourself that you would bring to the table?
Devlin: My approach is truly simple. I am a regular parent that is willing to put some skin in the game to ensure that we continue to have a great school system. I am not afraid to ask the tough or unpopular questions before decisions are made, even if it leads to uncomfortable conversations. At the end of the day, my goal is to do what’s best for our teachers and students.
Elkins: I have trained in some of the best higher education systems in our country, authored medical textbook chapters, lectured at grand rounds to world-renowned faculty, and published original research in major medical journals. I have a clear understanding of what is needed to succeed academically at the highest level. The Mayo Clinic teaches its trainees the importance of collaboration, which is what I plan to bring to the table if chosen to serve.
McCluskey: Unique? Well, I don’t have any axes to grind or preconceived notions about my personal status in the community. I am not here to change the world of education, I am hopefully here to offer support to the students, parents, teachers and Administration of Thatcher Schools and the town I have lived in for over 30 years. I have been honored to be a part of Thatcher schools, the town of Thatcher and Eastern Arizona College.
Smith: I have nine years of experience working in three other school districts in the state before returning to the Thatcher. I worked as a K-12 counselor and a coach in the district. I understand the inner workings of a high school, middle school and elementary school because I have worked in all of those areas. Now I have the experience of working as a Dean at EAC. All of this educational experience gives me a unique and vital perspective as a board member.
Udall: I am an advocate and ambassador for education. My career is helping people receive the opportunity for education. It is life-changing for them and satisfying for me.
I have over 20 years of experience working with governing boards. I understand their duty to safeguard public funds and I am very experienced dealing with governance issues, fund accounting and the budgeting process.