Two Washington Elementary School District Board Members Attack Superintendent for Not Being ‘Inclusive Enough’ for the District

The Washington Elementary School District (WESD) Governing Board voted three to two on July 27 to renew the contract of WESD Superintendent Paul Stanton for three years. Two of the board members — former President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley and self-described “neurodivergent” Tamilia Valenzuela — voted against the renewal, stating that Stanton, who is white, is unable to handle the school district’s diversity.

Tara Mayole, a retired principal from the district, told The Arizona Sun Times that board members Gomez-Whaley and Valenzuela failed to provide even “one example or suggestion” of how Stanton “is not inclusive enough of marginalized groups.”

She said regarding Valenzuela, “Mrs. Valenzuela has no teaching degree, master’s degree, social worker or counseling license nor a doctorate. She holds nothing other than her personal agenda of no Christian [University] student teachers; pronouns and gender identity should be a top priority in elementary school, and more teachers should be people of color and of the LGBTQ community. It’s against the law to hire people based on race, color, gender or religion. We hire based on the best person for the job.”

Tiff Macyn, a parent of a child in the school district, echoed similar concerns to The Sun Times. “It’s become clearer than ever that these two board members share the exact same ideology, rooted in racism and bigotry,” she said. “Each board meeting, these members abuse the seat in which they were elected by their community to engage in the most unprofessional and hostile dialogue amongst other board members and staff, knowing it’s broadcasted over YouTube. Our community has had enough of this ‘woke’ nonsense. Race is at the forefront of every tantrum on record where Valenzuela and Gomez-Whaley blatantly state we have a large marginalized community we have rejected and silenced … because they are not white.”

She went on, “So we are supposed to believe that as long as we set the bar low enough for students, whether it’s their character development or academically, this will ensure their success? We can’t have accountability because that’s racist?”

The school district is composed of 70 percent minority students. Stanton has served as WESD superintendent for eight years, with 27 years in education. He is past president of the Arizona School Administrators and serves on the ABEC Board of Directors and the WESTMARC Education and Workforce Development Committee. He and his wife prepare food boxes for those in need on the weekends.

Gomez-Whaley, who recently survived a recall attempt over her vote to terminate a contract with Arizona Christian University (ACU) due to objecting to the school’s Christian views, said since there were “serious concerns brought up” in regards to Stanton, she wanted to look at alternative contracts “so that we could see proof of improvement before we go handing off a contract of this magnitude.” After ACU filed a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination, WESD settled, reinstating the contract and paying attorneys fees.

Gomez-Whaley complained about how the process to consider renewing Stanton’s contract was taking place since she was no longer president of the board and couldn’t control it. The other board members removed her as president in a 3-2 vote during a meeting on May 22. After the vote, Gomez-Whaley accused the three who voted her out, “These board members…are clearly uncomfortable with a woman of color being [her] authentic self, particularly when [she’s] in a leadership position. … Whether they realize it or not, bias and privilege has contributed to this vote.”

Valenzuela, who led the effort to terminate ACU’s contract and frequently wears cat ears on her head, said she opposed renewing Stanton’s contract for several reasons.

“We have an attack on our LGBT youth … hateful comments coming constantly,” she said. “We still in 2023 have black students that are disciplined at a much higher rate.”

“We need someone who is culturally competent,” she said. “For the sake of our students, for the sake of our marginalized communities that are not brought to the table, and constantly silenced in favor of this.”

She said the board has had issues with Stanton, and complained about how much compensation he is receiving. His three-year contract is for $230,000 plus bonuses.

Board Member Lindsey Peterson, who said her children attend school in the district, pushed back against the other board members’ complaints about handling the diverse district.

“We’re mastering this culture and so I do become a little concerned when we talk about just, you know, just starting all over, removing things after he has done great things for this district,” she said. “His team is strong and works hard, and they’re working on those problems. … And so to say that unilaterally, he was given a certain rating by this board is disingenuous.”

She continued, “You want to talk about numbers. Those numbers are not out of line with what other superintendents are getting. To say he’s getting $27,000 in bonuses as though we’re just handing him a stack of cash as he runs out the door is also disingenuous.”

Jenni Abbott‐Bayardi, who replaced Gomez-Whaley as board president, said. “The salary for the largest elementary school district in the state is in line with the experience Dr. Stanton has and the time that he has put in as a public servant to education for the last almost 30 years.”

“These terms were negotiated in good faith similar to how it has been done for many, many years,” Abbott-Bayardi added.

Gomez-Whaley said, “So it’s not the amount of money that I have concerns with. It is granting that guarantee for three years. For someone who we have concerns on and I will say that the concerns that I have had with regards to our ability to engage diverse families to address racial disparities to provide training and ongoing development in a way that has indicated in our surveys that our diverse families are feeling that benefit. It has not improved greatly in six years.”

She continued, “And what has essentially happened is the three people who decided to remove myself from president with no explanation are now deciding to hand over a three-year contract with no consultation with the people who are speaking up for the people that look like our students.

“… And the fact that this is a second time they — the three members of this board — want to completely disregard two members of color who have consistently been supported by their committees as speaking up for them and the only ones who will speak up for them to continue to silence us this way and to just bulldoze through — yes, you have the majority,” Gomez-Whaley added.

Valenzuela stated that if Stanton were to talk to students placed in suspension, they would not respond to him as they would to a person of color.

“It is proven that students who see themselves reflected and leadership will excel more than if they don’t see it,” she said. “People are silenced in this district; certain people do not get the chance to thrive. The fact of the matter is who dictates what happens in this district or not people that look like this community.”

Valenzuela said, “How many people of color sat on this dias, sorry, one passing, one who could pass, and who has the leadership?”

She added, “I still cannot have someone define for me what defiance looks like because we all know, black girls get accused of being aggressive or defiant, more than any other subgroup.”

Valenzuela said fixing the problem “means dismantling systems that don’t function and this does not function for everyone and that is part of the problem.”

The Sun Times asked Valenzuela, Gomez-Whaley, and Stanton for comment but did not receive a response by the time this went to publication.

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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News NetworkFollow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].



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