October 4, 2020

Erika Alexander

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictRoyal Oak School District
City:Royal Oak

How long have you lived in your district?

17 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Michigan Educational Association; Andrew Rogers, the Vice President of Michigan Association of Bilingual Education and 20 year Royal Oak resident

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I have been frustrated with the slow movement in our district when it comes to issues of race and equity. While the current Board has taken some action, it has simply been statements of commitment and no actionable change. Stakeholders have been pushing this concern for years and the Board’s failure to take action is what prompted me to consider running.

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

Education justice means that there is equity regardless of racial, ethnic, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status and learning capacities. In a public school setting there must be accommodations in place to assure that there is fair and equitable access to learning. The curriculum should be inclusive of all students, culturally competent and regularly reviewed/updated. Discipline practices should be fair, equitable and most importantly transparent. There should not be disparities in disciplinary practices among Black and brown students or students with special needs. Education justice means that all students regardless of differences have the same access, the same chances for success and the same resources afforded to them on their learning journey.

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

We should take inventory of what worked with our students and families in virtual learning and explore how virtual learning components can lend themselves to a well rounded education. We should also use this as a time to assess what didn’t work and why. We should consider that some of those same factors impact schooling in-person. We should work purposefully to eliminate barriers to success for children and families. Most importantly we should be making data driven decisions when it comes to what instruction looks like post pandemic.

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

I am a firm believer in the importance of stakeholder feedback. Right now the district has only occasionally engaged in stakeholder feedback and often in response to pressure, rather than regular measurements being desired. In my opinion there should be formal avenues in place for parents, students and families to provide feedback. I would love to see regular opportunity for parents and students to weigh in on performance of administrators and teachers and for that feedback to be considered in light of formal performance appraisals. Feedback measures should be in place within the district so that corrections or adjustments can be made timely.

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

My father and two close friends

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

1. Adoption of culturally competent curriculum across all grade levels.
2. Intentional hiring practices to attract and retain teachers and administrators of various racial/ethnic backgrounds.
3. Transparency in disciplinary practices to ensure that discipline is fair and equitable across race/ethnicity as well as students with IEP’s and 504 plans.

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

1. Culturally competent curriculum for K-12 students in all public schools.
2. Distribution of school funding should be fair and equitable. At present it is dispersed such that it benefits schools in higher socioeconomic areas which further leads to disadvantage students in lower socioeconomic areas.
3. Stakeholder feedback measures at the state level which will allow for students, teachers and parents to provide real life input into the education system.

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?

Schools have increased cleaning supply costs and facilities and maintenance changes which are recommended to keep everyone safe. These costs have not been factored into school budgets in past years, therefore they may pose challenges in this school year. Administrators are challenged with teacher resignations, teacher fears of safety and overall staffing demands. Parents are split in their frustration with districts as some believe we should be in person and others believe that we should be virtual. Teachers and students are having to navigate uncharted waters to learn virtually, overcome technological challenges with poor internet, inconsistent devices and IT challenges that parents are working to overcome. Teachers and students need to learn to connect and get to know each other in completely different ways from before. All decisions must be made with safety of all stakeholders at the forefront. Failure to do this, or failure to make decisions with the guidance of health and safety professionals places all stakeholders at risk.

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

I believe that the school district must invest in the technology necessary for all students to have learning devices as well as internet access in order to remain engaged with virtual learning. I think that sports should not be prioritized as it only benefits some students.

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

I remain frustrated that the schools are continuing to have to teach toward testing, rather than teaching what is most important for our students. Standardized testing does not properly capture the capabilities of students and scores do not reflect the quality of a teacher. As long as we remain tied to these standardized measurements our ability to be dynamic in our curriculum will be held back.

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 like to see the development of curriculum that is culturally competent and inclusive of the history of all students. This means that Black history is woven throughout history, social studies, science etc. It also means that LGBTQ students should find themselves reflected in these same subjects. We should not continue to use text books or materials that have whitewashed history, instead we should be looking for materials that ensure all students can relate to the content and feel connected to learning more.

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

Social and emotional learning of students and staff is the fundamental foundation of success for any school district. Failure to meet the social and emotional well being of students will lead to cracks in the foundation through which there will be gaps in learning, dissatisfaction and decreased achievement. Districts should increase their commitment to counselors, social workers and psychologists to ensure caseload sizes low enough to allow individualized support. Teachers and support staff should be provided opportunities for mental health days, access to employee assistance services like counseling as well as professional development on the importance of self care and work life balance. This is particularly important when teachers are being asked to re-learn their entire jobs and provide instruction virtually with very little lead time to learn new software platforms.

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

I feel very strongly that police and security guards do not belong in the school environment. There is substantial evidence that shows that schools with this type of presence do not demonstrate higher levels of safety than schools without this presence. In addition, in light of the current social justice movement, having police present in the schools is likely to cause trauma to Black and brown students. Discipline can and should be handled within the administration staff and should only involve law enforcement in instances of deadly weapons. In addition,there must be equity in the way that consequences are applied when rules are violated. Schools should be held accountable to evaluate their data on a quarterly basis, broken down by infraction type, race/ethnicity of student and outcome of discipline action taken. When patterns are detected which suggest inequitable disciplinary practices immediate changes in policy and procedure must be made.

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

Special education students should be afforded all of the same opportunities for success in the public education system. Their plans should be individualized and it is imperative that they are followed by all staff members who are interacting with the student. There should be spot check audits and interviews with students and their families to ensure that they are receiving the services indicated in their plans. When there is dissatisfaction the family should have a standardized way to express their concerns as well as a timely response and corrective action plan from the district. Students with learning challenges are at risk of getting lost in a virtual environment, so there must be intentional practices in place to ensure this does not occur and to correct problems quickly when they are found.

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

Our district has taken some steps and made some statements of their commitment to change, but I remain frustrated that they have failed to deliver anything tangible in terms of outputs. When the new members are seated it is my hope that the Board will take action and request of the district concrete and measurable ways to impact equity for all students.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I am a proud member of the Royal Oak Multicultural Parent Association (ROMPA) and I am on the district’s Cultural Competency Engagement Committee and the sub-committee looking at curriculum.