Voters made history in November when they elected Berdetta Hodge to the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board. Ms. Hodge, who has deep ties to Tempe and to Tempe Union, is the first African-American to be elected to the Board.
“I’m so thankful to the voters, excited to serve Tempe Union and I’m honored to be the first African-American,” said Hodge. “All school Governing Boards should be diverse in all ways, not just race, but in areas like socio-economic and education backgrounds too, so you get a true representation and understanding of the student population you are working for.”
The daughter of military parents moved to Arizona when she was five and they settled in Tempe, eventually sending all three children to high schools in Tempe Union. Hodge and one of her brothers attended Tempe High School, while their little brother chose to attend the brand new high school, called Mountain Pointe.
Hodge was a very engaged student in middle school and at Tempe High where she loved government classes, was an active member of DECA and won a track and field state championship along with her 4x100 relay team. Some of her warmest memories are from her time spent as a member of the school’s Black Student Union (BSU). She remembers it as a strong club of about 50 students.
“It was in the 90’s and we were learning about Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. We needed a club like BSU. Being involved in it was one of the only times I felt like I fit in. The make-up of the school was different back then and we couldn’t even find a minority teacher to lead the club,” said Hodge. “Now, there’s so much diversity in the schools, not just the students but the faculty. My kids don’t feel like they need a group like BSU, they may have moments, but the schools are just so much more diverse and more accepting and when kids see that, they can relate better and feel like they fit in. It just wasn’t like that when I was growing up.”
After high school, Hodge went on to college at ASU but life was throwing her some curve balls. She found herself as a single mom trying to raise two little boys and make ends meet. She made the decision to put her education on hold and dive into a career.
Years later, that decision appears to be paying off as she proudly talks about her sons, Jevin, a graduate of McClintock High School and George Washington University, and Jazin, who will graduate with McClintock’s Class of 2017 and is currently mulling opportunities at colleges like Stanford, Columbia and NYU.
Hodge said now that she’s satisfied her boys are on a good path, she has returned to school and hopes to receive her diploma within the next year. Her degree will be in education.
“I will be just as proud at 44 to walk across that stage as 24,” she said. “It took a while, but I’m doing it. It’s never too late.”
It’s a wonderful accomplishment for Hodge, who has spent her life giving back to the community she loves. In addition to volunteering in numerous ways for Tempe Union and Tempe Elementary, including having served on the Site Advisory Board at McClintock High School and as PTA President at Curry and Nevitt Elementary Schools and Connolly Middle School, she is heavily involved with Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley and serves as a Board Member for Booker T. Washington Child Development Center, a non-profit program for preschool children from low income families in Downtown Phoenix. She also served on the board for Hopes Crossing, which helps women and their families become successful following incarceration.
Now, she will give of her time again – to students from her alma mater and across the District. She said Tempe is a special place.
“Something I’ve noticed about Tempe, the parents went to these schools and they come back to raise their kids here. It’s the Tempe sense of family, the unity. There’s such a sense of pride you feel when you leave middle school and know you’re going to the high school in Tempe Union,” Hodge said. “There is such a rich history here. If you didn’t go to Tempe High, you have an aunt or an uncle who went to Tempe High. Everyone knows someone.”
And paths continue to cross.
“Look at someone like [former U.S. Congressman and Tempe Mayor] Harry Mitchell. He was my government teacher. He always told me ‘you better do something with your life that helps people, it’s what you’re meant to do.’ And when I thought about running for election, I reached out to him for advice and asked, ‘Am I ready?’ And he said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you to come to me.’”
While canvassing neighborhoods, encouraging community members to vote, she happened to knock on the door of her former middle school assistant principal, who excitedly dragged her four doors down to the home off her former middle school principal. One of them cried and both were very proud, but not surprised, they told her, at who she’d grown up to be.
There are so many connections for Hodge. Derek Hoffland, who recently retired as principal of McClintock, and a Tempe Union graduate himself, was her math teacher at Tempe High… twice. Kim Hilgers, now the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning was her teacher as well, and Dr. Anna Battle, now the Assistant Superintendent of Operations taught Hodge’s brother at Mountain Pointe and was her other brother’s principal at Tempe High. Mrs. Hilgers and Dr. Battle now oversee school programs in which her sons have participated.
“Tempe Union and the City of Tempe have been a part of my life my whole life. Being a graduate of Tempe Union High School District, along with my brothers, having children in the District, and being part of this community for so long, I just want to give back,” said Hodge.
“We are truly honored to have a product of the Tempe Union High School District serve as a Board member. As the first African American to serve on the Tempe Union Board, Ms. Hodge reflects the richness of our diverse community. She is committed to Tempe, to our students and our staff. As a Governing Board member, I look forward to her sharing with Tempe Union the gifts and talents that she has shared as a daughter, mother and community leader,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Baca.
A ceremonial swearing in of Ms. Hodge will be held at the Jan. 18, 2017 Governing Board Meeting at 7:00 p.m. Current Board President Sandy Lowe and Board Member Michelle Helm, who were both re-elected in November, will also be sworn in. In celebration, the Mariachi de Tempe, which is made up of music students from Tempe High School, will perform at 6:45 p.m in Benedict Education Center Board Room, 500 West Guadalupe Road, Tempe, Arizona.