October 4, 2020
School DistrictSouthfield Public Schools
How long have you lived in your district?
Have you received any endorsements?
School Board President Charles Hicks, School Board Secretary Leslie L. Smith-Thomas, School Board Trustee Yolanda S. Charles, Southfield Mayor Ken Siver, Southfield City Council President Lloyd Crews, Southfield City Councilman Jason Hoskins, Southfield City Councilman Michael “Ari” Mandelbaum, Southfield City Councilman Daniel Brightwell, Southfield City Councilwoman Tawnya Morris, Southfield City Councilwoman Linnie Taylor, Southfield City Councilwoman Nancy Banks Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, Dem Oakland County Sheriff Nominee Vince Gregory, Michigan State Representative Kyra Bolden, Michigan State Senator Jeremy Moss, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Michigan’s Mighty 14th District Democrat’s, MDP Black Caucus, LGBT Victory Fund, and Run For Something.
Are you an incumbent?
Why do you want to be a school board member?
I’m running for School Board because when I was in high school, we faced many of the same challenges that our schools do now: crumbling infrastructure that forces kids to sit in hot classrooms or miss school altogether, suspensions and missed days of school due to dress code or other minor infractions, and a tightening budget that limits academic and extracurricular options for our children.
Our agenda is focused on attracting more families to the school district, building a better relationship with the Southfield City Council, and increasing district revenue. I will work to create a city-wide internship and jobs program for our young residents, invest in green infrastructure to save taxpayer dollars, and diversify academic/extracurricular programs to keep our students on the same playing field as those in surrounding districts.
What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?
Education Justice means everyone gets access to a quality education no matter their age and background. Southfield accepts students from throughout the Detroit area and has the resources to support our special education kids, so Education Justice is already being practiced.
If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?
We need more social workers and mental health professionals. We also need to make sure parents and students are aware how to utilize these resources.
It will also be vital to change the way schools are funded in Michigan. Michigan’s school funding system is not adequate or equitable. The Michigan legislature should make fully funding our education system their first budgeting priority every cycle.
I would send more money to districts with special needs and disadvantaged students. Local school boards should be required to work closely with teachers, parents, and community leaders to determine goals they hope to achieve with their funding. The state shouldn’t just evaluate test scores, but the level of parent involvement, student engagement, and what the school environment is like. The state shouldn’t just evaluate test scores, but the level of parent involvement, student engagement, and what the school environment is like.
Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?
Local school boards should be required to work closely with teachers, parents, and community leaders to determine goals they hope to achieve with their funding. There should also be more public opportunities for community members to see and ask questions of their local school board members. I’ll host regular community meetings to listen to input from our families and constituents.
I also support the creation of student and parent advisory boards to advise on the curriculum, use of schools police, decisions about instructional practices, discipline and classroom more minutes, and extracurricular programs.
Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?
My parents, Jeanette and Antwine Johnson
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?
Increase diversity in academic programs, including languages and financial literacy options.
Create a city-wide internship and jobs program to connect young people to internships, jobs, and opportunities in the skilled trades.
Create a Grants office, responsible for applying for grants and sponsorships on behalf of students, teachers, administrators, and the school district as a whole.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?
Lobby State Legislators to get a funding increase for Southfield Public Schools and making fully funding public schools the Legislature’s first budget priority every cycle.
Require school boards to work closely with teachers, parents, and community leaders to determine goals they hope to achieve with their funding.
More state investment in new school buildings and infrastructure improvements.
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?
SPS is fully virtual, so I expect some mental health challenges. I would partner with businesses to give every student access to therapy and mental health applications (e.g. Talkspace) while they are learning virtually. 1-1 counseling from a licensed therapist would be available from a cell phone or computer.
What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?
Our funding priorities should be paying our teachers a living wage, academic and mental health resources for students, and investing in unique opportunities to generate revenue. Investing in solar energy will save taxpayer dollars and help fight the effects of climate change. I believe we need to use some of our funding for in school security officers, who spend most of their time disciplining students, to hire mental health professionals and social workers.
What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?
Standardized testing has failed our students. Teachers are being forced to teach a test instead of molding creative human beings. We are teaching kids, some unsuccessfully, how to take a test instead of preparing them to be productive adults. If I had it my way, we would create individualized plans based upon what learning style works best for each student. Education cannot be a one size fits all approach. The state shouldn’t just evaluate test scores, but the level of parent involvement, student engagement, and what the school environment is like.
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 would add more options for our students. Reflecting on all of the things I’ve had to learn on my own since graduating high school, we should be teaching kids financial literacy: how to file their taxes, budgeting, savings, debt, investing, and giving. I would also like to diversify languages and athletic programs being offered.
Additionally, I’d like to see us teaching about marginalized groups in class (e.g. Black History) year round.
What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?
The district’s mental health support does not meet the needs of our students. We need more social workers and mental health professionals. We also need to make sure parents and students are aware how to utilize these resources. I’m disappointed to have not heard much about stepping up mental health related services as families navigate this pandemic. I would partner with businesses to give every student access to therapy and mental health applications (e.g. Talkspace) while they are learning virtually. 1-1 counseling from a licensed therapist would be available from a cell phone or computer. When I was a student, there weren’t any emotional or mental health resources available to us in school. This would make a significant impact.
How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?
Southfield Public Schools should stop suspending students for minor infractions like dress code violations, arguments, or being on their phones. We should implement restorative justice policies that empower students to resolve conflicts on their own. The idea is that students take their actions more seriously when being confronted by their peers and will be more cognizant of how these actions have negatively impacted their communities.
What are your top priorities around special education in your district?
I’d like to make sure that every general education teacher has the tools to support their special education students, instead of relying solely on special education staff. Studies show that students thrive in an environment where their general education teachers take primary responsibility for their learning,
We should also be providing additional instruction time on a daily basis to students who need it. I’d like to keep on the additional tutors hired during this pandemic.
What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?
It’s important to be equitable in order to ensure the success of every student in our district. I’ll work to Implement a Universal Free Lunch policy for every student at every school.
Creating a parent and student advisory board.