MARICOPA — Maricopa Unified School Board candidate Tracie Armstead-Payton may be a relative newcomer to the city, but she already has a great deal of time on a school board under her belt.

Though born in New York, Armstead-Payton grew up in Highland Park, Michigan. She liked her schools in her hometown, but over the span of a decade after leaving, the district began to seem unfamiliar.

“Unfortunately, I had seen a decline in a variety of things that I, as a student, had the privilege of being a part of,” Armstead-Payton said. “It was low in student enrollment, there were population issues, social issues. The educational system just wasn’t up to standards. It was completely different over a 10-year span from when I graduated to what it had become, and that frustrated me and made me very sad.”

Armstead-Payton set out to change what she had observed, and give the current students the education she knew the district was capable of. She ran in her first election and won the seat.

“I wanted to be able to contribute back to the community that basically raised me and gave me a wealth of opportunities,” Armstead-Payton said. “Serving on the board was one of the ways that I thought that I will be able to contribute back to the school district that did so much for me.”

She hopes to do similar work in Maricopa, where she moved with her husband of 24 years almost three years ago.

One of her main platform focuses is increasing parental involvement in schools. As a member of the human resources department for a behavioral health nonprofit in Phoenix, Armstead-Payton says she’s witnessed the effects of drugs, suicide and other issues on students in the school system and believes communication with parents is key.

“One of the things that I wanted to do in the city of Maricopa, because they are some behavioral health agencies in the actual city of Maricopa, is hopefully develop partnerships with them,” Armstead-Payton said. “That way if a child or teenager needed a higher level of care than what they can get by going to a school counselor or school psychologist, we already have a partnership established.”

Armstead-Payton is also hoping to attract and “reclaim” students who have left MUSD in favor of Valley or charter schools through community outreach and discussion. An important aspect of that for her is preparation tools for high school students.

“I want to make sure they have the tools that they need to be successful in college, starting with just the basic test taking,” Armstead-Payton said. “Also for those kids that may not want to go to college — preparing them for the workforce, so they can be respected, tax-paying citizens.”

A mother of four children, Armstead-Payton believes diversity and representation of students is as vital to being a board member as work experience.

“I’m a Black female,” she said. “I can bring a different viewpoint than maybe the other board members because they have not been in any particular situation. ... Having the previous experience as a board member, I have a great understanding about board policies, procedures and the inner workings of a board structure. A lot of those things I don’t necessarily have to learn. I can just recall from history and previous experience.”

She holds two degrees, a bachelors in merchandising management from Michigan State University and a Masters in organizational management from University of Phoenix. She understands the background process that administrators are dealing with, and especially this year with the arrival of COVID.

With the board’s most recent decision to reopen schools earlier than originally anticipated, Armstead-Payton commended the current board for their dedication, but had some additional concerns.

“I think the district has done its best job at trying to plan, mitigate and forecast,” Armstead-Payton said. “The only thing that I wish, looking back on it like a week later and getting opinions, is that there has been more time for parents to understand the behind the scenes working.”

This is where Armstead-Payton believes communication between staff and parents could be improved, to help the district remain on the same page with their families.

Armstead-Payton is also pushing for more early information about what January 2021 will look like, as there has been little discussion from the board thus far. She hopes that, if elected, she would be able to help formulate the desired spring semester for parents and staff.

“I’m just excited for the opportunity to hopefully win a seat on the board,” Armstead-Payton said. “I would be excited to start working with some of the board members and coming up with … some things that maybe haven’t been worked on or haven’t been thought of yet, from a community perspective.”

Armstead-Payton is running against current board members Torri Anderson, AnnaMarie Knorr and Jim Jordan for one of the three seats.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.

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