Meet the Candidates for the School Board

Four candidates, including one incumbent, vie for two positions

By Dana Trumbull

With all city positions decided in the primary election on August 28, the lone event remaining in the local race is between the four candidates vying for two open seats on the Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board.

One candidate is an incumbent: Dena Kimble. The other three candidates are: Braden Biggs, Chelsea Connelly and Gilbert Cancio. (For additional insight, names have been linked to candidate statements on the Pinal County School Office website.)

Board member Mike Weaver would have been up for re-election; however, he recently moved out of the district, relinquishing eligibility for the position. With the election just weeks away, County School Superintendent Jill Broussard opted to leave the position vacant rather than appoint an interim Board representative.

Those elected on November 6 will take office in January, 2019. Early voting begins this week: Wednesday, October 10.

School Board members do not receive pay for their service on the Board.

The following Q & A is offered by The News with the intent to explore candidates’ motivation to serve in this unpaid position and the relevant experience each would bring to the office. Registered voters are encouraged to consider the impact of a successful school district on the future of our children – but also on the immediate economic viability of our community, as the city and surrounding areas strive to attract businesses and families. Every vote is important; however, the local decisions have the most immediate impact on our everyday world.

Please Vote.

Braden Biggs

Braden Biggs, age 26, has worked for the United Way of Pinal County for nearly 3 years, currently serving as the Community Programs Manager. He is unmarried and attends Mesa Community College, majoring in Political Science/Public Policy. He graduated from Apache Junction High School in 2010.

Biggs attended the Apache Junction Citizen Leadership Institute in 2017, and is very active in the community, currently serving on Boards for: Community Alliance Against Family Abuse (CAAFA), CAAFA Finance Committee, AJ Board of Adjustments, AJ Library Board (Vice-President), AJ Municipal Planning Board (Secretary), Volunteer Center for Pinal County and the Actors Youth Theatre. He is also a member of the AJ Wellness Partnership, the AJ Drug Coalition and the AJ Focal Point and Tourism group. In addition, Biggs is an adult mentor for the Youth Empowerment Partnership.

For more information, follow him on Facebook: @Biggs4AJUSD

QUESTIONS:

Q1: What is your motivation for seeking this position?

A1: I believe in the voice of our community: tax payers, parents and other stakeholders. I do not believe that our current board has their best interest at heart. I believe our community should be first in any decision.

Q2: What do you see as AJUSD strengths and weaknesses?

A2: Weaknesses – Lack of transparency and community education; Lack of community support and trust.

Strengths – Amazing teachers and staff; Talented kids who continually set the bar higher and higher; Quality programs and educational opportunities.

Q3: What ideas do you have to capitalize/remediate these strengths/weaknesses?

A3: I plan to host quarterly town hall meetings, invite the community in for refreshments and snacks. Have engaging conversations, continually go to the community with information and be willing to answer questions.

Be as open and transparent as possible. Grow successful programs.

Q4: What is your prior involvement with AJUSD or other schools and/or school administration and/or other organizational governing boards?”

A4: Former student; Former child of two parents who worked for the district; Former volunteer; Serve on 6 community boards; Attend all AJUSD School Board Meetings; I have relationships with administrators and board members in school districts across the state. AJUSD Calendar Advisory Committee (2017); Children First/Support Our Schools (Chairman, 2017-18)

Chelsea Connolly

Chelsea Connolly, age 32, is a Loan Officer/Branch Manager at Academy Mortgage, having worked there for 8 years. She is married to Benjamin Young, a Technical Supervisor for Sunrun. They have one minor child.

Connolly graduated Apache Junction High School in 2004 and attended college for three years at Central Arizona College, Mesa Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College. She attended real estate school and has her loan originator license.

Connolly’s community involvement includes: Lost Dutchman Days Parade committee, Chamber of Commerce member, Superstition Mountain Regional Business Alliance member, Community Appreciation Committee, Apache Junction Back Pack Drive Committee, Halloween Costume Drive Committee and Little League Coach/Team Mom.

For more information, follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/chelsea.connolly.9

QUESTIONS:

Q1: What is your motivation for seeking this position?

A1: My motivation is my son, who will be going into Kindergarten next year at DVES [Desert Vista Elementary School]. All the negative talk about the school district gave me an overwhelming urge to help. I want to mend the fences that have been broken and help build back the trust we have lost.

Q2: What do you see as AJUSD strengths and weaknesses?

A2: I believe we lack consistency and community involvement. I do believe we have people who are committed to making AJUSD a better place and earning the trust back in our community. I can see they are working tirelessly to fix what has been broken.

Q3: What ideas do you have to capitalize/remediate these strengths/weaknesses?

A3: I would like to get the district more involved with our entire community, including the retirement communities. We need to make an active effort in showing them what our awesome students are doing and what great things our district has to offer our students.

Q4: What is your prior involvement with AJUSD or other schools and/or school administration and/or other organizational governing boards/Committees?

A4: I worked at AJUSD from 2008-2012 as an administrative assistant. I coached volleyball for the high school, middle school and our club team, Club Digz. I am currently on the LDD Parade Committee, Community Appreciation Committee, and Halloween Costume Drive committee that will be a new community tradition.

Dena Kimble

Dena Kimble, age 53, has been the owner of Liberty Case, Inc. for 5 years. She has also been the manager of Kimble Law Firm for fifteen years. She is married to attorney Raymond Kimble and has one minor and two adult children.

Kimble graduated from Essex County Vocational and Technical High School in Bloomfield, NJ. She also has a Certificate of Paralegal Studies and a Certificate of Interior Design Studies.

Kimble is currently the Vice-President of the AJUSD Governing Board. She previously served as the President of the Desert Vista Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) and then the Cactus Canyon Junior High PTO. She is also active in the Apache Junction Volleyball Association.

QUESTIONS

Q1: What is your motivation for seeking this position?

A1: My true motivation is our children. I want to remain a member of the Governing Board to ensure that all of our schools become “A” rated and that all of our students are prepared for college or a successful career upon graduation.

Q2: What do you see as AJUSD strengths and weaknesses?

A2: AJUSD’s strengths include our dedicated employees, the newly implemented AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination] student success program, our relationship with EVIT [East Valley Institute of Technology], the additional academic choices recently made available to students and our ROTC and athletic programs. Weaknesses include the negative reputation our district is working to overcome and budget issues.

Q3: What ideas do you have to capitalize/remediate these strengths/weaknesses?

A3: We have to promote the positive steps our district has taken and the progress we continue to make. We must inform parents and people interested in moving into our community that the district is moving in the right direction and will be a model for other communities to follow.

Q4: What is your prior involvement with AJUSD or other schools and/or school administration and/or other organizational governing boards/Committees?

A4: I have served as president of the PTO at Desert Vista and Cactus Canyon Schools. During those times I had the opportunity to become familiar with staff, our students and parents. This experience allows me to identify, prioritize and address the most important issues facing our district.

Gilbert Cancio

Gilbert K. Cancio, age 67, is currently retired after having served 23 years with the Arizona Department of Corrections, where he achieved the rank of Captain. Previously, he served 20 years with the United States Marine Corps (Active Duty and Reserve) and retired with the rank of Major.

Cancio is married to Susan A. Gray-Cancio, also retired. They have three adult children.

Cancio graduated from Palo Verde High School in Tucson, and carries a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Northern Arizona University and a MA in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix. He also is a Certified Public Manager, earning the certificate from Arizona State Uiversity.

He is a member of the Superstition Mountain Republican Club and the District Chairman of the Pinal County Republican Committee.

QUESTIONS

Q1: What is your motivation for seeking this position?

A1: I’ve had the occasion to talk with recent graduates of AJHS over the last 2-3 years. Their lack of knowledge of how our government operates concerned me at the time. My conversations with my grandchildren have left me concerned about the quality of education they are receiving, especially in Math.

Q2: What do you see as AJUSD strengths and weaknesses?

A2: I believe that the NJROTC program is a major strength of the school district. I feel that the two main weaknesses within the District are a lack of trust and a lack of transparency. I believe that these two items have contributed to a low morale problem within the staff.

Q3: What ideas do you have to capitalize/remediate these strengths/weaknesses?

A3: The development of strong lines of communication would go a long way to restoring trust between the School Board and all members of the School staff. Therefore, if elected, I plan on conducting visits to each school, talking with everyone, discussing their concerns. This would be an ongoing process.

Q4: What is your prior involvement with AJUSD or other schools and/or school administration and/or other organizational governing boards/Committees?

A4: I am currently serving on the Pinal County Merit System Commission (Second Term).

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