Here’s how candidates for Utah’s state school board want to help Latino students

Candidates in the five contested races this year responded to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) North Layton Junior High School Latinos in Action students from left, Madelyn Magana, Braedyn Martinez and Jonnathan Chavarria cut paper circles, Oct. 6, 2022, while making marigold flowers for the school's Dia De Los Muertos Celebration scheduled for Nov. 2, 2022. The eight State Board of Education seats up for election this year represent areas of the state that include many Hispanic and Latino children.

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The eight State Board of Education seats up for election this year represent areas that include many Hispanic and Latino children, who are the second-largest demographic group in Utah schools after white students.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked the candidates in the five contested races how they would support these students, who are not graduating at the same level as white students. Here are their answers and below, where to learn more about the candidates.

[READ MORE: Latino students make up almost 20% of Utah schools. Here’s how experts believe the state school board election could impact them.]

District 1: Jennie Earl vs. Curtis Benjamin

Republican incumbent Jennie Earl and Democratic candidate Curtis Benjamin are running to represent District 1, which includes portions of Box Elder, Cache, Morgan, Rich and Summit counties.

Earl has served on the state school board since she was elected in 2018. She has taught students with special needs for five years and teaches math at a private school, according to her board biography.

She worked with Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, in the last legislative session to strengthen the wording of an amendment on language services for students learning English and their families.

Such programs help families fully participate in education, she said. “Language services assist in better communication between homes and our educators, creating a more seamless education system leading to greater academic success.”

The state board also approved funding in March for phone and website translation services for parents needing assistance, which means “barriers and frustrations can more easily be removed” for the benefit of children.

Benjamin taught and coached high school students for over two decades, according to his website.

There, he says he is running to champion public education as the foundation of a democratic society, to advocate for students, and to foster opportunities for excellence, equity and inclusion in schools, among other reasons.

Benjamin said it’s crucial to celebrate Latinx students and their backgrounds and ensure they are represented in lessons and readings.

“As our experience with the pandemic recedes, inequities in learning opportunities that Latinx students experience have been exposed and magnified,” Benjamin said.

He would advocate paying greater attention to closing those gaps and fostering achievement, he said, that can provide “greater life opportunities for all students, but especially those marginalized.”

District 5: Sarah Reale, Laurel Fetzer and William Fisher

Democrat Sarah Reale, Republican Laurel Fetzer and unaffiliated candidate William Fisher are running to represent District 5, which includes most of downtown Salt Lake City.

It also covers West Valley City, which is home to the state’s largest population of Hispanic or Latino Utahns, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Reale and Fisher each said they would work to ensure Latino students can achieve the same level of success as other students.

“We need to collaborate and stand next to people who are working within the community — recognizing the assets in addition to the needs in the community,” Reale said in an email.

Reale has been an educator for 12 years at Salt Lake Community College, which offers an admissions application in Spanish, has opened a campus in West Valley City and is focusing on hiring administrators to reflect identities of its students.

“My experience at SLCC has given me the ability to engage directly with our Latino students,” Reale said. “It is important to first recognize there might be new, unique needs for these students.”

Reale believes curriculum needs to include Latino voices and stories and wants every school to have a full-time liaison to parents and students who speaks Spanish, along with other opportunities that create a “full support system” for kids.

Fetzer said Utah schools need to provide assistance and information to all families — including those who don’t speak English at home — that helps parents support and be involved in their child’s education. ”In my household, five out of the six of us speak Spanish,” she noted.

Fetzer’s full responses to The Tribune’s questions can be found on her website.

All students, including Latino students, have academic needs, she said.

“Any improvements that I would support as a State School Board member would support the overall academic standards and expectations in Utah schools for all students,” she said. “... Improving students’ literacy, math and science skills will improve the educational gaps that are found in all demographics.”

Fisher said if he is elected, he will go to local Latino leaders to learn more about the challenges Latino youth face and discuss possible solutions, and would regularly visit his district’s junior and senior high schools to understand how to support academic success.

“Combining that with valid educational research on the topic, I will work with the Board of Education staff to develop proven learning strategies for this group of students that the classroom teacher can use to improve their learning outcomes,” Fisher wrote in an email.

District 6: Carol Lear and Melanie Monestere

Current Democratic board member Carol Lear and Republican candidate Melanie Monestere are running to represent District 6, which covers northeast Salt Lake County and southwest Summit County.

Lear was elected to the board in 2016 and reelected in 2020. She was a high school teacher for five years and has served on community councils, according to her board biography. She was an adjunct professor at Utah State University’s Education Leadership department for 20 years, and now represents school districts, charter schools and parents at her private law practice.

Lear said the state board “needs to do better by all of its students of color” by implementing curriculum standards that advocate for inclusivity and cultural awareness.

She’d also like to encourage parents from diverse cultures to run for local boards and the state board, and said she wonders whether education systems do enough to explain opportunities for parents to participate in school governance, community councils and PTA organizations.

The state also needs to foster more representation among teachers and school employees, Lear said. She’d like to seek scholarships or grants from the private sector for Hispanic/Latino youth who are interested in becoming educators.

Lear said she hopes these ideas can contribute to closing academic achievement gaps that widened for many student demographics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monestere also worked as a lawyer, according to her website. She decided to stay at home after the birth of her second child, and later volunteered at her children’s school and served on the parent board.

”My goal is for our schools to provide a quality education for every student,” Monestere wrote in an email. “... When we look at education outcomes, we need to be honest about where we are falling short and where we can improve support for students and teachers who need them.”

If elected, Monestere wants to work with teachers, parents and school administrators to “create plans that lead to success.” This includes advocating for language support and smaller class sizes across the state, she said.

She also believes the board needs to reach out to “every community” so everyone may have a voice regarding Utah’s educational policy decisions.

“We can also do more to include students in our school communities by providing robust support for the arts, sports, music, debate, and other activities,” Monestere said, “that bring students together and bridge friendships across ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic lines.”

District 8: Audryn Damron and Christina Boggess

Democrat Audryn Damron and Republican Christina Boggess are vying to represent District 8, which covers most of southern Salt Lake County, including Taylorsville and Kearns.

Boggess did not respond to The Tribune’s questions by the time of publication.

Damron serves as a special education teacher at Cottonwood High School in Granite School District, and said some of her “strongest” teacher-student connections are with her Latino students. She’s fostered these relationships, she said, by attending quinceañeras and helping some of her graduates apply to college.

“Our Latino students and families need support with language barriers, after school programs, leadership opportunities, and a cultural shift that includes Latino voices,” she said.

She’d like schools to have Spanish interpreters available and having flexible meeting times for working parents. Providing leadership opportunities, such as “Latinos in Action, student government, or political activism groups at the secondary levels that teach our Latino students how to get involved in the process and advocate for themselves would be very impactful,” Damron said.

“A friend of mine said that our kids are not the future, they are the present — and we need to include their voices at the table because they have concerns and ideas now — in the present,” Damron added.

District 14: Emily Green and Richard Jensen

Republican Emily Green and Libertarian candidate Richard Jensen are running to represent large District 14, which represents a large proportion of Utah’s Latinos. The district contains Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Juab, Millard, Sanpete, and Sevier counties, along with parts of Iron and Utah counties.

Jensen did not respond to The Tribune’s questions by the time of publication.

Green has volunteered with the Iron County School District for almost 10 years, according to her campaign biography. As PTA president at her children’s elementary school, she worked to amplify parent voices and raise thousands of dollars for educational resources, she said.

Green agreed with other candidates that developing a strong relationship between students and families is the key to Latino student success, suggesting home visits and other meetings with parents. She also said it’s important to value students’ languages and cultures, and high expectations should be set for students learning English to “quickly” succeed and exit those programs.

“Representing these demographics is important and we have the potential to bridge educational gaps,” Green wrote in an email. “Equipping [parents] with knowledge and tools fortifies their next steps towards success. Parents desire this for their students and I know teachers desire this, too. There are many ways schools are creating these positive approaches that build everyone in the process.”


The Utah State Board of Education oversees public K-12 schools, setting statewide education policies and goals, producing curriculum within boundaries set by lawmakers, asking the Utah Legislature for funding for programs and providing feedback on bills that affect education.

Contested races

District 1 (Box Elder, Cache, Morgan, Rich and Summit counties)

Jennie Earl, incumbent, Republican, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1205270302936193/

Curtis Benjamin, Democrat, https://cbenj41.wixsite.com/benjamin4usbe1?fbclid=IwAR1hlWEPLB1LritVyyRZPb5UJ6mJC9sv2YYIxIXAAs6QL-OlavfHhTaVyYg

District 5 (part of Salt Lake County)

Sarah Reale, Democrat, https://votereale.com/

Laurel Fetzer, Republican, https://www.votelaurel.org/

William E. Fisher, unaffiliated, http://fisher4boardofeducation.com

District 6 (part of Salt Lake and Summit counties)

Melanie R. Monestere, Republican, https://www.melanieforutah.com/

Carol Barlow Lear, Democrat, now serving in District 7, https://votecarolblear.com/

District 8 (part of Salt Lake County)

Audryn Damron, Democrat, https://utahdemocrats.org/portfolio_page/audryn-damron-state-school-board-8/

Christina Boggess, Republican, https://christinaboggess.com/

District 14 (Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Juab, Millard, Sanpete, and Sevier counties and parts of Iron and Utah counties)

Emily Green, Republican, https://voteemilygreen.com/

Richard Jensen, Libertarian, no campaign website as of publication date

Uncontested races

District 2 (part of Weber County)

Joseph Kerry, Republican, https://www.joeforutah.com

District 4 (parts of Davis and Salt Lake counties)

LeAnn Wood, Republican, https://www.leann4utah.net

District 11 (part of Salt Lake and Utah counties)

Cindy Davis, Republican, now serving in District 9, https://www.facebook.com/CindyDavisforSchoolBoard