October 4, 2020

Jennifer Kangas

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictDexter Community Schools
City:Dexter

How long have you lived in your district?

16 years

Have you received any endorsements?

I have not sought endorsements from organizations. I do have a list of supporters available on my website.

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I value public education and want the best for our district and our children. I am interested in and follow education policy and have skills that will positively contribute to our board of education. A public school advocate for over 12 years, I have worked hard to lobby for common-sense policies and increased funding, educate parents around the funding matrix, and advocate for staff, students and parents. I worked with the school board to start a group to reach out to parents, then I started a Facebook group to continue those efforts. I met other parent advocates from throughout the state and brought best practices back to Dexter, including the concept of raising money for operations, then I started Excellence for Dexter Students. E4DS raised almost $100,000 for the Dexter Community Schools in the 2 years that I was president. I have a BS in Finance, worked for years as a commercial lender, then ran a farm following the Community Supported Agriculture model and selling at farmers markets, and currently work for an environmental non profit. I’ve been asked over the years to run for the board, and the timing now fits with where I am with my family and my career.

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

I will preface the remaining questions with this – I have spent years researching these topics. The answers are ever-evolving as I learn more about each topic.

That said – to me the essence of education justice is to provide access to resources in an equitable fashion in tandem with the ability for each student to access those resources. This includes an appropriate teacher/pupil ratio, supplying tools and resources such as books, access to technology, or food, and ensuring all students are able to attend a building which is in good condition and meets all safety requirements. The ability to access these has to do with a student’s comfort level in attending school on a daily basis. If a child does not feel welcome or safe, he or she cannot take full advantage of the resources available – so this has to do with work around diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as basic safety measures. I would like to see the district continue their work toward creating a safe space where ALL students are welcomed and celebrated.

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

A good start would be to reduce class size, focus on play-based education in the lower elementary grades, and consider a later start time for high school students. I think Covid is really highlighting the value of in-person instruction and the connections our teachers, staff and administrators have with our children.

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

For most decisions, the district should not have to come to the community for input. But for major changes in delivery methods, it would be good to present these to family members. A good example of how a change was rolled out was when we adopted the Everyday Math curriculum. There was a series of meetings to introduce the concept over maybe 6 months before it was implemented the next year. It is good to allow parents time to research the proposed change and ask questions.

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

My parents – they gave me some money so I can buy signs. My dad was a teacher for 42 years, and they want to see good policy makers in office.

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

Support around mental health, expanded curriculum around diversity, equity and inclusion and additional offerings at the high school level for students looking for educational options that don’t include AP, IB, or dual enrollment.

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

I would like to see school funding that is actually tied to the cost to educate a student. Currently, the state’s per pupil allocation (state funding) is based on a formula which divides the amount of money raised through various sources such as sales taxes and other taxes by the number of students so it is not tied at all to how much it costs to educate a student. I also support eliminating the M-Step and other state-required standardized tests. My third priority would be to cap the number of for-profit charter schools, make them comply with the same rules as traditional public schools, and require they participate in the state’s retirement 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?

Our district has worked hard to come up with a plan to offer flexibility for families. The real challenge is that many of us will make a decision today, but based on something we learn a few weeks later, that decision could change. I have already seen the options for re-entry change so that they are more flexible. I think the year will continue in this manner. Some children will want or need to return, some children will want or need to stay home, so the district will need to adjust. This poses challenges for administrators, instructors and support staff, especially around children who require additional support. I think that remaining flexible, being willing to return to face-to-face or virtual learning as dictated by the current infection rate, and following both state health department and CDC guidance will be necessary to keep students and staff safe.

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

If cuts can’t be avoided, I would like to see community conversations about our priorities, give opportunities for feedback from students/parents, and investigate possible ideas before moving forward with a plan.

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

Overall, standardized testing, if used to measure a school’s success, should be stopped. The test scores primarily reveal a child’s socio economic status and his/her parents’ level of education – they do not represent the success of a school. They waste time and resources and create unnecessary anxiety for many children. Furthermore, they provide little input on teacher performance. I find very little value in tests such as the M-Step, and many colleges are no longer using SAT or ACT test results for admittance.

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 love to see a k-12 initiative to teach diversity equity and inclusion. In addition, at the high school level, I’ve heard a need for an expanded curriculum for children who are not on the IB/AP track or dual enrolled.

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

Over the past few years, our district has placed an emphasis on working to improve mental health and supports for children. We had a few admittance counselors from MSU come to Mill Creek to present information on the decline of mental health. The district followed up with a book club discussing “At What Cost”, which delves into the race to the top – getting into the best schools and taking the hardest classes. I would like to see our district continue with this work and reach out to parents of younger students to explain the value of pushing back on the race to the top. Districts are caught in competing for students and in wanting to distinguish themselves. I’d like to see us work on changing the narrative of what defines a successful district and in coming up with a more holistic metric – one that includes the health of students and staff and also includes a rating around whether all students feel safe and accepted in the school environment.

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

I like the restorative justice model.

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

Washtenaw County passed a special education millage a few years ago and my understanding is the supports in our district are pretty strong. I am sure there is room for improvement, as with all areas.

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

I have touched on some of this above. It would be good to expand after school sports and activities in the 5-6 grades. This would get kids involved earlier which could help improve health in the long term and would also help support families who work until 5 and cannot be home earlier. An expanded curriculum around diversity, equity and inclusion would also help. In addition, advocating for broadband service in our rural areas would be a good plan.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I like to hike, grow and can tomatoes, design and build things, sail, play tennis, jog, camp with my family, and talk about policy, education funding, and other wonky topics. Please reach out to me if you’d like to chat. kangasforeducation.com