PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - When State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman was elected in 2018, no one could have predicted that in 2020 classes would move online overnight. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a host of struggles to Arizona schools, and Hoffman feels like there's still so much work to be done.
On Monday she officially announced that that she will be running for re-election.
I am honored to serve as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction & our state’s top public education advocate. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, I am dedicated to keep fighting for our educators & students. This is why I have decided to run for re-election.— Kathy Hoffman (@kathyhoffman_az) April 26, 2021
Arizona's Family got the chance to talk to her hours after the news went public. The digital divide and lack of technology among students was the biggest takeaway for Hoffman during the pandemic. She says it was extremely eye-opening to see how far Arizona is behind other states.
When asked her top three priorities moving forward, in no particular order, Hoffman says that includes recruiting and keeping teachers, the mental health of students and sustainable school funding for all Arizona districts.
"When I was in my first year when I was able to travel the state and connect my school visits," Hoffman said. "I could see major discrepancies. Rural parts of the state, urban parts of the state... really depending on the neighborhood, the local resources available."
In March 2020, Hoffman and Gov. Doug Ducey recorded a joint video to announce the initial school closures because of coronavirus. However, the two appear to be publicly dived on issues like masks.
Governor Ducey recently gave school districts the power to come up with their own policies. It's a move Hoffman calls destabilizing. She says she found out just before it went public.
"It’s very disheartening to me to see that to recognize that... that our working relationship has become political and he’s making decisions without consulting me. And that are decisions I don’t agree with," Hoffman said.
Arizona's Family has reached out to Gov. Ducey's office for comment.
In a statement, the Arizona Education Association says it is thrilled with Hoffman's announcement. It went on to say the following:
Superintendent Hoffman came out of the RedForEd movement which sought more resources for our students.
She’s worked directly with students as a speech pathologist, providing critical, targeted supports to students to prepare them for success. Educators see her as an extension of themselves.
As for parents like Brittny Smith, she thinks Hoffman took smart, cautious steps at the beginning of the pandemic. However she is critical with her decisions in the fall and she took her kids out of Mesa Public Schools because she wanted them to be in-person. Smith says she does not think Hoffman is a good candidate. "I think parents, communities, are looking for somebody who's bold," Smith said. "Who isn't afraid to step up to the plate, advocate for parents and kids."
When asked about layoffs in Gilbert Public Schools because of low enrollment, Hoffman says she feels optimistic families will return when they feel safe.
Still though, she says the department will be spending $1 million on a marketing campaign and statewide initiative to help families engage in public schools. "We're working with district and charter leaders with data sharing agreements so we can also hope to identify which kids we should be targeting," Hoffman said. There's also a fear about missing the kids that are not enrolled in any school.
2020 brought divisive school board meetings over virtual learning and masks. It was one of the saddest parts of the school year for Hoffman. "My hope is and what we’ve always encouraged of course, is for our school boards to continue to have transparency in their decision making process," she said. "The more transparent they can be, I think helps build that trust with both their staff and all their teachers. And people who work in their schools, but also with their families."
Hoffman is running her campaign as a Clean Elections candidate, which means she's not accepting money from lobbyists, corporations or political action committees. She says she's already raised the maximum amount of individual donations she can get as a candidate.
Dr. Michael Trevillion, a republican, plans on running against Hoffman. He's an Arizona native who says he has spent 24 years in education. Trevillion is currently an assistant principal. His areas of concern include teacher salaries, per pupil expenditures and class sizes that tend to be higher than other states. He thinks all of these factors are contributing to the teacher shortage. Arizona sometimes ranks near the bottom of certain polls, and Trevillion thinks that's not indicative of what teachers do and what they're fighting for.
The resolve of students during the pandemic inspired him to run. In the next year he will be learning more about the issues and will talk to superintendents. Trevillion says he doesn't want to critique Hoffman or Gov. Ducey, and thinks there needs to be better communication between leaders.