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ASU students get a running start with Elect Her event

Daylong training helps prepare women looking to run for student government and political office

April 3, 2019

On March 29, Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies hosted a daylong, nonpartisan training — called Elect Her — for women looking to run for student government and political office.

Hanna Salem, a public service and public policy major at ASU, helped in bringing the Elect Her event to Tempe. Salem, the civic engagement director for Undergraduate Student Government, was forwarded an email from Running Start suggesting an event on campus.  ASU Elect Her 2019 Panel The panel (seated, from left): Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Kathy Hoffman, Arizona Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and ASU student and Prescott City Council member Alexa Scholl. Standing left of the panel are public service and public policy major Hanna Salem and Senior Lecturer Gina Woodall. Download Full Image

When she followed up, Salem found out that a former professor of hers had also looked into bringing the Elect Her event to ASU. The course she had previously taken, POS 435: Women and Politics, was taught by Gina Woodall, a senior lecturer within the School of Politics and Global Studies. The two then decided to collaborate to bring the event to ASU.

“Research shows that women sometimes don’t think about running for office because they aren’t asked to,” Woodall said. “Research also shows a large dropoff in young women’s self-esteem and self-assessment during adolescence that does not happen, to the same extent, to young men; this affects their confidence with taking risks such as running for student government.”

The event featured multiple exercises with Sara Blanco from the organization Running Start, interviews with a student government official and a panel of Arizona female elected officials.

“With this event, we targeted young women and asked them, ‘If not you, then who?’” Woodall said. “Running Start then exposes them to different female leaders to listen and learn from.”

Prior to the training, attendees submitted questions for the panel, which featured Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Kathy Hoffman, Arizona Rep. Jennifer Pawlik and Prescott City Council member and ASU political science major Alexa Scholl.

“Elect Her was a fascinating event that I found extremely informative,” global studies major EmilyAnne Johnson said. “I loved how diverse the the panel was in terms of age and party, but merged and found a common ground in being women in politics.”

Amanda Andalis, a political science and communication major at ASU, shared that the workshop gave her the opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of running for public office directly from elected officials.

“It was so inspirational to hear from the elected officials on the panel because many of them started by serving in volunteer positions in their cities/counties and worked their way up to their current positions,” said Andalis.

Woodall hopes to make Elect Her an annual, signature event at ASU, especially with the work the faculty within the School of Politics and Global Studies are doing to advance women in politics research.

Within the school is a “working group” led by Foundation Professor Kim Fridkin that includes a large group of scholars whose research focuses on women’s role in politics.

In a recent example, ASU professors Miki KittilsonValerie Hoekstra and Jennet Kirkpatrick hosted a conference “Diversity in the Judiciary: Does it Matter for Democratic Inclusion, Representation or Inequalities?” where judicial scholars from all over the country attended and presented their work. 

“Our school is the place to be if you are interested in women in politics, either in the U.S., or from a comparative/international relations perspective,” Woodall said. “It is quite unique to have so many faculty engaged in the subfield of women in politics; of course this research is shared with and reflected in our course offerings to students as well.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies


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New study settles controversy around red wolves, Mexican gray wolves

April 3, 2019

Once, wolves roamed free in great numbers across the deserts, arboreal forests, grasslands and Arctic tundra of the continental U.S. Today, their populations have been depleted — the result of human actions and loss of their vital habitats.

The red wolf and Mexican gray wolf are among the most endangered mammals in North America. Both species at one time were extinct in the wild. At last count, an estimated 114 wild Mexican gray wolves remain in the U.S. and only about 40 red wolves roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina.

In recent years, efforts have been underway to help restore some of the nation’s wolf populations in the wild. Red wolves and Mexican gray wolves are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, though their taxonomic status has been controversial and politically charged.

An expert panel, appointed by the National AcademiesThe National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences. of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, has been conducting an analysis of scientific literature to answer two questions:

  1. Is the red wolf a taxonomically valid species?
  2. Is the Mexican gray wolf a taxonomically valid subspecies?

The findings come at a critical moment for embattled wolves as legislators seek to strip the gray wolf of protection under the Endangered Species Act. The identification of red wolves as a distinct species and Mexican gray wolves as an endangered subspecies may help to forestall efforts to delist them. 

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Assessing the Taxonomic Status of the Red Wolf and the Mexican Gray Wolf — was sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Biological dilemma

Precisely defining a species can be challenging. Evolution is a continuous process, and geographic variation among species is inevitable. These dynamic processes occur at different rates and follow distinct patterns for diverse taxa.

Nevertheless, when all the available biological data was examined, the prestigious panel of leading biologists agreed that red wolves (Canis rufus) are a distinct species and the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is a distinct subspecies. 

“The main issue is that although there are a number of definitions of species and subspecies, all lines of evidence in this case point in a coordinated way to the final conclusions,” said Michael Lynch, who directs the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution at ASU, and is one of the authors on the study. “Arriving at answers to the particular pair of questions evaluated was greatly facilitated by the unusual availability of whole-genome data previously obtained by researchers interested in the origin and diversification of North American canids, a relatively young component of the mammalian fauna of this continent.”

Michael Lynch, professor in the School of Life Sciences and director of the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution at ASU, was one of the authors of a study that found red wolves are a distinct species and the Mexican gray wolf is a distinct subspecies.

In its new report released March 28, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine confirms the conclusion that both red wolves and Mexican gray wolves are indeed valid taxonomic identities.

According to the study's research guidelines: 

Determining the taxonomic status of the Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf requires an understanding of the contemporary meanings of species and subspeciesAll modern species concepts are united by the goal of identifying groups of organisms whose reproductive compatibility sustains genetic continuity.  Among the common principles that underlie multiple species concepts are (1) some level of reproductive isolation between different species that is mediated by genetic and ecological factors, and (2) phylogenetic continuity in time that is mediated by shared evolutionary history and inheritance. These principles provide a compelling, comprehensive approach to identifying species. Most modern concepts of subspecies rely on the notion of the partial restriction of gene flow, where subspecies are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding populations phylogenetically distinguishable from, but reproductively compatible with, other such groups.

Increasingly, genomic data reveal that gene flow among taxonomic groups through hybridization is a common feature of the evolutionary history of many widely accepted species, including wolves. 

Mexican gray wolf

The Mexican gray wolf, whose range includes Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico, was largely driven extinct from the wild in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. Then, 20 years ago the wolves were reintroduced, amid much controversy, into a small portion of their former range. Their designation as a subspecies has been controversial because there has been speculation that they are not physically or genetically distinct enough to justify that status. There has also been speculation that the current Mexican gray wolf population may have included ancestry from dogs or coyotes.

The Mexican gray wolf represents a smaller form of the gray wolf and inhabits a more arid ecosystem than the gray wolf. Furthermore, the current managed population of Mexican gray wolves are direct descendants of the last remaining wild Mexican gray wolves; the known history of current Mexican gray wolves suggests that there is continuity between them and the historic lineage. There is no evidence that the genome of the Mexican gray wolf includes DNA from domestic dogs, the report adds.  

Red wolf

The red wolf historically inhabited much of the eastern United States, but during the 20th century, populations were driven to very low numbers by habitat loss and predator eradication programs. Red wolves were largely replaced by coyotes that spread eastward from their original range in the western U.S. A few remaining specimens with red wolf morphology — physical characteristics long associated with red wolves — were captured in Texas and Louisiana before the red wolf went extinct in the wild and were used to establish a breeding program. 

The red wolf is a canine native to the southeastern United States. Once declared extinct in the wild, the red wolf has been reintroduced through captive breeding programs. Of 63 red wolves released from 1987–1994, the population rose to as many as 100-120 individuals in 2012 but has declined to 40 individuals in 2018 and today is severely endangered. Photo from Shutterstock

The descendants of these animals were reintroduced in North Carolina and are now a managed population in the wild. The red wolf’s species status has been controversial because the wolves used to establish the breeding program were captured from a region where there had already been substantial interbreeding between red wolves, coyotes and gray wolves. 

Whether the red wolf is a valid species hinges on whether there is evidence that the historic population of red wolves has a distinct lineage, evidence that contemporary red wolf populations are distinct from gray wolves and coyotes, and evidence for continuity between the historic red wolf population and the contemporary one.

The evidence currently available supports the classification of the contemporary red wolf as a species distinct from gray wolves and coyotes, the report says. In addition, available evidence suggests that the historic red wolves constituted a valid species, and that contemporary red wolves trace some of their ancestry from these historic red wolves. However, genetic continuity between contemporary red wolves and the historic population cannot be firmly established without genomic data from ancient specimens.

Genomic DNA from historic specimens could help clarify this issue regarding continuity, the report says. In addition, more precise genetic analysis might help determine the exact proportion of the red wolf genome that has been replaced through historic interbreeding with coyotes and wolves.

“A majority of experts on red wolf taxonomy have concluded, time and time again, that the red wolf represents a unique lineage that is worthy of conservation and should remain a listable entity under the ESA,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center, one of many organizations devoted to wolf education and conservation. “No longer plagued by questions of taxonomy, USFWS needs to re-evaluate its recent decisions and management changes and bring its efforts back in line with the conservation mandate of the ESA." 

Top photo: A captive Mexican gray wolf at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. The Mexican gray wolf represents a smaller form of the gray wolf and inhabits a more arid ecosystem. Photo from Shutterstock

Richard Harth

Science writer , Biodesign Institute at ASU


Fashioning an indigenous life

ASU's Red Ink Initiative brings Native celebrities to Phoenix Indian Center Youth Leadership Day

April 1, 2019

From hip-hop to fashion and narrative art to indigenous urban pop culture: The seventh annual Phoenix Indian Center Youth Leadership Day on Feb. 23 had it all. The program included two internationally known Native women whose work inspires youth to embrace their own indigenous cultures. More than 100 young people were in attendance.

Arizona State University’s Red Ink Indigenous Initiative secured a project grant from Arizona Humanities to bring Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in-First Nations Canada) from Toronto, Ontario, and Cinnamon Spear (Northern Cheyenne-Montana) from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop to Phoenix to help youth find their voices as indigenous people. The goal was to share important cultural knowledge that can solve many of the world’s problems. Participants in the Phoenix Indian Center Youth Leadership Day pose in front of an auditorium. / Photo by Phoenix Indian Center Download Full Image

“The theme that came out of the day was ‘I am here, and I have something to say!’" said Fawn Tahbo (Colorado River Indian Tribes), program manager for the Phoenix Indian Center. "The young people had so many good things to say about Cinnamon and Lisa’s presentations, confirming what a great treasure it was to have them here. Much of the conference dealt with self-respect and respecting others, and Ms. Charleyboy and Ms. Spear underscored the power of self-respect.”

Charleyboy, named by the Huffington Post as one of three important indigenous millennials to watch, is co-editor of “Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices.” Her blog, Urban Native Girl, revolving around indigenous contemporary life and popular culture, evolved into Urban Native Magazine and now “Urban Native Girl TV,” a POV-documentary series geared toward creating connections for indigenous youth in urban environments. Appropriately, Charleyboy’s sessions were centered on "indigenous pop culture.”

Lisa Charleyboy (photo by Annick Press) and Cinnamon Spear (courtesy photo)

Lisa Charleyboy and Cinnamon Spear.

Spear, soon to graduate from the prestigious University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop MFA program, broke onto the national scene with her documentary film “Pride and Basketball,” a cutting-edge look inside Native reservation sports culture. She has just finished a book with Native youth characters (out soon) at the request of the acquisitions editors at Scholastic, Inc., who liked her work so much they solicited another book from her on Maria Tallchief (Osage), the first American and Native American bestowed the rank of prima ballerina. Spear’s presentation was “Healing the Trauma,” a hands-on workshop for addressing historical, familial and emotional/psychological hurt.

Spear and Charleyboy are on the curl of a great wave that is bringing, shaping and advocating for a new future for indigenous peoples around the world. This is the second indigenous cultural series for teens on which ASU Red Ink has partnered with Arizona Humanities. The series allows local Native youth to interact directly with Native artists, authors, poets and filmmakers.

The Red Ink Initiative at ASU is an interrelated set of campus, regional, national and international projects, including an international journal, to achieve its mission and goals in collaboration with indigenous communities. Red Ink is based in the Department of English, an academic unit of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and welcomes participation from any interested students, faculty, and community members with affiliations both inside and outside of ASU.

Written by Jim Blasingame

Photo of Lisa Charleyboy is courtesy Annick Press. Cinnamon Spear photo is courtesy Spear.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English


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Looking at sports as a microcosm of racial, gender disparities in society

ASU summit looks at racism, sexism issues in society through the lens of sport.
March 30, 2019

ASU Global Sport Institute's second summit draws experts to examine inclusion and diversity in college and pro leagues

Sports is a microcosm of the racial and gender issues facing society, and it often serves as the vehicle for change, according to several experts who spoke at the second Global Sport Summit held by the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University on Thursday and Friday.

Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute, said that Americans last year marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympics, when black athletes protested racism, as well as this year commemorating 400 years since the first African slave was brought to America.

“We’re thinking about how important this is, and also it’s a time to think about the progress that’s been made — or not — in that time,” he said.

The summit, which focused on topics of race and inclusion in sport, was sponsored by the Global Sport Institute as well as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the School of Community Resources and Development, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. The event was held in downtown Phoenix.

The summit gathered experts from different areas of the world of sports, where several panels addressed racism, sexism and the role of sports in helping refugees, veterans and people with disabilities, as well as how to achieve a career in sports. Here is some of what the speakers had to say:

Sports leagues are profiting from black athletes, who could be leveraging their positions.

Bill Rhoden, former columnist for the New York Times and writer-at-large for ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” said that although black people make up a majority of the athletes in some sports, they are underrepresented among those in power — the management and journalists.

“I’ve been to countless Super Bowls and national championships, and when we go through the tunnels, black folks are not in the spaces of event production and event management,” he said at the morning keynote address. “When you get closer to the field you see the black guys running and jumping, but farther away from the court or the field, we’re not there.”

To address this, ESPN established the Rhoden Fellows, two-year paid journalism internships for students from historically black colleges and universities, who cover race, class and culture for “The Undefeated.”

“When you’re sitting in a room and there’s no black people or women there, you know you’re sitting in the wrong space,” said Rhoden, author of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.”

Rhoden said that star college recruits like Zion Williamson, the Duke University basketball player who is widely expected to become the top pick in the NBA draft, should be making more demands, such as asking Duke to help other black students.

“Zion knows he’s only going to be in school for eight months at best, but there’s probably a deserving young black person in his community with the scores to go to Duke,” Rhoden said.

“Leverage is nothing without strategy and courage. It’s still a slave mentality of not looking white people in the eye,” he said. “If a top-10 kid threatened to walk away, all of a sudden things could happen.”

Race, gender and socioeconomic dynamics are a huge influence on college sports.

Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history, and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, said that Title IX is considered to be transformative legislation in women’s sports, and it has increased scholarships and participation for females.

“When Title IX was enacted, coaches of women’s teams were 95% women and now it’s less than 50%,” said Davis, who hosts the “Burn It All Down” podcast and spoke at a panel titled, “Race, Gender and Inclusion in College Sports.”

“There’s disproportionate representation of black women in track and basketball, and in the sports that are growing the fastest — field hockey, golf and tennis — black women make up less than 3%.

“We’ve grown sports but haven’t grown diversity, and we’ve invested in sports that are disproportionately more accessible to middle-class people, like soccer, where you have to play at the club level.”

Jean Boyd, executive senior associate athletic director at ASU, said: “The people with the highest salaries are almost exclusively white male coaches, juxtaposed with the overrepresentation of black male athletes.

“The most overrepresented but the most underachieving population of student-athletes are African American males.”

Boyd said Sun Devil Athletics differs from the typical narrative because there are black people in positions of power, including the athletic director, the head football coach and several other coaches.

Davis said sports can be a driver for social change and that she sees some college athletes leveraging their power. She mentioned the University of Missouri football team, which in 2015 brought attention to long-standing issues of racism on campus by threatening to not play a game.

“Within 24 hours, people were fired,” she said.

“Sports is a connector, and you can talk about hard issues that otherwise people won’t want to talk about,” she said.

Producing real change is complicated.

A panel titled “Policies Driving Progress in Sport and Beyond” tackled the issue of whether change should be mandated, like the Rooney RuleThe Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy started in 2003 requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching jobs..

Vince Pierson, director of diversity and inclusion for Minor League Baseball, said that the biggest challenge is changing the culture.

“We can insert policies that may create an immediate change, but how do we make it part of our culture and have a true understanding and empathy behind what we’re doing?” he said.

“I always appreciated the intentionality of the Rooney Rule. It’s in place and be revisited and revised. You can’t legislate change to culture, but you can legislate change to behavior and that’s what the Rooney Rule tries to do.”

Pierson said that in Minor League Baseball, there are no mandates, so he must come up with incentives.

“That makes us think about how we’ll genuinely connect. We have a lot of programs to influence our pipeline — we get onto college campuses, we visit with first-generation college students,” he said.

“You have to create rewards. If you have some kind of pat on the back, everybody wants it.”

Mike Haynes, a former football player for ASU and the NFL, said that change must be organic.

“If I’m an NFL owner, I’m going to hire someone I’m comfortable with, and the challenge with the Rooney Rule is you’re hiring someone you don’t know or trust because of this requirement,” said Haynes, who is in the NFL Hall of Fame and used to work with the NFL.

“When I was with the NFL, I wasn’t in favor of it, but it was better than nothing.”

Black athletes face enormous hostility.

USC Professor  speaks onstage at the Global Sport Summit

Todd Boyd

Todd Boyd, a professor at the University of Southern California, said there’s a double standard when it comes to wrongdoing.

“If an athlete is accused of doing something wrong, it’s a huge story and the underlying component is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ Lurking beneath the surface is this narrative of black athletes run amok,” said Boyd, who holds the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at USC.

“Hollywood is a community of movie stars and musical artists, and all the same sorts of things that people associate with athletes goes on in these spaces but I don’t know of anyone holding them to the same level of contempt,” he said.

Black athletes are faced with losing everything if they speak out.

Howard Bryant, a writer for ESPN and NPR, is the author of “The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism.”

“I make the argument that in a lot of what is being sold in the American sport milieu is that being black is the worst thing in the world,” he said. “Look what happens to any black athlete who advocates — they take everything.”

Author, writer and commentator  speaks onstage at the Global Sport Summit

Howard Bryant

Bryant said the intertwining of sports and patriotism after 9/11 has heightened racism in sports.

“You’re watching the government use sports as a recruiting tool under the guise of patriotism,” he said. “It’s not patriotism, it’s commerce. You’re selling patriotism at a sporting event at a time when you’re telling black athletes they can’t speak.

“You’re criminalizing the most patriotic thing you could do in this country, which is to speak.”

The pressure isn’t just on the athletes. Pierson, the diversity and inclusion director for Minor League Baseball, said he feels that anxiety as well.

“I sit in boardrooms where I hear statements I should challenge,” he said. “There could be a sacrificial moment in my career where the change I look to create I never get to experience.”

The summit also included a screening of the film, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar,” as well a showcase of Global Sport Institute research and a pitch competition for entrepreneurs.

The Global Sport Venture Challenge included seven competitors. The winner was Force Impact Technologies, whose CEO is Bob Merriman, who earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from ASU. Merriman invented a device called the FITGuard, a mouthpiece worn by athletes that measures the force of an impact and can detect a possible concussion. The mouth guard measures the hit and turns different colors depending on the severity of impact, sending data to a phone app.

Merriman said the device will have a huge potential market in youth and college sports.

“We understand the mindset of the player who wants to be on the field, and we also understand the mindset of the parents,” said Merriman, who won $10,000 and a mentoring trip to the headquarters of adidas in Portland, Oregon.

Top photo: Ken Shropshire (left), CEO of the Global Sport Institute at ASU, holds a keynote discussion with USC Professor Todd Boyd at the Global Sports Summit on Friday in downtown Phoenix. Boyd is an expert on race in pop culture, especially sports and film. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU alumna tackles community issues in the courtroom as current youngest justice of the peace in Arizona

March 28, 2019

When Arizona State University alumna Elaissia Sears was sworn in as a justice of the peace for the West Mesa Justice Court this January, she marked milestones for herself and Arizona.

At 24, she was the youngest person elected into state office in the 2018 election, and one of just three African American women in Arizona history to hold the position. Elaissia Sears, an alumna of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Politics and Global Studies, was sworn is as Justice of the Peace for the West Mesa Justice Court this January. Elaissia Sears, an alumna of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Politics and Global Studies, was sworn is as justice of the peace for the West Mesa Justice Court this January. Download Full Image

Her court presides over everything from DUIs and speeding violations to evictions and weddings. With some 400 cases a week, she has one of the largest loads in Maricopa County.

Only a few months into a four-year term and already planning to run for re-election, Sears is settling in for the long haul. But the journey here began while she was pursuing a much different path at the Arizona State Capitol in 2017.

Back then, just shy of an undergraduate degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Politics and Global Studies, she was working as a legislative assistant. On one of her lunch breaks, she saw a group of juvenile inmates filing through the Capitol grounds.

Seeing the beige-clad group against the bustling backdrop of the legislative chambers, Sears was struck by what felt like a profound disconnect.

“Someone just said, ‘Oh, they’re from the kid prison’; they were in seventh or eighth grade,” she said. “Having them there at the Capitol and normalizing that, it made me really upset.”

Her work there included working alongside representatives to advance local goals. But the role seemed far from everyday people whose lives she hoped to reach.

She started to consider an alternative. Why not run for office?

Exploring her options, Sears started sitting in on court sessions and researching positions.

“I realized these roles were amazing because you actually had the opportunity to impact somebody's life, every single day,” she said. “And that person can know that it was your decision.”

Sears ran a campaign focused on bolstering educational opportunities for Mesa residents, bringing awareness to community and social issues in the district and implementing restorative justice practices to reduce youth incarceration rates.

She answered questions about the journey, her time at ASU and what she has discovered in her new role so far.

Question: Your campaign touched a lot on implementing restorative justice techniques to the courtroom and the community. What does that mean in practice?

Answer: So, when we're talking about restorative justice, what we’re really talking about are ways to hold the perpetrator accountable, while also making the victim whole again. When a child misbehaves in school, for example, you don’t just suspend them and that’s the end. You address it head on by finding the root cause and talking about it. If there is a victim, we first give restitution, and then make it an educational experience. That happens instead of just branding someone as a criminal, giving them a fine and telling them to get out.

Q: Are you able to implement some of those ideas in your courtroom as a justice of the peace?

A: As justices of the peace, we have a large amount of discretion, especially for juvenile cases. We are able to issue things like a 1,000-word essay about why you shouldn't be going 55 miles per hour through a 15-mile-per-hour residential zone, for example. That is in addition to driving school or whatever you decide is reasonable. It's really just about making sure justice isn’t a cookie-cutter process. You really want to tailor each ruling to the case and person. For some people, a $700 fine is reasonable. But somebody with that same offense may not respond the same way. So it's really about looking at everybody on an individual basis and figuring out what justice looks like for them. People are already coming to court nervous because many do not have any trust in the justice system. I want to make them feel like it’s going to be fair.

Q: In your campaign, you also talked about the value of education in tackling social issues. How have your own experiences informed that perspective?

A: I've taught in the Dominican Republic and South Korea through different international opportunities at ASU and also here in the Valley. I'm really invested in education because I feel like without my own, I wouldn't be who I am today.

My mom was also heavily involved in that. I grew up in Mesa, and my mom was elected as a board member of Mesa Public Schools in a campaign no one thought she would win. Her victory made me realize it was possible for real-life people to step up and make a difference.

Q: You have worked in international contexts, local politics and, now, in a local judicial role. What has it been like to move through all of those positions?

A: One thing I learned working as a legislative assistant is that we as millennials are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, whether we're being seen or not. That made me feel disillusioned.

I am a person who is just a doer. That is why I liked teaching. I feel empowered, honored and humbled in this new role because it is really about the community: The taxpayers are paying for my salary and for me to be in this building, all so that I can serve them.

Q: Can you describe your Sun Devil story? What brought you to ASU?

A: Both of my parents have master's degrees from ASU. My dad went to Yale for his undergraduate studies, but my mom did both degrees here. She had me when she was 19, and we moved here from New Orleans when I was just a baby. When she had class, I was in the backpack eating Cheerios as a 3-year-old — so ASU is basically where I grew up!

Elaissia Sears and sister with their parents in Tempe after her mother Kiana Maria Sears graduated from ASU. Elaissia Sears (center) with her sister and their parents in Tempe after her mother, Kiana Maria Sears, graduated from ASU.

Q: What brought you to the School of Politics and Global Studies? How did your program and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences help prepare you for your career?

A: I initially went into the field to join the State Department because I had been so inspired by having exchange students all the time at home — my family hosted people from several different countries growing up. That really taught me that diplomacy is extremely important; people being able to work together is extremely important. 

While completing my undergrad, I taught overseas, and here in Phoenix I worked with exchange students at Phoenix Sister Cities. I also worked as a teacher’s assistant while running for office.

Honestly, without the School of Politics and Global Studies, my life would be extremely different. I got to see countries from many different facets, whether global health, politics or social issues.

In addition to my degree, I have a minor in German and certificates in political entrepreneurshipSears also serves as the community director of Urban Farming Organics, a local business created through ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation group, Venture Devils., women and gender studies, and international studies, all from The College. I was very grateful to be a part of all of that. And I feel like the courses fit together and translate well (to different career paths).

Q: What has been your biggest motivation to succeed professionally?

A: My parents have always been really adamant about education and the idea of thriving versus surviving. A lot of my drive comes from that. Both of my parents grew up in New Orleans, and they did not have the same opportunities that I'm afforded. And when I say New Orleans, I'm talking Ninth Ward, where literally everything was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. They had to fight their way out. I think advancing that family legacy is important.

Bringing visible leadership for young people, women and African Americans is also important. I have people come into my court and tell me they never thought they would see someone like me here. I have people come in for weddings and they are just so surprised and happy to see a black judge. That might sound funny, but it really is a big deal.

Elaissia Sears poses with her parents after her winning election to become a Justice of the Peace for the West Mesa Justice Court in November 2018.

Elaissia Sears poses with her parents after her winning election to become a justice of the peace for the West Mesa Justice Court in November 2018.

Q: What would you like people to know about Mesa?

A: Growing up, I didn't have a lot of diverse experiences aside from all of the exchange students we hosted. That’s one of the main reasons why my mom was so passionate about it.

The city is sometimes bisected into east and west quadrants. Each has a different experience. West Mesa, where my court is based, tends to have more people of color. My justicial precinct serves a population that is around 70 percent Latino, and also includes the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. A lot of people don’t realize that Mesa is diverse today and becoming more so. We also have a lot of entrepreneurship, up-and-coming art spaces and city revitalization. We need leadership that reflects that, and it’s coming!

Q: What advice would you have for those who are still in school?

A: If there is something you want to do, reach out to someone who is really invested in that field. Experts are often ready to help others get where they want to go, and they want to hear from you. Work with your advisers and internship coordinators. There may be an amazing opportunity you would be perfect for; you just have to do it.

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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A new way to pay for dental care

March 26, 2019

ASU expert: Value-based reimbursement for oral health care could be a game-changer for thousands of Arizonans

People don’t go to the dentist for lots of reasons: fear, lack of insurance, reluctance to take too much time off work. And if you’re an Arizonan who is dependent on Medicaid or Medicare for oral health care, there’s an even slimmer chance you’ll make that appointment. There just aren’t enough dentists to go around, much less the public funding available to pay for even the most basic services.

Given that tooth decay is one of the most preventable chronic diseases that research has linked to more serious — and more expensive — health problems, figuring out how to deliver cheaper oral health care to more people at a younger age is a cost-effective and efficient way to significantly improve everyone’s health overall.

One Arizona State University researcher has been working for the past four years to make that happen for Arizona’s children.  

William Riley, professor at the College of Health Solutions, has created the National Safety Net Advancement Center at ASU. The center is working to build a statewide coalition of oral health care providers and payers, policy leaders and legislators to change the way oral health care is paid for and delivered to thousands of children in Arizona who lack access to basic dental care.

William Riley

William Riley 

Funded by $2.4 million in grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the center is working on the adoption of what is known as the value-based payment method to reimburse for oral health services. With value-based payment, providers would be rewarded for the quality and results of their work rather than the number of procedures they do.

Right now, Medicaid and other safety-net insurance organizations reimburse dentists on a fee-for-service basis that pays them for the volume of services they provide, not the outcome or quality of that service. Riley recently spoke with ASU Now about how value-based payment for oral health care would radically improve the health of thousands of Arizonans.

Question: Why are you focusing on a value-based payment system to pay for oral health care?

AnswerValue-based payment approaches are showing promise in improving general health care, but the model hasn’t really been applied to oral health care on a large scale. Since 2015 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started pushing both private and public payers to use value-based payment systems to reimburse providers for medical care because it incentivizes the best care at the lowest costs.

With value-based payment in oral health care delivery, you pay to proactively prevent oral disease rather than pay for services that treat disease after it occurs. More than half of Arizona's children have experienced tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten, considerably higher than the national average, which stands at around 36 percent. Putting the emphasis on prevention has the potential to improve the health of our communities in a very significant way. 

Q: What would value-based care look like in Arizona?

A: Right now, with the fee-for-service payment system, dental care providers get paid per visit and per service, so if dentists stretch out those visits, they get paid more. There are different ways to structure value-based payments, but with one of the value-based programs we’ve designed, a provider would get paid for performing a standardized bundle of five preventive treatments that could be done in one visit and paid for at one price. For children that would be X-rays, a dental exam, teeth cleaning, a fluoride treatment and a treatment plan. Adults would get the same thing with the addition of an exam for gum disease. If all these services are done in one visit, the insurer agrees to pay the dentist at a higher rate, so now you’re paying for quality because evidence shows these treatments are highly effective in preventing tooth decay, but you’re paying less overall since they’re all being done in one visit. Not only does the patient receive more effective care at a lower cost, it also frees up the dental chair for more patients because now you’re not stretching treatments over several visits for just one person.

And you can see the convenience for parents. It’s a problem for working parents to take off multiple days to keep multiple dental appointments for their children, but bundled treatment means taking off only one day from work. Access isn’t always about money. It’s about time, too. With the way dental care delivery currently stands, a dentist knows that if they have 1,000 child patients, at least half of them aren’t even coming to the dentist. Value-based paying focuses on all the potential patients, not just the patients who come to the dental clinic.

Q: How is the National Safety Net Advancement Center making this happen?

A: Last March we hosted representatives from all the major stakeholders in oral health care delivery in Arizona for the first Oral Health Summit on the Transformation of Health Care and Finance. The Arizona Dental Association, public health practitioners, public insurance payers like Medicaid, dentists and other oral health providers, legislators — we got them all together and started coalition-building conversations about how to bring an oral health value-based payment framework to Arizona. Because we’re focused on the safety net, we’re working with many oral health payers that are Medicaid-based, but many private payers are committed to value-based care, so we’re partnering with many of them as well. In December we hosted them again for the next phase of the process to discuss specific ways we can advance payment reform among all our oral health care stakeholders.

Q: What’s next?

A: We’ve been writing for scientific journals and presenting at national conferences about what we’ve learned about value-based payment for oral health. We’re also partnering with A.T. Still dental school to pilot test some of these value-based approaches in an actual dental practice.

In addition, we’re working to make the National Safety Net Advancement Center a sustainable resource to continue working with our stakeholders because we believe that our approach is the best way to create change. We are truly collaborative and are helping our state leaders, payers and providers work together to develop an approach that works best for everyone.

The alternative is to have the state Medicaid program develop the payment system, which can cause an adversarial relationship between payers and providers. It’s better to develop a good payment system by working with all the stakeholders, forming a consensus and mutual agreement. An established resource and research center would make that a long-term solution. We’re trusted and we’re neutral. Our role is to help all these groups overcome the hurdles to payment reform. I think that’s by far the best way to do it.

Top photo by StockSnap/Pixabay

Kelly Krause

Communications Specialist , College of Health Solutions

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ASU, Wells Fargo advancing sustainability education for K-12 students

March 25, 2019

ASU hosts brainstorming conference on K-12 education for sustainability thought leaders

Sustainability shouldn’t only be taught within the walls of universities. It should also be an integral part of kindergarten through high school (K–12) curriculum.

Accomplishing this will require systemic change and large-scale collaboration — and that’s why Christopher Boone, dean of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, and CaSondra Devine, sustainability initiatives leader at Wells Fargo, recently put their heads together with more than a dozen local and international sustainability leaders for a three-day brainstorming conference at ASU.

While there is a network of higher education institutions dedicated to sustainability education, there is no similar connection among K–12 education providers. In early March, Boone and Devine convened a conversation with many successful creators and distributors of K–12 environmental and sustainability curriculum to imagine how collaboration could accelerate its integration across the nation and around the world.

These participants, collectively called the K–12 Sustainability Education Network, came from universities (ASUOther ASU staff and faculty involved were: Ariel Anbar, distinguished sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, professor in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Education Through Exploration (ETX); Joseph Tamer, assistant director of the ETX Center; Rae Ostman, associate research professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and co-director of the Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society; Molly Cashion, program manager of the Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers' Academy in the School of Sustainability; and Annie Hale, senior sustainability scientist in the ASU Wrigley Institute, and director of research and development for the Sustainability Science Education Project in the Biodesign Institute. and the University of Minnesota), nonprofits (UNESCO, Green Schools Alliance, National Council for Science and the Environment, North American Association for Environmental Education, Ten Strands, the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and Training to Work an Industry Niche) and Wells Fargo, a corporate sponsor of many K–12 sustainability initiatives.

“We recognize that if we're going to move the needle, we need to think about what we can do collectively and more effectively than we could on our own. There is strength in coming together,” Boone said.

Regardless of their diverse backgrounds, everyone at the conference agreed that young people are key to a sustainable future.

“We need their wisdom, their energy, their creativity, their hopefulness right now,” said Jaimie Cloud, founder and president of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. “I honestly believe that with teachers and students working together, we can flip this. But without their energy and perseverance, I think adults will be too slow.”

Judy Braus, the executive director of the North American Association for Environmental Education, said that young people will need to understand how to tackle solutions to environmental, social, cultural and economic challenges created by older generations. Sustainability education, she said, “helps give people the tools, the training, the understanding, the values, the motivation to actually become involved in civic life and create that change.”

Throughout the conference, the network formulated a four-step action plan to grow K–12 sustainability education: developing legislation and policy for sustainability education, making the case for environmental literacy and education for sustainability, fostering sustainability storytelling and advancing a network for sustainability education. Each step involves a variety of stakeholders and is a vital part of ensuring that sustainability education can be integrated into all types of classrooms.

Of course, this plan won’t come without challenges. Participants mapped out four main challenge areas they foresee, in the arenas of collaboration, teacher preparedness, assessment and scale. But despite the challenges, everyone in the network is optimistic about the future of sustainability education.

One of the themes that arose during the discussions was that working toward a sustainable future should be a core purpose of education — not an afterthought.

“Right now, the purpose of education seems to be math and language. But these are tools,” said Charles Hopkins, UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education Towards Sustainability, York University. “We want the tools to be as sharp as we possibly can, yes. But ... setting up our systems to address (a sustainable future for all) in our own locally relevant, culturally appropriate ways around the world, and to share how we're doing that, and to assist one another in doing that — I think that's extremely important.”

Visual storytelling meeting notes

A portion of the visual storytelling meeting notes recorded at the K–12 Sustainability Education Network conference.

Participants also discussed the fact that more and better sustainability storytelling will be a driving factor in the success of getting everyone motivated to understand sustainability and how it connects to their lives.

“We know from our own experience that you can provide people with lots of data and evidence, but what people often relate to more than anything else is a really powerful and compelling story,” said Boone, who is also a professor in the School of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

As part of this storytelling effort, ASU and Wells Fargo have collaborated on an all-day social media event called 24 Hours of Sustainability. Broadcast on Earth Day, April 22, through the School of Sustainability's Facebook, this event is a video series designed to reach teachers, students and practitioners with inspiring stories of simple actions to impact a sustainable tomorrow and to achieve the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

“I'm really excited about the 24 Hours of Sustainability because I think it will give us the opportunity to showcase a series of different perspectives,” Devine said. “So many people are making a positive difference, from young to old, in public and private sectors. We’re looking forward to focusing on the talent, passion, energy and zeal that's happening all across the world when it comes to envisioning a sustainable future.”

As Devine put it, the end goal of sustainability education is that “sustainability becomes a part of our culture, it becomes a part of our DNA, and it's not something that we recognize on just one day."

Top photo: Core participants of the K–12 Sustainability Education Network. Photo courtesy School of Sustainability

Kayla Frost

Associate Editor , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


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ASU works inside prisons, out in community on incarceration solutions

ASU initiatives work inside prisons, with families on incarceration solutions.
March 21, 2019

Initiatives on re-entry and reform include students, inmates and the public

Momentum is beginning to shift toward addressing the effects of mass incarceration, and Arizona State University has several initiatives to address the growing concern over the fate of people in prison, how it affects their families and what happens when they rejoin society.

The programs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions work inside the prisons and in the community and involve undergraduates, grad students and the public:

• ASU undergraduates are invited to apply for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, in which students will visit Perryville Prison once a week for a semester to learn about crime and justice alongside women who are incarcerated there. The deadline to apply is April 5.

• Members of the public can gain insight from a simulation workshop on April 9 in which they’ll experience what it’s like to navigate life after being released from prison.

• Researchers and practitioners will gather for the four-day National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference held by the Center for Child Well-Being next month to discuss best practices and hear from experts.

Nationwide, about 2.2 million people were incarcerated as of December 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, while about an additional 4.5 million people were under supervision, either probation or parole. That means that about 1 in 38 adults, or 2.6 percent of people age 18 or older in the United States, were under some form of correctional supervision at year-end 2016. Despite declining crime rates and sentencing changes, which led to a decrease in the number of imprisoned people over the previous decade, the United States still has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — at 655 inmates per 100,000 people, according to the World Prison Brief.

When people leave incarceration, they often fall into what is called “the second prison” of poverty and homelessness. Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of more than 27 percent — higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

But several bipartisan efforts are underway to address the effects of mass incarceration. In December, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, a bill to repeal some of the harsh sentencing measures passed decades ago. In Arizona, a poll by a bipartisan lobbying group found that 80 percent of those surveyed felt it was important to reduce the number of people in prison, although several bills on the issue died in the Legislature.

About 95 percent of incarcerated people eventually will leave prison, so focusing on their outcomes is critical, according to Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

"Our ASU students are changing the mindset of people who have had years of experience with criminal justice that is negative and now they see a more promising future.”
— Kevin Wright, ASU associate professor

Wright is the director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, a year-old unit devoted to research, education and community outreach. The center houses the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which has been offered since 2016 but will be at Perryville for the first time next fall. That’s important because work with men in prison is not necessarily translatable to women in prison, Wright said.

“We can’t say all the results we come up with will tidily work with women. There’s good reasons to think that’s not the case,” he said.

“Women who are incarcerated often have different histories — often there’s more abuse, victimization, addiction and financial dependence, and children play a role.”

The Inside-Out class will include 10 undergraduate ASU students, who will take a van once a week to Perryville to meet with 10 women who are incarcerated there. Together, they’ll study motivational justice. There are no prerequisites, but the undergraduates will be interviewed before being accepted. The past few classes have included students from a variety of majors, which has enriched the experience, Wright said.

"In the last class we had students from business, finance and global studies. The perspectives they brought are what we need to come up with innovative solutions,” he said.

RELATED: Barrett, The Honors College Inside-Out program focuses on toxic masculinity and fostering positive change

Prospective students at Perryville must have a high school equivalency diploma and no misconduct points.

“One of the things everyone loves is that we don’t read criminology and justice — we read organization systems and social psychology, what makes a good team and what inspires people,” he said. “We take all that general knowledge developed elsewhere and apply it to criminal justice and our approach to rehabilitating people.”

Last year, an ASU master’s degree student analyzed the results of surveys taken by the participants before and after the classes. As expected, the undergraduates become more understanding of why people end up in prison. But the view of the “inside” people changed as well after they met ASU students who plan careers in law enforcement, Wright said.

“They no longer think, ‘I hate police.’ They think, ‘Megan will be a police officer.’ Our ASU students are changing the mindset of people who have had years of experience with criminal justice that is negative, and now they see a more promising future.”

The Center for Correctional Solutions has other initiatives as well, including the Arizona Transformation Project, a think tank based at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence that includes alumni from the first Inside-Out class held there. Research projects are evaluating whether the state’s Second Chance Centers are helping to reduce recidivism and how restrictive housing affects the mental health of inmates and correctional officers.

Currently, a doctoral student is creating an employment program for the women at Perryville, Wright said.

“She is doing interviews because we don’t want to take something off the shelf and assume it will work with the women,” he said.

“We’re asking, ‘What’s the best programming you’ve ever had?’ and ‘What’s your dream job?’ to develop something that will make an impact.”

When a person goes to prison, the effects reverberate among the family. In 2014, people in the Phoenix community came to the Center for Child Well-Being and asked for help in addressing the needs of children whose parents are incarcerated. So the center held a daylong conference, which was informative but didn’t lead to any momentum, according to Judy Krysik, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the center.

So last year, the center held its first national conference.

“We had people with lived experience — people who were children of incarcerated parents and maybe still had parents who were incarcerated. We had parents who had been incarcerated. Researchers. Advocates. People from the faith-based community. Government agencies such as probation, child welfare, corrections,” she said.

“That was a little bit tense because people don’t always agree or see things the same way. And it was a healthy tension, where people were able to voice their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of research or policy or practice.”

For example, research in this field often focuses on poor educational outcomes or generational incarceration.

“That’s disturbing for children who are trying to do well and feel they are doing well,” she said. “There needs to be a better balance there.”

Families face so much stigma when a parent is incarcerated that sometimes they’ll lie to the children about why the parent isn’t there.

“Sometimes they’ll tell the child that the parent has a job at the prison,” Krysik said. “And a lot of times the child knows they’re not being told the truth, and that creates an even bigger sense of shame around the issue.”

The second conference, on April 14-17, will bring together experts to share best practices, including training for teachers who have children of incarcerated parents in their classrooms.

And the participants also will focus on research.

“There’s pockets of research in different places with children of different ages,” she said. “There’s a little research on visiting programs and there’s a little research on re-entry programs, but there’s nothing that lays out a framework or tells us where our gaps in research are,” she said. “And that’s what we’re trying to put together this year, really mapping that out and making sense of it.”

RELATED: Podcast focuses on children of incarcerated parents

The conference also will be a mini film festival, featuring four documentaries: “Run for His Life,” by photographer Pete Monsanto, whose father is serving a life sentence; “Foster,” about foster families, which will be on HBO later this year; “Tres Maison Dasan,” about three boys whose fathers are in prison, and “The Sentence,” about a mother serving a 15-year term, which also will feature a discussion by the director, Rudy Valdez.

The public will get a unique opportunity to delve into this issue at a “re-entry simulation” workshop on April 9 in which they can experience the first month of post-release life. Each participant assumes the identity of an ex-offender and receives a packet of materials explaining criminal background, living situation, job situation and weekly tasks that must be accomplished to avoid being sent back to prison. Then the participants try to navigate their new lives. A guided discussion will follow.

“We hope to influence the practices and the policies and to reduce some of the barriers for people re-integrating into society,” Krysik said.

“There’s is growing recognition that it’s such a loss of human capital and creates so much havoc with so many families.” 

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Community conversation moves One Square Mile Initiative forward

March 20, 2019

ASU project to help revitalize a growing community of 230,000 residents in Phoenix

The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University is moving forward with a project to help revitalize a growing community of 230,000 residents in Phoenix.

Dean Jonathan Koppell led a community conversation in Maryvale Monday to discuss the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative with a standing-room only crowd of stakeholders representing the neighborhood, various community groups and local police.

The initiative is a core project stemming from Sunstate Equipment founders and philanthropists Mike and Cindy Watts’ investment in the college to support Maryvale, the neighborhood where they grew up. 

“Maryvale is a great place,” Koppell said. “It’s a strong community with lots of people engaged. What we see is a community that is ambitious with aspirations to be more than it is today.”

Maryvale’s soaring population accounts for 10 percent of Maricopa County, and if it were a city, it would be the seventh largest in the state. The neighborhood is also one of the poorest in Phoenix, where 39 percent of residents lack a high school diploma or equivalency.

“There are some extraordinary things going on and there are some signs of unhealthy patterns,” Koppell said.  

Although Monday’s meeting was the first for the public at large, the college has been working on the project for months by listening to residents and soliciting feedback. That is a key piece for the long-term success of the initiative, because Koppell wants to ensure all work going forward is “of, by and for the community.”

“The idea is not that we come here, plant a flag, say we’re open for business and everything is about us,” Koppell said. “Because that’s not sustainable. What we are interested in doing is helping start things that have an organic basis and they last forever.”

To that end, the college established the Design Studio for Community Solutions. Led by Director Erik Cole, the studio will be the place to share ideas, bring in different perspectives and run possibilities up against reality.

“It’s not purely an architectural exercise,” Koppell said. “We think of it as a studio where we design concepts and we repeat, and if we fail we try again, and we design again.”

Many groups in Maryvale are already engaged in different community initiatives. Watts College is interested in helping concentrate efforts and “connect the dots” between activities that are already happening.

“There are so many assets, opportunities and organizations (engaged),” Cole said. “Maryvale Revitalization Corporation, Heart of Isaac (community center), YMCA, Grand Canyon University, school districts. None of why we are here is to say there aren’t those assets and that incredible work is not already happening.”

One other organization mentioned by Cole was Estrella Supermoms, a neighborhood block-watch program of about 20 families who help clean up Maryvale, remove graffiti and work on other service projects.

“That’s what this is about,” Cole said. “It’s really about community and coming together, and if we can be a vehicle for that, so be it.”

Monday’s community conversation also served as an opportunity to continue gathering feedback from residents. Attendees participated in three faculty-led group discussions about health and wellness; youth, families and children; and public safety. The discussions brought up areas of concern that present opportunities for improvement.

Security is an important topic often taken for granted in other neighborhoods, said Carlos Mendoza, a 16-year-old student at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School.

“Other communities have bright lights, security cameras, everything is safe and protected,” he said. “You look at the parks here; the lights are yellow, dim and so far away from each other.”

Parents don't let their children out to play after the sun goes down, because those who are not at home could find themselves in a “scary situation,” Mendoza said.

Contributing to neighborhood crime is the reality in Maryvale that many people are hesitant to report crimes to police, said Rosa Menjivar, who is the president of the Estrella Supermoms.

“We see the fear in the community that leads people to not report crime,” Menjivar said. “I need officials to help do their part in communicating more with families and get them more engaged.”

Crime is not the only safety factor challenging Maryvale residents. Simply walking down the street can be risky. The community layout and sidewalks are not pedestrian-friendly, and this can account for the high number of accidents, Mendoza said. Pedestrians have to walk a light or two down the street to get to a bus stop, which can take an extra 10 to 15 minutes. So jaywalking is common because some are willing to risk their lives to save some time.

“Sidewalks are not practical,” Mendoza said. “Things are dictated by how things are shaped, and I feel like most things here are shaped by, of course, the engineers that originally designed this community.”

Watts College has not set a specific timeline to achieve objectives of the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative, Koppell said. The university intends to remain a resource for as long as necessary. The idea is for ASU to serve as an “empowering” force rather than an essential element needed for success.

“We can change Maryvale,” Menjivar said. “If we work as a team.”

Top photo: Dean Jonathan Koppell, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, speaks with Maryvale community members on March 18 in Maryvale. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Arizona school choice options offer up plenty of variety as well as questions

March 18, 2019

ASU experts create primer explaining the differences between public, charter and private schools

Arizona’s K–12 education system appears to be fairly straightforward at first glance. But it’s easy to get into the weeds when you start digging.

School choice options have become increasingly popular in Arizona in the last few decades, but sometimes it’s hard to distinguish which is the best path to take: public, charter or private school? What’s the difference?

ASU Now consulted a variety of experts, scholars and educators at Arizona State University to create a primer to help guide parents and students through the specifics of the different educational opportunities in Arizona, from kindergarten to college prep.

Question: What is the main difference between district, private and charter schools?

Answer: One of the main differences between district, private and charter schools is related to choice.

Public district schools are governed by publicly elected or appointed school boards and state and local districts and are typically assigned students based on location. Households are able to choose public schools by choosing where and in which school districts they live. Public school choice options have become increasingly popular through magnet schools, charter schools, open enrollment, voucher programs and the fact that some households are able to choose from various public institutions within a district.

Charter schools are a “hybrid between public and private schools,” and while they require students to apply for admission, they are unable to restrict admission. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter schools are independently operated, public, tuition-free schools that are open to all students, though it is not unusual for some charter schools (and district public schools, for that matter) to sort students by academic ability. Because they are independently run, they are not held to the same laws and state budgeting regulations as public district schools.

Private schools are generally autonomous institutions that do not receive public funding and are not required to follow state laws that govern public schools. Private schools are also often owned and managed by religious groups or independent boards of trustees and therefore have the ability to choose which students they accept. Similarly, households that want a private education choose private schools.

Q: Which of those three charges tuition and how is that money used?

A: Public district schools and charter schools do not charge, and are prohibited from charging, tuition.

Aside from sources like donations and endowments, private schools rely on tuition and fees to function, and private school tuition charges are paid by the parents and families of private school children. Tuition is used to cover the costs of operation including teacher salaries, facilities, school capital, registration and application, textbooks, technology, uniforms, transportation and other student services.

Q: How do public, private and charter schools get their funding?

A: Public district schools and charter schools receive state funding based on enrollment, and both are eligible for results-based funding, a program presented in Arizona in 2017 by Gov. Doug Ducey as a means to increase access to high-quality education based on AZMerit exam performance.

Funding for public schools in the U.S. comes from federal, state and local sources, with nearly half of this funding coming from local property taxes alone. Some public schools also receive financial supplements from corporate or foundation grants and donations, as well as parent- or student-fundraising initiatives. Charter schools lack taxing authority and, unlike public district schools, they are unable to pass local bonds and overrides for the purpose of funding operations.

Private schools receive their funding primarily through nonpublic resources such as tuition, foundations, religious bodies, endowments and private donors. In Arizona, direct and indirect funding is also used to fund private schools. The former is the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program, open to students who meet specific eligibility requirements and providing tax dollars to families and households that allow them to pay for educational expenses including private-school tuition. The latter refers to the dollar-to-dollar tax credits that the state provides to individuals and businesses that can be donated to nonprofit organizations, which can then put that money toward private school scholarships.

Q: Who can start a private or charter school?

A: To start a charter school, an application must be submitted to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools along with a $6,500 fee. The application must describe in detail what the vision of the applicant is for their school, including demographic information for the surrounding communities, budget outlines and curriculum plans. The application then goes before the state board, which grades the application in three areas: education, operation and business. If the applicant scores at least a 95 in each category, they face a 90-minute interview with the board’s Technical Review Panel. The panel’s recommendations are then provided to the charter board, which approves or denies the application.

Starting a private school is a much simpler process. In Arizona, there are no requirements for accreditation, registration, licensing or approval. Private schools face few requirements for operations and have very little oversight. They are required to have a minimum number of school days equal to the local school district, and must provide education in the subjects reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science. Aside from a small number of requirements for health and safety and special education, private schools are able to operate as they please.

Q: What is a budget override, how is it funded, and how are those funds used?

A: A budget override is a voter-approved initiative used by public districts to raise additional funds from their local community. District boards call for an override election through a board vote, and a subsequent stakeholder group comprising parents, educators and community members forms to support the override. There are three types of budget overrides: a maintenance and operations override, which supports salaries and general operations; a special override, which supports specific programs; and a capital override, which funds equipment. The override amount is capped based on the type of override, with M&O overrides capped at 15 percent of the school budget, special overrides at 5 percent and capital overrides at 10 percent.

If the override passes, funds are raised through a separate property tax applied to homeowners and businesses within the district boundaries. The funds are then used by the district on whatever operations or programs were designated to receive the money based on the type of override passed.

Similar to overrides are bond elections, which differ in that they involve the district selling bonds that earn interest for investors. Bond elections generally involve much larger amounts of money than overrides.

Q: How does each entity test and score students?

A: There are state requirements for testing in public and charter schools. There is currently no state policy on testing students in private schools. Following President Barack Obama’s authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, states are required to asses all student proficiency levels in reading/language arts and mathematics annually in third through eighth grade and once in high school. Arizona has a menu of assessments that schools may use, the most common being AzMerit. ESSA also clarified the regulations that require states to perform an annual assessment of English Proficiency for English language learners in grades K–12. The assessment used in Arizona in known as AZELLA. Additionally, Arizona requires that students in fourth and eighth grade and high school be assessed annually on AIMS Science.

Q: What happens to a child’s individualized education program if they switch schools?

A: In Arizona, when a child with an IEP transfers to another public school or a charter school, the requirements are the same. Either type of school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), must “provide the child with a free appropriate public education, including services comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents, until such time as the school district adopts the previous IEP or develops, adopts and implements a new IEP that is consistent with federal and state law.” Since charter schools are considered public schools in Arizona, federal regulations ensure that all students with disabilities that attend charter schools retain the same rights under Part B of IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the American Disabilities Act.

If a child is placed in a private school by a school district, this is considered an educational placement, not a switching of schools, so the child’s IEP would remain the same. However, if a child is placed in a private school by a parent, the private school is not required to uphold the previous IEP as they are not covered under IDEA.

Q: Which has the least government oversight and which has the most?

A: Traditional public schools have the most government oversight. The government funds, provides and regulates public education.

Charter schools have the next highest level of government oversight. Charter schools are funded and regulated by the state through a charter contract with a charter school sponsor or authorizer like the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

Private schools have the least amount of government oversight. Private schools in Arizona are not controlled or supervised by the state board of education or any other school district boards.

Q: Can any of the three reject students on the basis of learning and attention issues?

A: Public schools and public charter schools cannot reject students based on a learning disability, including “attention issues.” Title II of the American Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit all public agencies receiving federal funding, including charter schools, from discriminating against students with disabilities.

Private schools that accept vouchers are also required to follow Title II and Section 504 and must not discriminate against or reject students based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin or disability. Private schools that do not accept federal funding are not held to these or any requirements.

Q: Must all general education teachers be state certified?

A: All public-school teachers in Arizona are required to hold an Arizona teacher certificate, a valid out-of-state teaching certificate or emergency certification. Private and charter school teacher certifications are not regulated by the state and are determined by each individual school or school board.

Q: How does each of the three choose curriculum?

A: Although there is not a national curriculum, states, school districts and/or national associations require that certain educational standards be met. Charter schools were developed to free teachers from “bureaucratic constraints” by allowing them to develop a new type of public schooling system where they could design and implement innovative means of instruction based on the specific school’s charter. That said, charter schools are unique in that they often have different purposes and specializations, with some that follow a Montessori curriculum, some that focus on college prep, some that focus on the arts, some that are taught in two languages and others that focus on STEM. Because each state possesses unique laws to help it meet its specific needs and objectives, charter schools tend to differ across states. States determine the laws surrounding charter schools, though charters are free from many of the laws and regulations that are enforced for traditional public schools because they are independently run.

Both traditional public schools and charter schools are required to adhere to state academic requirements, meaning they must teach to state-approved academic standards, that their students are required to participate in standardized testing and that policies pertaining to state school accountability must be followed.

Private schools are different from their public counterparts in that they are not required to follow all state schooling laws because they are autonomous.

Q: Do owners of charter schools make a profit?

A: Technically, there are no “owners” of a charter school; rather, there is an organization (generally a nonprofit) that holds the charter. The charter is the right given to the organization by the state to operate a school that receives public funds in exchange for providing an education to students. These organizations must have governing boards, which set policy and guide the organization based on their shared vision.

Charters differ from public district schools in that there are much fewer state regulations on how they must operate. Because of this, executives of the charter holder are free to pay companies owned by themselves or other board members. These are called “related-party transactions,” and generally take the form of management organizations (that provide teachers), property ownership companies (that provide facilities), and curriculum development companies; 77 percent of charter schools engage in related-party transactions. Owners of such companies have been able to make substantial profits that occasionally reach into millions of dollars.

Q: Are charter schools really an attempt to privatize all education through the use of for-profit charter holders?

A: There is no evidence this is the case. The Arizona legislature began to allow charter schools in 1994 with the hope that charters would create competition among Arizona’s public district and private schools and create innovation and improvement in the sector. Since the inception of charter schools, Arizona has created and expanded several options for school choice. Choice options for parents now include district schools, charter schools, private schools, home-schooling, scholarships from school tuition organizations and empowerment scholarship accounts. While the charter sector has experienced significant growth since its founding and now includes 544 schools, it accounts for only 17 percent of public-school students. The rest are taught in district schools.

Q: Why are charter schools not accountable to the taxpayers for their spending?

A: Charter schools have less financial oversight than district schools in an attempt to free them from regulations and allow them to innovate. Proponents for charters argue that, while there are limits on what financial activities charters are allowed to engage in, they are few. Charters are allowed to engage in large, no-bid contracts and do not have to justify hiring a business owned by a related party such as a governing board member.

The only financial document charters are required to provide that details their spending is the Annual Financial Report, submitted to the State Board of Charter Schools. This body requires that all charters hire an external auditing firm once per year and that the results be submitted to the state board. These audits are then made available on the state board’s website.

Q: Discuss the racial and socioeconomic demographics of each kind of school in Arizona.

A: Enrollment data in Arizona show that white and Asian students attend charter schools at the highest rates. Hispanic students make up 44 percent of all school-age students in Arizona, but account for 36 percent of the state’s total charter school student population.

White students make up 40 percent of the state’s school-age population, but account for 48 percent of its charter population and 41 percent of its public district school population. While minority populations are more represented in public schools, even going as far as being overrepresented in charter schools, the majority of Arizona’s private school students are white. 

Additionally, the families of students enrolled in private schools tend to be wealthier on average than the families of students enrolled in public district schools. Tuition costs associated with the former limit the accessibility of such institutions to the general public, as the latter are free and public, therefore being more accessible to a broader population. Although school choice options like Arizona’s open enrollment law — which allows households to send their children to any public school they choose, even outside their local district — are meant to increase access to high-quality public schools, higher-quality schools are more likely to reach capacity faster.

Contributors were graduate students Max Goshert and Maya Watts (educational policy, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College), and Jenna Parker (public administration, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions).

Reporter , ASU Now