THE BLOG
10/01/2014 03:51 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Bringing Down the Barriers for a Better Education in Arizona

I often tell people if you want to know where someone is heading, you must first find out where they've been.

I'm a fourth-generation Arizonan, the son of a commercial painter and factory worker and the product of public schools. I was fortunate to have parents who went to work everyday and came home to their kids every night.

I was a smart kid, but I wasn't a great student. Like many kids, if I didn't see the relevance in what I was studying, I didn't study. I didn't care if I received an A or a D. I did enough to get by and thought that so long as I graduated from high school, I would be fine.

But I received a wake up call my senior year when my high school guidance counselor told me I had wasted my talents and needed a swift kick in the rear if I were to amount to anything. He convinced me to enlist in the Army, which was just what I needed to turn my life around. I repeated high school, learned the importance of hard work and discipline and returned home ready to work and ready to learn.

I finished my undergrad degree at Arizona State University then went on to receive a masters and Ph.D. in education policy and research from the University of Chicago. From there I began my career in education, first as an education policy analyst in the Arizona Senate and eventually as the state's Associate Superintendent for Standards and Accountability. For the past nine years, I've taught teachers in the Mary Lou Fulton Teacher's College at my alma mater.

I decided to run for Arizona's top education job because I believe our state has the raw talent and the right ingredients to create the most innovative education system in the country. We are small, flexible and fearless. We have thousands of students fluent in both Spanish and English -- a huge asset for a state whose biggest trade partner is Mexico. But we also have huge hurdles we cannot continue to ignore.

Arizona schools led the nation in funding cuts during the Great Recession. At the same time, our children recorded some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation. The funding cuts, coupled with a loss of services for at-risk kids, fueled the achievement gap between white and minority students. And in a state where minority students are now the majority of kids in public schools, hurdles begin to look more like barriers.

If we want to deconstruct the walls and instead build opportunities, then we must elect a state superintendent with the ability to recognize and address the specific needs of all students, including our minority and first-generation college students. My background and experience in both the classroom and as a policy advisor make me uniquely qualified for this difficult task.

It would be a privilege to serve as Arizona's next superintendent of schools. I hope to earn your support and your vote in November.