Mansfield ISD Board Place 5 Candidate: Jo Anna Cruz Cardoza Q&A

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Jo Anna Cruz Cardoza headshot
Courtesy photo

Focus Daily News sent the following questions to ALL candidates running for Mansfield ISD School Board. We do not edit the answers in any way and publish them exactly as they were submitted to us.

Mansfield ISD School Board Place 5 Candidate: Jo Anna Cruz Cardoza

Please provide a high-level overview of your past engagement/experiences, and those of your children, with regards to the school district for which you are running for school board trustee.

I am a Texas native, born in Houston and raised in Arlington. I have been married to my husband Sergio for twenty – five years and we have raised four children in the Mansfield ISD, our baby is currently a sophomore at Summit High School and our youngest daughter is currently attending TCC Southeast. All our children have attended public schools through their entire educational journey, the two eldest started Pre – K in Arlington ISD and the two youngest have attended Mansfield ISD since Pre-K. Our babies attended Charllotte Anderson Elementary, Cross Timbers Intermediate School, TA Howard Middle School and Summit High School in Mansfield ISD. My husband and I are expecting our first grandchild this summer.

I am a Restaurant Operator for a 30+ unit restaurant Franchise Group that owns and operates several restaurant concepts such as Qdoba Mexican Eats, Jack in the Box, Chick-fil-A and Einstein Bagels across the DFW Metroplex, concessions inside DFW Airport and at the Fort Hood Base in Killeen, TX. I have worked for the same company for over twenty years, started with the company in high school working as a drive thru cashier to help my mother pay the bills to working my way up the corporate ladder to VP of Development & Marketing.

Between myself, another young working mom and the owner of the company we strategically grew a restaurant company from a four-unit restaurant group to a 30+ restaurant group, multi – million-dollar company. I was a quick learner; I learned very quickly how to fiscally operate a business and implement a marketing strategy that has allowed our company to grow into a successful restaurant group that believes in supporting and giving back to the communities we are invested in. Through the years I have learned how to read and negotiate real estate and construction contracts, read construction drawings, prepare construction budgets, and manage construction projects as our company grew and we either acquired new restaurants or built new ones.

Growing a company from four restaurants to 30+ is no easy task, the owner of the company saw the potential in me, believed in me, and noticed I was a sharp and quick learner and hardworking young mom and gave me the opportunity to grow with the company. When asked to speak to audiences about my personal experience I always emphasize to never turn down any opportunities that are given to them, this personal motto has opened so many doors for me in the business and community circles that I belong to and I am very grateful that I was able to break the cycle of poverty for my four babies that I worked so hard to support and push forward in life.

I am very passionate about finding solutions to issues affecting families and children in our community such as hunger, homelessness, health disparities and the educational gap to name a few. I currently serve on several city/school and community boards and understand the importance of working together as a community so that everyone in our community can thrive.

I currently volunteer my time on the following boards and advisory committees:
Mansfield ISD Committees:
 Currently serve on the MISD Superintendent’s Advisory Council
 Currently serve on the MISD Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council
 Served on the 2021-2022 Mansfield Summit High School Feeder Pattern School
of Choice Committee
 Served on the 2021-2022 MISD Calendar Committee
 Served on the 2018 Advanced Academics Committee

PTA Boards:
 Currently participating in Texas PTA Emerging Leaders Academy in Austin, TX.
 I have been an executive board member of the Mansfield Council of PTA’s for
four years; I currently serve as the Advocacy Chair and have served as the
Secretary.
 I have been an active PTA executive board member of the Summit HS PTSA, TA
Howard MS PTA, Cross Timber IS PTA and Charlotte Anderson Elementary PTA. I
served in several capacities while on the PTA, VP of Membership, Teacher
Appreciation Chair and Council Delegate.
 Currently serve on the Arlington Sam Houston High School Alumni Association
Executive Board.

School Committees:
 Currently serve on Summit High School’s Site Based Decision Making Committee
 Served on the 2019-2020 TA Howard Middle School SBDM Committee
 Served on Cross Timber Intermediate School SBDM Committee

Community Committees:
 Currently serve as the Chair for the Arlington–Mansfield YMCA Cooper Advisory
Board.
 Currently appointed to serve on the City of Arlington’s Unity Council by the
Arlington City Council.
 Currently serve on the United Way of Arlington Resource Sharing Steering
Committee.
 2017 – 2021 Appointed to serve on the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation Citizen
Advisory Committee by the Arlington City Council.
 2020 Served on the City of Arlington’s Census Count Committee.

Business Community

 Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce Women’s Alliance Inspired Women ’s
Luncheon Committee
 Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce Latino Business Group Advisory Board

I have been recognized for my commitment to the community by the following
organizations:
 2021 TA Howard Middle School PTA Board Member
 2020-2021 TA Howard Middle School Community and School Partnership Award –

Qdoba Mexican Eats
 2020 TX PTA Honorary Lifetime Membership – TA Howard Middle School PTA
 2020 Girl’s Inc. of Tarrant County Bold Woman Award
 2020 – The City of Arlington’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee Inc.

“Advancing the Dream” Award for my outstanding contributions in the community
 2019 TA Howard Middle School Parent Volunteer Certificate of Achievement
 2005 State of Texas H.R. No. 1351 Resolution
https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/79R/billtext/html/HR01351I.htm

What is your vision for education in our district/community? More financial investment, expanding academic programs like JROTC & CTE, be specific.

My vision for education in the district/community is to make sure every child has the best
opportunity to succeed in life whether it is going to college, straight into the workforce or the military. We have an opportunity gap among student populations that needs to be closed and as a board we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to provide the resources and instructional support in an equitable manner to do so.

Based on my conversation with parents and students I believe we need to expand STEM/Fine Arts and bring in more schools of choice to our district, we have many parents that are looking outside of our district due to capacity limits and SOC we do not offer. We also need to take a look at the current SOC and policies we have for opportunities to strengthen the curriculum and allow more access to students who want to participate in extracurricular activities but are currently not able to. We also need to address student behavior issues in a holistic way, help students address their emotional and
social needs so that we can lessen the disruption in the classroom.

We have a crisis in our district and across the nation, we have got to make teacher retention and recruitment a priority. With many teachers planning on leaving due to the academic pressure and not feeling appreciated, we must listen to them, eliminate unnecessary busy work, be competitive when it comes to pay and benefits, and provide opportunities for them to grow within the district.

What does advocacy mean to you and how will you advocate for the students & teachers?

For me advocacy means to speak up for the needs of your community with the goal of making your community better. I have been advocating for my community for many years by speaking with my elected officials for changes to policies that have a negative impact on my community, more resources, or to share my lived experience to guide the work of an organization. To be able to advocate you need to know and understand your community, understand the political system and who your elected officials are, and have some sort of a relationship with them.

As the Advocacy Chair for the Mansfield ISD Council of PTA’s for the last three years I have been focused on voter education and community engagement, I provided nonpartisan information to our PTA members about elections and encouraged them to vote, I provided information to our members about the importance of completing the Census in 2020 so that our school district could get more federal/state funding per person, our PTA President and I worked together to educate our PTA members and pass a resolution in favor of the Penny SWAP (VATRE) which would transfer pennies from MISD S &I fund to the M &O fund and would increase funds for operations without raising the tax rate.

While on the Mansfield Summit High School Feeder Pattern School of Choice committee I fought hard for a STEM or Fine Arts Academy in the feeder pattern, Summit is the second high school in the district but with no STEM or Fine Arts in the feeder pattern. The current school board approved a new Fine Arts Academy at Kenneth Davis Elementary and Cross Timber Intermediate School that will be opening next year, the enrollment for the two new academies is already at capacity with a waiting list, I am very proud of the great work our committee did to bring more choice to students in the Summit Feeder Pattern.

Mansfield ISD serves many cities, 55% of MISD students do not live in the City of Mansfield, when it comes to the allocation of resources this is important to know and understand. While serving on the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation Citizen Advisory Committee I was able to advocate for funding for the expansion of Harvesting In Mansfield, although the location is in the City of Mansfield it serves Arlington families, 34% of MISD students live in the City of Arlington.

I am very passionate about addressing disparities in my community, I am the Chair for the Arlington-Mansfield YMCA Advisory Board and part of our plan is to be intentional about going into communities that have been historically underserved. Reports from the City of Arlington Unity Council and Tarrant County Public Health show that communities of color suffer from health-related issues at a higher rate, including an increase in juvenile diabetes. We are very intentional about partnering up with our local schools to connect with families and have held several successful family events at the Y in partnership with the Arlington Police Department.

I have the experience needed to advocate for teachers, staff and students and I deeply understand the needs of my community. As an elected official I will advocate for equitable school funding and less standardized testing in Austin, on the school board I will work with my fellow Trustees to build consensus to implement the goals and vision of the community, competitive wages for teachers, policies, and funding to support safety in our schools and
growth in regard to student achievement.

In such a competitive marketplace, how will you tackle teacher and staff recruitment and retention? Have you spoken with teachers in the district about their concerns/challenges and do you feel like they are being heard?

Teacher and staff retention and recruitment is going to be a key issue that the School Board will need to make a top priority in the upcoming years. As I spoke with many teachers, many expressed they are burnt out and feel unappreciated. It saddened me to hear from teachers that stated that they and their counterparts have had to get on or increase their medication dosage for anti-anxiety and depression to cope with the stress and academic pressure. I also heard from one teacher who stated that they will drive to the school parking lot and wait in their vehicle for thirty minutes before walking into the school in the morning.

• While meeting with, and listening to teachers, many expressed the need to eliminate
unnecessary testing, paperwork, trainings, and meetings. Over and over teachers expressed that they want to be trusted and treated as the certified, degreed professionals they are.

Many teachers feel like they are only teaching students to pass a test instead of ensuring
students comprehend core subjects. Teachers want to provide a quality lesson to students,
but unnecessary busy work takes away from their lesson preparation time and their
families. Veteran teachers feel like they could be better mentors to new teachers if they had more time.

Teachers that teach STAAR tested subjects have an additional layer of pressure and feel like they spend most of their time analyzing data, the academic pressure is so great that less teachers want to teach STAAR tested subjects. I strongly believe that elected officials should be advocating for the needs of their community with our legislative officials, eliminating the STAAR test would be one issue I would take on if elected, along with reducing unnecessary work and meetings for teachers. Conducting community
conversations throughout the year with our stakeholders will provide a great opportunity
for two-way conversations that are not allowed during school boards meetings.

• Student discipline was another recurring issue that kept coming up during my conversation with teachers. Teachers want more support from their campus administration,
want proactive strategies to address student behavior, rather than just being reactive when
issues arise. Teachers feel like admin need to be on campus as much as possible and less off campus due to district meetings and trainings to address discipline issues. Teachers also
talked about the need for more parental and community support to address the holistic
needs of children in our community dealing with trauma and emotional issues. I strongly
believe that we all thrive as a community when we all succeed, and my lived experience and community involvement helps me better understand the needs of our community. If
elected, I plan to continue building strong relationships between our schools and the
community.

As a product of having strong mentors from the business community, I know the importance of mentors and mentorship programs; I believe we need more of both in
our schools. I understand that many of our students come to school in the mornings with
many social needs, hungry, no electricity or running water at home, and their behavior from personal trauma is materialized in the classrooms, as elected officials we need to be
building partnerships with community organizations to meet the needs of our students. My
time on the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation allowed me to see the great work many
nonprofits in the community are doing to work with youth and I was grateful to recommend
funding for many projects that will have a huge impact on hunger, homelessness, early
education, access to youth programs and the fine arts in our community.

• We need to be more competitive when it comes to salaries and benefits for new and veteran teachers and staff, a raise in pay should not be cancelled out by a raise in health care cost.

• We need to offer advancement opportunities within the district. I would love to partner with TX A &M Commerce for an affordable option for paraprofessionals to obtain their teaching degree, and teachers to be able to continue their educational goals.

When dealing with school finances, approving a budget and set tax rates, how do you honor the taxpayer as you consider district’s fund balance?

As a Trustee we must honor the taxpayer by being fiscally responsible of the taxes they paid to support our school district. As a school board we should do our due diligence before adopting the budget that all expenses will accomplish the vision and goals of the community.

What is your stance on Equity in Education? In addition to the role of the DEI, what additional steps should be taken to meet the needs of EVERY Student in this District?

The goal of any DEI program, plan or policy in a school setting should be focused on student growth and to close the opportunity gap. DEI should be taken into consideration to address any inequities and disparities when it comes to student achievement. The Child Opportunity Index predicts what the educational attainment looks like for students in our district by census tract, and there are many communities with an opportunity to improve.

Many of the local cities we serve have a poverty rate that is higher than the national average and we have schools with juvenile case coordinators on campus. We have certain students that are not able to participate in sport activities but desperately want to but cannot because of current policy like our STEM academies. We have special education parents that want more support and parents of GT students who want more rigorous curriculum for their children. Summit HS is the second high school in the district, and we are barely getting Fine Arts in our feeder pattern next school year.

Hundreds of families apply for Schools of Choice in our district, but space is very limited.
Mansfield ISD is a very diverse community, and we have many families that are none English speaking, if we want to improve parental involvement to support our teachers and students, we must be intentional about including these families at Open House, in our PTA’s, volunteer needs on school campuses and through outreach and communication. As a school district we can make our communities stronger and safer by making sure ALL our students have all the opportunities available to succeed by providing resources and instructional support in an equitable manner.

Do you agree with how the District responded to the Covid-19 Pandemic and if not, what would you have done differently?

Looking back in retrospect, the precautions MISD took over the 2020-21 school year were great, and it would have been nice to see some of them carried out again for the 2021-22 school year. In addition, after speaking with many teachers, staff members, parents, and students, many would have liked for MISD to have followed the recommendations of medical professionals to better protect our district and our community, especially after the unfortunate deaths of some MISD paraprofessionals, at the peak of the Delta variant.

What do you plan to do to address training at the campus levels to make sure IEP and or 504s are implemented?

As I have talked to special education teachers, they are stressed out with the many duties they must do, I believe we need to hire more Special Education teachers and Paraprofessionals for support. Special Education teachers have a lot of paperwork to complete, phone calls to make, monitoring to do, I believe we need to look at how to streamline any paperwork they have to do so that we can give them more time for instruction and to monitor the 504 and IEP plans.

I understand sometimes student behavior can cause disruptions to the instructional time in the classroom, many expressed the need for more support from their campus administration and the need for more counselors to support students.

What are your views on banning certain books from classrooms and libraries? What in your opinion, makes a book okay to ban?

I strongly believe that freedom of speech is one of our fundamental rights, most Americans do not believe in censorship and that we have a right to information. I believe books that are approved in our schools should be age appropriate and inclusive of and meet the needs of the student population we serve. As a school board we should trust our librarian professionals to make the decision on which books are appropriate per grade level and as needed for instructional support.

MISD has a process in place for parents to report concerns about any book in the library.

How do you rank social emotional learning in the school board priorities, especially considering struggles due to covid?

With an increase in classroom disruptions due to student behavior and some schools with
juvenile case coordinators, I strongly believe that SEL should be a priority and will help our
students be productive citizens in our community. Studies show that children who enter the
juvenile system are more likely to stay in the system, I am a very big advocate for mentors and mentorship programs specially to help our students stay on the right path or to help children that have made risky and unhealthy decisions turn their life around.

Our country has recently seen a movement to introduce politics into every facet of society, including public education and school board campaigns and operations, which have traditionally been non-partisan. What role, if any, do you believe politics plays in the role of a school board trustee?

As a school board our primary focus should be on student growth. While serving on
committees and boards we never talk about party affiliation or bring politics into our
meetings, our focus is on meeting our vision and goals for the betterment of the
community. Our only involvement regarding politics should be to advocate for the needs
of our community such as equitable funding and less standardized testing.

School board trustees are elected to be leaders and to handle what can be difficult decisions at times. Please describe your leadership style-provide an example.

As a Restaurant Operator of multiple locations, I believe I am more of coach and help my management team and team leaders reach their goals by helping them see the opportunities through thoughtful questions. I believe we must have a vision that we all believe in and visible goals so that we stay focused. I am a very engaged Restaurant Operator and I am always in one of the restaurants, I love to talk to my customers and team members on what we are doing well as a company and what we can improve on.

As part of my duties, I have managed the construction projects for our company which don’t always go to plan, I have had to make thoughtful, quick decisions to keep projects moving forward. I am not an expert in everything I do, and I am okay with asking for information/different perspectives when needed to make a thoughtful decision.

If there’s anything you’d like to add please do so.

I am humbled to have earned the endorsement of the Arlington Board of Realtors.

Contact Information:
Email: Joannaformisdschools@gmail.com
Cell: 682-408-8823
Facebook: Vote Jo Anna Cruz Cardoza for Mansfield ISD School Board Place 5

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