• Background Image

    2020 School Board Candidates

    Grosse Ile Township Schools

October 4, 2020

Nikki Lilje

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictGrosse Ile Township Schools
City:Grosse Ile

How long have you lived in your district?

10 years

Have you received any endorsements?

No

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

The answer for me is simple. I love Grosse Ile, our kids, serving the community and know more can be done for our schools. After attending board meetings and seeing the same two board members ask critical questions and really dig into whether a decision was in the best interest of our district NOW and in the FUTURE, I knew I needed to act. Talking to parents frustrated with limited communication from the board cemented my desire to serve. I want to join the critical thinkers on the board and work to improve communication and engagement between the Grosse Ile family and the board.

What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?

Education justice means giving every student a fair opportunity for quality education. This is done by the school working to understand the challenges a student faces in and out of the classroom and working to support them by providing resources to close the educational gap those challenges create. In terms of my home school district, this means going beyond a 504 or IEP to really dig into what the student needs to be on par with mainstream students.

If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?

Schools would have technology, connectivity and instructional design and delivery enabling every student to have an equitable educational experience both in-person and on-line. Today, the in person students have a better educational experience than the on-line learners.

Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?

The school board and school administration should solicit feedback through the use of surveys, social media, comment forms, and townhall meetings. Board meetings should be available over public access TV and streamed via the internet to encourage more community members to participate. Meeting minutes or a summary should published within 24 hours of the meeting to drive engagement.

Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?

I chose not to accept donations.

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?

First, we need to invest in 1:1 technology, integrating a modern digital platform into our learning delivery system and hiring a great instructional technologist to work with our curriculum director and teachers to ensure a seamless educational experience for all kids, both virtual and in person. Second, we need to aggressively study revenue and cost reduction options as only 12% of our budget is able to be decisioned; the remaining 88% is for salaries and benefits. It makes it very difficult to invest in anything with such a small percentage of our budget available. Thirdly, we need more community members to get involved with the school board and we need to have more immediate transparency regarding Board meetings and decisions to the public.

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?

First, Michigan ranks 15th in the country for teacher pay (https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salary-in-every-state-2018-4#15-michigan-37) but ranks 36th in quality of education when scores are adjusted for student heterogeneity (https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/fixing-bias-current-state-k-12-education-rankings). This means we are inefficient with how we spend money educating our students. The investment the state has made in having higher teacher salaries is not producing the kind of educational results we should expect. This needs to be studied and fixed. Secondly, Michigan public schools were not prepared for remote learning. Businesses everywhere are expected to have robust disaster recovery plans and waste no time getting back to business as usual. It was quite a surprise schools had no remote plan and that it took so long to develop and execute them. Specific funding and accountability measures need to be put in place to ensure we are able to educate our children from anywhere and ensure this is practiced on a regular basis so we never put our children in this sort of position again. Thirdly, I believe character education needs to be put in place across Michigan to help educate our kids on social media use, diversity and inclusion and kindness.

What challenges do you anticipate this school year to COVID and what do you think your school district must do to keep students & staff safe?

Students with 504 or IEP’s will struggle more than those who do not in a hybrid or virtual environment. This will create a divide between students in districts everywhere. There will be a similar divide between students with robust family support and those who don’t. The answer to this is to get kids physically in school. Hybrid and virtual plans treat all students the same and do not look to provide additional in-school support for students with additional needs. School districts should follow CDC and State health guidelines for safety and follow recommended sanitization guidelines. Testing should be available to all students and staff on a regular basis free of charge and masks and social distancing should be required. Catching our students back up may require changing the school year so they can spend more time in school after the second wave subsides.

What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?

Technology, 1:1 student devices, digital platform integration into the learning delivery system should be prioritized for my district. Wayne County RESA should fund a pool of instructional technologists to help bring districts up to the level of technological capabilities in other S.E. Michigan counties. Efforts to improve the instructional efficiency of our district (money spent per student compared to educational quality performance) should be well understood, measured and prioritized. As funding cuts are made by the state, cuts to the budget should be shared equally by all areas, including salary, benefit and retirement funding.

What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?

Standardized testing should be reduced as it takes away from time spent actually learning. Today, NWEA test results are used to guide individual student education but doesn’t take into account the fact that a student may have blown off the test or rushed through it. They may be targeted for learning they already know but didn’t demonstrate adequately. The emphasis on individual education, takes time away from the teacher’s ability to educate everyone. I believe reliance on standardized testing and the time it takes to prep the children to be successful on the tests reduces the overall effectiveness of Michigan education. Teaching to the test is not a strategy for success.

If you could have an impact on your school district’s curriculum , what changes would you make? What, if anything, would you keep the same?

Math curriculum in my district focuses on teaching children strategies and having them explain why they solved a problem a certain way. They don’t have enough time to become comfortable with a given strategy so it sticks with them. As a result, middle school students in my district struggle with concepts learned in the fourth grade and need to relearn them. I would shift math curriculum to focus on fluency over learning a variety of strategies. I would also improve the writing curriculum to spend more time on spelling, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure; teaching children to write for their post-school life. I would also include character education in late primary, early secondary grades to help students learn about self care, mental and emotional wellbeing, how to stay safe from the dangers in society and how to be a kind, responsible citizen.

I would keep STEAM, Art, Music, PhysEd, and library programs in place today. For High School students, I would introduce financial literacy and a life skills class to prepare them for independent living.

What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?

Considering the lack of mental health and emotional support available and covered by health insurance, the school is the primary touch point for nutrition and mental / emotional health for students. The federal and state governments should provide dedicated funding to create a team of professionals to support students across school districts at the RESA level so the financial burden is not carried or cut by the local district. As case loads increase, funding would have to increase at the state / federal level and would not be tied to local taxes.

How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?

Schools should ensure acceptable behavior rules are well known by the students and parents. Consequences for not following those rules should be equally well known and consistently implemented by the staff. Rewards for adhering to behavior and attendance rules and achieving high grades, should be implemented to encourage student achievement. Negative consequences should be meaningful and function as a deterrent. Parents should also be involved in the discipline process at a school.

What are your top priorities around special education in your district?

During COVID, more consideration should be given to offering for all 504, IEP and Special Education students to attend in-person full time to ensure their needs are being met. This was not part of our district’s COVID planning.

What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?

I would start with addressing the bias in testing and result reporting. This article provides a lot of good information which aligns with my views: https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/fixing-bias-current-state-k-12-education-rankings This would ensure we are addressing student population needs which can then be looked at on an individual level.

Other ideas for achieving educational equity are:

-Equity training should be provided to teachers and staff
-Technology access gaps (home computer, connectivity, etc.) should be understood and addressed for every student
-Character education around diversity, inclusion and belonging should be introduced and modeled
-Classrooms should be a place where all students feel they have a voice and can tell their teacher, principal or counselor if they are facing hardships at school, home or elsewhere
-State/Federal funding for mental and emotional health support for students in schools

Any other information you want to include or share?

Why should people vote for me…As Mom says, if you want the same result, keep doing the same thing. I offer myself as a servant leader. I will listen to and consult with the community on ideas and challenges. I will study future trends in education to ensure our kids are not behind. I will seek to understand the benefit and risks of decisions and engage in meaningful discussion before voting. I will use the creativity, efficiency expertise and scrappiness I have gained over the years at Ford Credit to ensure we are getting every bit of funding and cutting every bit of waste possible

October 4, 2020

Nadia Tonova

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictGrosse Ile Township Schools
City:Grosse Ile

How long have you lived in your district?

My husband and I have lived here for the past 8 years, but I also lived here during my youth, making it a total of 13 years living on Grosse Ile.

Have you received any endorsements?

I have received the endorsements of our State Representative, Darrin Camilleri, and our State Senator, Stephanie Chang.

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I’m running for the Grosse Ile school board because I’m passionate about our schools, children, and community! I love our GI schools. I graduated from Grosse Ile High School in 2002 and now have three young kids in the schools. I also believe that there is always room for growth, improvement, and innovation. I believe that my voice, perspectives, experiences, and skillsets will greatly contribute to the board and help ensure that our schools continue to grow and thrive in the coming years.

What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?

To me, educational justice means ensuring that all children have the opportunity to receive an exceptional education that meets their individual needs. In our school district, this means having a curriculum that is ensures all students have ample opportunities to grow, including those with special needs. It also means providing a safe learning environment for all of our students. Finally, it means providing our families with options to ensure that they have the support they need to best support their students.

If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?

I think that we are learning several important lessons during this crisis that I hope we incorporate into our schools going forward. I believe that we must better incorporate technology throughout our curriculum and increase access to technology for our students. We should enhance two-way communications between parents, stakeholders and the district to better inform our community on what’s happening in the schools, but more importantly to listen to the community about their ideas and concerns. We should examine how we create safe spaces for our students outside of the traditional classroom. We’re starting to learn how to create online school communities, and this will have exceptional learnings on how we can build stronger community spaces with students, parents, and stakeholders going forward. Finally, we should remember that teaching students “soft skills” such as perseverance, responsibility, problem solving, and time management, are extremely important and beneficial to our students.

Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?

I believe that it’s very important to create partnerships with parents, students, and families. We should actively create spaces where we can listen to these partner’s ideas, concerns, and questions. The district should then take that feedback into strong consideration when making decisions. I also believe that we should have strong two-way communications and transparency from the district on decision making processes and considerations so that our partners understand how to engage in those processes and can elevate their voices.

Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?

My financial supporters are individuals that have personally donated to my campaign.

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?

My top three priorities are to enhance communications and partnership between the district and parents and stakeholders; to ensure that we prepare our students to be 21st century leaders through a rigorous, inclusive, and well-rounded curriculum; and to support teachers and staff by being a voice for them on the school board and ensuring the GI Schools remain competitive to retain and recruit exceptional talent.

What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?

My top priorities at the state level include ensuring adequate resources and funding for our schools, particularly during this time of the pandemic when state resources are threatened to be cut. This also includes allowing for more flexibility in the use of state sinking funds and bonds so that school districts can utilize funding as needed and with less restrictions.

What challenges do you anticipate this school year to COVID and what do you think your school district must do to keep students & staff safe?

The top priority of schools during this COVID pandemic should be to keep educating students while keeping students and staff safe. This is certainly a challenge for many reasons. Grosse Ile Schools are providing parents with options in response to the COVID -19 crisis, and I think that this is incredibly beneficial to families. I do strongly believe that there is much we can learn from this experience and use to strengthen our district going forward, including the process of dealing with crises, communications with stakeholders, and integration of technology into our curriculum. But ultimately, I believe that the district did its best to respond to these unforeseen and changing circumstances, and I support our plan because it offers options for families. In order to keep students safe, I believe that school districts should look at the number and percentage of cases in their community and region. I also believe that we should look at the availability of testing and the positivity rate in the community, assuming that testing is being done at appropriate levels. We should also consider community contact tracing abilities, the number of students and teachers in the district, and the square footage of school buildings. Finally, we should evaluate the district budget to determine if we have the resources necessary to implement safety protocols.

What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?

Our budget should reflect our commitment to our students and prioritize adequate staffing, including teachers and support staff (para pros, counselors, social workers, etc.) to assist in the various needs of all students; curriculum updates as needed; technology access for all students; and funding to upkeep our buildings and ensure healthy physical environments.

What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?

Some standardized testing should be part of a larger effort to monitor growth, progress, and benchmarks of our students. However, we should consider a wide range of options for monitoring a district’s impact on students and come up with a well-rounded plan that is created with teachers, who have first-hand experience in the classroom. We should also be cognizant not to narrow our curriculum to simply prepare children to be successful on a specific standardized test.

If you could have an impact on your school district’s curriculum , what changes would you make? What, if anything, would you keep the same?

I support a rigorous, inclusive, and well-rounded curriculum for our students that prepares them to lead on the challenges facing their generation(s). I would ensure that our curriculum has a range of voices included, that it is inclusive of various learning styles, and that students have options to explore educational topics that interest them.

What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?

I believe that as a state, we should invest much more into meeting our student’s and staff’s mental health needs, including here on Grosse Ile. Especially during this time of the COVID-19 crisis, when mental health needs are on the rise, having adequate access to mental health support is something that we can do a better job at. While Grosse Ile Schools work with some wonderful counselors and social workers, there is always room to enhance this and ensure that our students have adequate access to mental health professionals and have the knowledge of how to monitor and care for their own mental health.

How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?

I believe that many of the current security procedures GI Schools implement help to keep our kids safe, including background checks of volunteers, cameras on the outside of schools, buildings being locked during school hours, and partnering with our local police department for training. Other things we can do include enhancing mental health support for students; providing additional trainings to teachers and staff on how to create physical and psychological safety within schools and recognize signs of mental distress; and building strong partnerships with stakeholders and community.

What are your top priorities around special education in your district?

Having had some recent personal interaction with GI staff and resources that provide additional assistance to students, I believe that we have some great staff and programs to support our children. At the same time, I recognize that we are a small school district and are therefore limited in what we can provide to students with special needs. I believe that we have found some good solutions through strategic partnerships with other school districts Downriver, however we should continue to explore new ways to ensure that we better meet the needs of all of our students.

What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?

I believe that equity within our schools should be a top priority for the school board. I believe that there are many things we can do to ensure equity in GI Schools, including ensuring that students with special needs have those needs adequately met and ensuring equitable access to technology for all students. I also believe that by strengthening community engagement and uplifting community voices, we can ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to engage with the administration. The number one issue I hear when talking with parents and stakeholders is that there is not enough two-way communications with the district. I believe that by providing more opportunities to listen to and engage with our community, we can begin to have deeper discussions and open up channels of communications with all stakeholders.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I will bring over 14 years of leadership experience to the board. I am a small business owner, providing organizational development consulting and executive coaching to nonprofits, foundations, and individual leaders. Before that, I spent over 13 years as a leader at ACCESS (the nation’s largest Arab American nonprofit organization). While there, I directed some of their national departments and was responsible for managing a team, managing a budget, fundraising, and overseeing all department programs, including community engagement strategies. I have also served on numerous nonprofit boards of directors, including serving as a board chair for several years.
My husband, Jacob, and I have been married for 13 years. We have three children attending Grosse Ile schools – our son is in 5th grade, our oldest daughter is in 2nd grade, and our youngest daughter just started kindergarten.