October 4, 2020
School DistrictOak Park
How long have you lived in your district?
Have you received any endorsements?
• United Auto Workers Region 1 • Oak Park Education Association & Oak Park Educational Support Professionals Association • Michigan Teamsters Joint Council No. 43 • Michigan State Representative Robert Wittenberg • Michigan State Senator Adam Hollier • Oakland County Commissioner Nancy L. Quarles • Oakland County Commissioner Helaine Zack • Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan • Oak Park Mayor Pro Tempore Carolyn Burns • Oak Park City Councilmember Regina Weiss • Oak Park School Board Member Albert A. Smith III • Former Oak Park School Board Vice President Mildred E. Warren
Are you an incumbent?
Why do you want to be a school board member?
When I first moved to Oak Park and enrolled my sons in the school district, I met with resistance when I attempted to ensure the conditions of my eldest son’s IEP were met. My eldest son had been previously diagnosed as speech and language impaired, but those in the special education department were not interested in providing my son with the services he needed and should have received as a matter of law. Instead, we were told my son was not speech and language impaired enough for services he had already started receiving in a different, more affluent school district. This situation planted the seed for me to run for school board.
My son is now 21 years old and doing well as a college student at Oakland University; however, I never let go of the helpless feeling I had as a young parent who did not know where to turn when my son was denied vital special education services. I have since gotten significant budget management, leadership, classroom, educational, business and legal experience that has prepared me for this moment. Based on my accumulated experience and passion to ensure other parents don’t experience this situation, I believe now is the right time for me to seek election.
It’s simply not enough to vote when you have the education, experience and the will to ensure change takes place. We have to be the change we want to see. That’s why I’m running.
What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?
To me, education justice is a concern with closing the gap of unequal access to high-quality education. As it relates to the Oak Park School District, this means providing students with increased access to resources (financial and otherwise) in an effort to significantly decrease or otherwise completely eradicate the achievement gap that has permeated the United States. Children in the Oak Park School District come from homes ranging in socio-economic status. Oak Park’s per-pupil foundation grant funding is less than some neighboring more affluent districts. In general, it can be argued that the more resources a district has to deploy to its children, the more likely those students are to achieve academically. Working to ensure each child in each district receives the necessary amount of resources and support is the pathway to education justice.
If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?
If I could completely reimagine the way schools look on the heels of this global pandemic, I would say schools would provide some options for education, particularly for middle and high school students. I think there should be more of a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual instruction. The reason for this is because of the way things have gone in the business world. In an effort to address rising costs and to attract and retain young talent, companies have changed their business model to allow for work-from-home flexibility. Using a conventional education method of in-person instruction, while mixing in some virtual instruction prepares children for the realities of the world. Moreover, it forces children to use technology in some form, which is yet another reality of the business world. Obviously, there would be some deviations to this situation, but overall, a hybrid model may work.
Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?
Education should always be a partnership or collaborative approach between school personnel, parents and students. This methodology puts all stakeholders at the table in the best interest of children. Children are the pride and joy of their parents. In general, parents want their children to excel, and they want to have a say in how their children are educated. Children should also have a say in decisions that affect them. As such, inviting all stakeholders to the table when decisions are made can only help when decisions need to be made within the district.
Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?
A number of people have helped support my campaign. In general, close friends and family members are my financial supporters.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?
The district has several issues that I feel need to be addressed. The following are the most pressing problems and my solutions for addressing them:
(1) Emergence From COVID-19: At present, students are receiving virtual instruction, which I wholeheartedly support; however, ultimately, students, and staff will need to emerge back into the actual classroom. It’s imperative that all students and staff are safely reintroduced into the physical learning environment. As a board member, I would gladly seek to be a part of the planning team to ensure we continue safe instruction as students and staff make their way back into the classroom.
(2) (Test Scores: The district’s standardized test scores are below par. As a board member, I’d gladly become a part of a task force to address these issues.
(3) Revolving Doors: We need to shut the revolving doors in Oak Park. The district is hemorrhaging students. One reason for this is because parents want their students to be challenged in a more academically rigorous environment, so those parents are pulling their children out of the Oak Park schools in favor of nearby schools. As a board member, I’d help to create addendums to the curriculum to support students who learn differently.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?
1. School Funding Equity: According to a Detroit News article, Michigan ranks “dead last” among all states in revenue growth for K-12 schools. This issue was exacerbated by recent recessions adversely impacting the auto manufacturing industry. Michigan’s economy is heavily reliant upon this industry, so when the auto industry experiences a significant downturn, the Michigan economy quickly follows suit. While I have not done enough research to speak definitively, it would seem that academic performance is, in many respects, directly tied to school funding. It should then stand to reason that Michigan students are performing among the bottom 10 percent in the United States, according to the same article, which references analyses of national testing data. The bottom line here is more school funding, when used in the proper manner, can mean higher academic achievement. Michigan’s inability to increase K-12 school funding has adversely affected academic performance of our children.
2. COVID-19 Pandemic Reemergence: At present, many students are receiving virtual instruction, which I wholeheartedly support; however, this solution is far from ideal, and it, no doubt, hurts the ability of teachers to effectively prepare students for standardized tests and the next grade level. In what is largely an unprecedented situation, teachers are forced to use technology and are not able to provide hands-on instruction. Because students are receiving virtual instruction, it’s likely very difficult for educators to read the mood of the room and to know when students do not understand the subject matter. It also impacts teachers’ ability to ensure their students are actually paying attention. These challenges are likely even more present with younger students who are not as self-sufficient as some older children.
With no end in sight, this situation can be very tough on all stakeholders. Again, it’s worth noting that I fully support virtual instruction right now as a means to keeping all stakeholders safe during this pandemic, but this situation does have its drawbacks. My hope is that in-person instruction will be able to resume soon, when it is absolutely safe for all parties to do so. I want to be clear that this situation is nobody’s fault, but it does adversely impact the ability of educators in their quest to deliver quality public education to students.
3. Teachers/Administration Issues: I spent five-plus years as a middle and high school teacher. One issue that always bothered me is when those who make financial, behavioral and curriculum decisions did not listen to teachers when teachers voiced their concerns. I’m not saying the administration has to adopt every process change that teachers present; however, it’s definitely better when teachers, the administration and board consider themselves to be partners in the education of our youngsters. There are many times when one group of stakeholders does not trust any of the others. This mistrust leads to frustration and fractured relationships, and, unfortunately, hurts the education of our youngsters.
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?
I’ll answer the second part first. I’m in lockstep with the superintendent’s plan for virtual learning. Understanding this was a very tough decision; however, I believe the superintendent did the right thing here. Her plan to begin the school year with virtual learning helps keep students, their parents and staff safe. This method also likely helps to reduce community spread of the COVID-19 virus and, most likely, helps to alleviate stress and anxiety some may have felt if required to have in-person instruction. That said, I believe there are still some challenges this situation presents, such as, but not limited to, the following: social isolation and its residual mental effects; teachers’ difficulty in providing a quality education to students in a virtual environment; counselors’ inability to provide mental health services to students who need assistance; frustration of teachers who aren’t able to ensure students are paying attention to lessons; inability of younger children to sit in front of a computer screen for prolonged periods to learn; and unavailability of parents to assist their youngsters with learning during the workday.
What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?
The bottom line is school districts will prioritize spending in different ways. A priority for one district may not be a priority for another school district. Regardless of these priorities, the focus should always be on what’s best for students and their education. Right now, I’d say, among the top spending priorities in the Oak Park School District should be bolstering virtual learning capabilities with items such as remote learning devices; web bandwidth; virtual chalkboards; and video cameras. Moving forward, I think spending priorities should focus on infrastructure enhancements; salary improvements for teachers and staff; and providing students with exposure to technical skills, such as web coding, etc.
What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?
I’m not particularly bullish on standardized tests and the judgments that are cast on students and school districts based on the results of such testing. That said, standardized testing is the way of the world. Students who want to go to college must take and do well on ACT and SAT exams. Burgeoning lawyers must take and excel on the LSAT exam. As such, we should prepare our students to succeed in a 21st century world, so standardized tests should play a significant role in the district. If nothing else, using the format of a standardized test when students take routine quizzes and exams provides some sense of familiarity with the rules, instructions and strategies for passing such exams.
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?
In general, I would keep many things the same. However, if I could have an impact on the school district’s curriculum, I would change the following:
• College Preparedness: Significant investment in high-quality early childhood education development and programming; resource availability for students who learn differently; increased enrollment in AP classes, technical training and community college dual-enrollment programs
• Rigorous Academic Programs: Investment in programming that academically challenges students who achieve at higher levels
• Career Awareness: Leverage partnerships that promote job shadowing, apprenticeships, internships and exposure to potential careers
• Planned Partnerships: Fortify partnerships with college admissions counselors, local community colleges, the business community and Oak Park Schools alums for students to leverage as they complete K-12 school requirements
• Students: Ensure students have access to innovative learning experiences
• Students: Challenge students who achieve at higher levels with an intellectually stimulating enhanced curriculum of classes
• Provide increased SAT and ACT exam support to prepare each student for college-entry exams
What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?
I believe the Oak Park School District has a tremendous responsibility in supporting the mental and emotional health of students and staff. School districts have a responsibility to treat and develop the whole child, which includes being there to support the student through educational peaks and valleys, as well as emotional and mental issues. This is the reason why schools employ counselors, who serve a role greater than just that of an academic advisor. As an employer, school district ought to be concerned with the mental health and emotional well-being of employees. District employees who are suffering mentally may not be of any good value to students, parents, nor the district. Many employers provide employee assistance programs. This should also be the practice in school districts, similar in nature to business organizations.
How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?
School district should be proactive by having employees who care about children; keeping students active and engaged; reinforcing with students the rules, procedures and consequences for not following directives; and providing regular reminders of how much the staff cares for its children. Even with these tactics, there will inevitably be behavior issues. When these occur, the staff should be professional and, more important, be consistent in how it addresses behavioral issues and metes out punishment.
What are your top priorities around special education in your district?
The Oak Park School District can do more to help children with special needs. It’s imperative that we identify these children as soon as possible and immediately begin to provide these students with whatever services they need. To do anything less is, at best, negligent. When a child immediately begins to struggle, the district should have a team of individuals with a sole purpose of identifying the reason(s) why the child is struggling and beginning to provide services for the child pursuant to the plan identified in the student’s IEP. Understanding this is not an easy thing to manage, it’s still necessary. If we truly believe no child should be left behind, we have to quickly identify and comprehensively address each child’s unique needs. This is an issue near and dear to my heart, as my child had an IEP and did not receive the required services he was due as a matter of law.
What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?
In my opinion, equity in education involves assessing and improving practices and procedures to ensure academic fairness and achievement across the district. This is achieved through providing resources and support to students as needed to ensure each child experiences the level of academic achievement desired throughout the district. Viewing this concept through the aforementioned lens, my perspective is each district should strive to achieve such equity within its schools. Though such equity may not be attained at any given time, the effort should always be there.