Mesa School Board Member, NAACP President: People Need To Talk About Race More

Mesa School Board Member, NAACP President: People Need To Talk About Race More

By Corinne Murdock |

Mesa Public Schools (MPS) board member and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) East Valley chapter president Kiana Sears says more discussions about race need to occur.

Sears issued the remarks in an interview with The Mesa Tribune regarding the recent Supreme Court decision effectively ending the practice of affirmative action in college admissions. Sears advocated for the use of equity in policy, rather than equality, to make up for systemic racial inequalities. She acknowledged that people may have the same capabilities, but that circumstances should be mitigated to equalize outcomes. 

“There is a local angst about the [ruling], especially in the climate where you have seen,” said Sears. “There’s no difference in the capacity of people to learn and to grow and to actually learn[,] but you have unnatural and man-made barriers and institutional barriers that make it harder for some people.”

According to Sears, avoidance of prioritizing race in conversations is due in part to the demonization of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and related concepts like “inclusivity.” Upon taking office in January, Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Tom Horne disavowed the presence of CRT in schools and launched a hotline for parents to report inappropriate lessons on racial, gender-based, sexual, and social and emotional ideologies. 

Over the summer, ADE reported receiving numerous valid complaints of inappropriate materials at schools, including MPS. Horne reported at the time that MPS was working with ADE to resolve the complaint. 

“A teacher reported through the hotline that the Mesa school district has a training program for teachers that clearly states that certain Americans are ‘living under a system of white supremacy.’ That is a divisive and bigoted statement that has no place in education,” said Horne. “We are individuals, entitled to be judged by what we know, what we can do, our character, and not the color of our skin.”

During this most recent interview, Sears accused the hotline of creating a climate of “fear and intimidation.” 

Sears also implied that race-conscious interactions and practices result in a greater good for everyone.

“[It’s important] to make sure if we have a population that is not doing as well, for whatever reason, we remove those barriers,” said Sears. “We know we’re as strong as our weakest link. No matter who, what, when, why, let’s remove all of those barriers.”

Sears was twice chosen as the MPS representative to attend the National School Boards Association (NSBA). MPS opted to remain with NSBA despite the national controversy over their 2021 letter to President Joe Biden requesting a federal investigation into parents attending school board meetings.

In addition to attending the NSBA events, Sears was elected the secretary/treasurer of NSBA’s National Black Council of School Board Members Board of Directors. Two other Arizonans serve on that board: chair Devin Del Palacio with the Tolleson Union High School District, and regional director Lindsay Love with Chandler Unified School District.

Following the SCOTUS decision, Sears’ NAACP branch held an event, “Affirming Black Brilliance,” to discuss strategies for ensuring racial equity in education. It appears that Sears runs the publicity for the branch as well, since she is the only point of contact for all press, media, and public comment requests.

Sears became the NAACP branch president in 2021. Last January, STN featured Sears for her roles as an NAACP president and MPS governing board member. Similarly to her recent call to action, Sears called for a greater focus on race. 

Arizona List, a committee for pro-abortion Democratic women, endorses Sears in her role as an MPS Governing Board member. 

In addition to her role as an NAACP president and MPS board member, Sears serves as the program director for Arizona State University (ASU) Faith Based Outreach and Community Partnerships. 

Sears was the 2018 Democratic nominee for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). The Arizona Attorney General’s Office launched and later dropped an investigation into Sears for failing to disclose dormant businesses when she launched her campaign, upon a referral by the Secretary of State’s Office. Sears said at the time that these were name-only businesses, meaning she and her husband filed for business names to reserve them with the intent to one day turn them into actual businesses. 

Last year, Sears’ campaign was again mired in controversy. Sears faced bribery accusations for her hire of former Democratic State Rep. and Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, through his political consulting firm “Blue Wave Victory.” Sears paid Bolding’s company over $18,000 in a contract that Bolding’s then-opponent, now-Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, alleged was influence peddling.

Bolding managed the firm alongside the former first vice chair for the Arizona Democratic Party and former congressional candidate, Jevin Hodge, to provide services for Sears’ campaign. In a complaint letter to former Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Fontes’ campaign accused Bolding and Hodge of having “sold their positions as a means of access to others in exchange for monetary gain.”

As Fontes’ letter noted, Bolding’s political consulting firm operated out of the same building and suite as his controversial nonprofits.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Mesa School Board Fights Against Transparency On Mental Health Contracts

Mesa School Board Fights Against Transparency On Mental Health Contracts

By Ed Steele |

At the August 8th governing board meeting for Mesa Public Schools (MPS), conservative board member Rachel Walden was attacked and silenced. Apparently, her line of questioning and discussion of agenda items did not fit the approved district narrative and ruffled the feathers of fellow board member Kiana Sears.

Two of the items pulled from the consent agenda by Mrs. Walden were for the renewal and expansion of non-competitive contracts for mental health services to be provided by A New Leaf and Empact on campus at two district schools. In discussion on the first item, the contract with A New Leaf, Mrs. Walden was questioning the wisdom of giving A New Leaf space in schools to provide mental health services rather than simply referring students in need to mental health services available in the community.

“As difficult as the mental health crisis is, we need to stay in our lane and do everything that we can to improve student outcomes. So where are the afterschool tutoring programs? That’s something I’ve been asking for a long time,” said Mrs. Walden. She continued, “We should focus on what we’re tasked with doing and then we can refer out the other services.”

The reasoning behind this discussion was to point out that by bringing mental health services into the schools, the district would be diluting its resources with activities other than the one that is statutorily mandated, which is education. Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis remarked, “When we talk about bringing partners into our school system, we use partners only when we have exhausted all of the resources available at the school. That is counselors, social workers, psychologists…that are working to solve the many challenges of children. So, when we have run out of all of our skills and assets, that’s when we would rely upon a community partner.”

Mrs. Walden questioned how the district could be exhausting all resources when it has more than the state average of school counselors. The district has 2.5 times the number of school counselors as the state average on a per student basis.

Superintendent Fourlis commented that having the resources on campuses alleviated logistical issues with parents getting their children to the outside service. She said, “Providing services closest to the student to reduce the amount of instructional time is very important…. Often times, there’s just not enough services available, and so bringing them to school where they can take students out of class for a 30-minute time perhaps versus having to take a half a day out of school, drive, get to an appointment, and so on. It becomes access and convenience for the families.” Mrs. Walden nullified that justification by correctly noting that mental health care providers will come to a student’s home.

In the middle of this exchange between Mrs. Walden and Superintendent Fourlis, otherwise disinterested board member Kiana Sears interrupted the conversation and called for the question essentially silencing Mrs. Walden’s inquiry into the details of the agenda item. The call for the question was seconded by Dr. O’Reilly, thereby ending the discussion and forcing a vote on the agenda item. To his credit, Dr. O’Reilly recognized that seconding the call to the question was a mistake and later apologized to Mrs. Walden for silencing her voice. Mrs. Sears has yet to acknowledge such contrition.

After silencing Mrs. Walden and moving to the vote on renewal and expansion of the contract with A New Leaf, President Hutchinson proceeded to carry water for A New Leaf, lauding its 52 years of service “to our families and our kids” and that it is “very well respected for the decades of work that they have done to keep this community whole.” She went on to say, “A New Leaf has been there, and this is an amazing organization that is local, and they are embedded in our community and in our schools and have been for years, decades as a matter of fact. So, let’s move on to the next agenda item…”

The next agenda item pulled by Mrs. Walden was similar to the first one—the approval of the contract for Empact to provide on-site mental health services on campus. During the discussion, Mrs. Walden questioned how these providers (A New Leaf and Empact) were chosen. Superintendent Fourlis responded, “I will tell you that this is an interesting question. As needs have arised (sic), throughout our community, we have responded, and community partners have responded differently. There is a scarcity of resources available, and so when our schools and our parents are asking for the help, we are grabbing the help that we can. And so there is not a plethora of services…and so to answer your very specific question, we did not do an RFP process.”

Did you catch that? “Community partners responded differently”? Responded to what? Community partners have never received a notice to respond to.

And what does Superintendent Fourlis mean by, “we are grabbing the help where we can”? While she’s making it sound like a desperate grasp for services of a couple of randomly selected organizations, it is actually closer to a pre-arranged preferred selection.

Consider this. Mesa Public Schools and A New Leaf have shared a cozy relationship for years. A New Leaf’s CEO, Michael Hughes, previously served on the governing board of MPS for 20 years from 1994-2014. No doubt, he made lots of close friends in the district during his tenure. In 2021, the MPS Governing Board, including President Hutchinson, approved what appears to be a very favorable lease agreement to A New Leaf for district owned office space. (See image below)

Then, in 2022, no less than 3 members of A New Leaf’s management, including Michael Hughes, donated to President Hutchinson’s re-election campaign. Now in 2023, the governing board, including President Hutchinson, has voted to renew and expand a non-competitive contract for A New Leaf to provide services on MPS campuses. And the narrative the superintendent is pushing is that A New Leaf was chosen because they responded to some non-existent public call for services and that there is a scarcity of services in the community.

As Mrs. Walden was challenging Superintendent Foulis’ claim of scarcity of services, again, disinterested Mrs. Sears interrupted the conversation to express her “outrage” at Mrs. Walden for her line of questioning and discussion. But questions and discussions based on Mrs. Walden’s interactions with her constituents are how a representative government is supposed to operate. She is seemingly the only board member acting as the representative of the community by engaging in such questioning and discussions rather than just rubber stamping every agenda item that is presented.

But that didn’t stop Mrs. Sears from fabricating a false narrative toward the end of the meeting that Mrs. Walden believes the district should just “turn our backs on our parents and our kids.” Mrs. Sears expressed anger at Mrs. Walden based on that false narrative, and this dangerous and dishonest behavior incited community anger toward Mrs. Walden. You would think President Hutchinson, who was presiding over the meeting, would have stopped this unfounded attack on Mrs. Walden. But instead, she allowed it to continue without calling the meeting back to order and telling Mrs. Sears that she was violating the district code of ethics.

Not only is President Hutchinson complicit in Mrs. Sears’ dangerous and dishonest behavior, but it has become clear. Conservative voices in Mesa Public Schools are not welcome. And any conservative who dares to challenge the preferred narrative will be bullied and silenced. It once again goes to show you: elections have consequences, especially at the local level.

You can watch the portion of the meeting discussing A New Leaf below.

Ed Steele is a husband, father, grandfather, and Mesa resident with a passion for helping the younger generation succeed in education.

Mesa School Board Fights Against Transparency On Mental Health Contracts

Mesa Public School Board Gives Middle Finger to Parents

By Ed Steele |

On January 24th, the Mesa Public School Board chose to maintain a relationship with and send district funds to the National School Board Association (NSBA). They might as well have also given parents the middle finger.

In September 2021, the NSBA sent a letter to the Biden administration requesting that it deploy the force of the federal government to put down angry parents speaking out at school board meetings. The letter called on the administration to use resources from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, FBI National Security Branch, and FBI Counterterrorism Division. The letter equates parents speaking out at school board meetings with domestic terrorists! Immediately and dutifully, the DOJ responded by sending out a directive to FBI field offices to create a partnership with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement to address the problem.

A full 5 months later, the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) came to the correct conclusion—that the NSBA does not represent the values it believes are necessary to advance education in the state. As a result, they sent a letter to the NSBA severing all relations with them.

Yet, one month later in March 2022, the Mesa Public School Board voted unanimously to send board member Kiana Sears to the 2022 NSBA Annual Conference. Then in September, the board again voted unanimously to send board member Sears to two additional NSBA sponsored training sessions: the Counsel of Urban Board Educators in Miami, FL and the NSBA Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C. And at its latest meeting on January 24th, the board voted to approve sending board member Sears to the 2023 NSBA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL.

As a concerned Mesa taxpayer, I asked at that meeting that the vote on this item be pulled from the consent agenda. I was hoping that the board would do so to send a clear message to parents that their voice is valued and appreciated. Instead, the board voted 3-1 in favor of sending district money and board member Sears to the NSBA.

The one shining exception to this insult to parents was board member Rachel Walden. Mrs. Walden boldly voted no, keeping her campaign promise to be the voice for parents on the school board.

Mrs. Walden is one of many newly elected school board members across the state who ran for office after the COVID shutdowns—when “distance learning” gave parents a glimpse into the classroom and exposed the failures of school boards. Walden correctly stated what should be obvious, “I feel we do have an obligation to build a sense of trust with our parents. They are stakeholders in this. When we have an entity working with the government to put down the First Amendment rights of parents, then I think we would want to disassociate ourselves with that entity as much as possible.”

But Board President Marcie Hutchinson disagreed, stating, “The NSBA probably mis-stepped.” PROBABLY!?

She continued, “But anytime we make a decision, we have to weigh costs versus benefits, and I believe that the benefits that we as board members can receive, and therefore transmit to our district, far exceed the cost of an association with a group that supports public education.”

President Hutchinson seems to have completely misunderstood the “cost.” The actual cost is not “association with a group that supports education.” The cost is choosing to associate with the group that thinks concerned parents speaking out at school board meetings should be treated, by the full force of federal law enforcement, like domestic terrorists.

The Mesa Public School Board doesn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Across the country, parents are speaking out against the questionable decisions of school boards and the resulting abysmal academic performance. And while, it is becoming increasingly obvious that governing boards are not inclined to hold themselves accountable, you can make a difference. You can have your voice heard by showing up and speaking up at board meetings. You can email board members with your concerns. And you can get involved with the election of our school board members. The future of our schools—and our children—depends on it.

Ed Steele is a husband, father, grandfather, and Mesa resident with a passion for helping the younger generation succeed in education.