PHOENIX — Districts across the state are grappling with a seemingly impossible choice as COVID cases rise, to stay open or go virtual.
As our state's top educator, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, says she is working for educators, elevating their voices and advocating for safe schools.
So, is she doing enough?
Hoffman acknowledges there is always room for improvement, especially in a year wrought with unprecedented challenges and differing viewpoints surrounding school closures at the state level.
Hoffman tells ABC15 she'd give her own leadership during the pandemic a "B+".
"Definitely not perfect," said Hoffman. "Nobody's perfect."
We're told Hoffman and Governor Doug Ducey last met in person at a media briefing on September 10.
Typically, the governor and superintendent's staff handle the bulk of their work, but you cannot ignore the shift from what appeared to be a united front in the spring.
The two elected leaders now on very different sides of the school reopening debate and Hoffman faces mounting pressure to speak out against some of the governor's decisions.
"I support Kathy Hoffman and what she's done and what she's said, but he's ignoring it," said Molly Nygren, a nurse who attended a car parade in Chandler Monday to support teachers.
"We need someone championing and elevating our voices at the top levels of government," said Joe Thomas, head of the Arizona Education Association.
"I do believe I pushed as hard as I could, in a way that didn't break down those channels of communication," said Hoffman.
She says the state's recommended benchmarks, which currently recommend virtual learning for all counties in Arizona, are an example of that balancing act. She says they give districts the flexibility to stay remote if needed, rather than tie reopening to a specific date.
"That date would have come and the governor would have said, ok, all schools must open," said Hoffman. "They need to have a roadmap, they need to have something to be leaning on, but I recognize it has not worked for every district."
As head of Arizona's largest teacher union, Thomas says Hoffman has followed through on her promise to bridge the gap between classrooms and state government. However, it is a lifeline that must continue going forward.
"If she stays connected to those voices, she will always be connected to the classrooms," said Thomas.
Looking ahead Hoffman says school funding will be even more important this legislative session, specifically the governor's promise to fully fund schools at 98% of their prior year budgets, so they don't lose money with the rise in online learners.
"There were assurances made for school funding and I'm just disappointed that those have not been completely fulfilled," said Hoffman.
Other top priorities include:
-Improving connectivity and access to broadband, especially in rural areas
-Pausing the A-F school grading system
-Increasing teacher retention and recruitment
-Maximum flexibility for state testing assessments in the Spring