October 14, 2020

Jenny Miller

How long have you lived in your district?

16 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Saline Education Association, Saline Educational Support Personnel, Washtenaw Democrats

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

My main motivation to run for school board is my kids. It is overwhelmingly motivating to instill change in our community as I know this won’t only impact my own kids and their classmates, it will also directly influence my former students – from my time teaching at Saline – who have undeniably become a part of my family. In addition, recent events have underscored the need for change. I believe, through my experience being a teacher for 20 years, provides a different perspective than past board trustees. I believe that every board of education would benefit from having a member who has an extensive educational background. Teacher credibility has one of the highest effect sizes on student achievement (John Hattie, 2012). I believe that when trustees hold a high level of educational credibility, in partnership with other trustees, administrators, teachers and staff, the effect size will be compounded leading to greater student achievement for all students in Saline Area Schools.

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

Justice for all would mean eliminating systems of privilege and oppression to create a more just school community. Our school district has been in the spotlight this year for issues involving racism and xenophobia. These incidents weren’t isolated but garnered national attention. Saline Area Schools hosted Community Conversations and involved experts and organizations to facilitate these events. This was a notable first step but these are not just issues within the school buildings, but rather, these are issues that need to be addressed as a community. Now is the time for actionable steps to be taken with the ideas generated from the community conversations and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. I’d like to see SAS expand these conversations to coordinate efforts with other community organizations such as City Council and surrounding townships. By actively pursuing culture change, there will be no question that this is a place that values each member of our community.

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

Opportunities to provide additional access to enrichment and support for students and families beyond the academic setting are essential elements to provide access to education for all students. This could include opportunities to learn more about family priorities, goals in and out of school, and funds of knowledge in homes. This could include partnering with local groups and community centers to connect families to resources that could support the development of whole child.

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

In this pandemic, as an educator in a neighboring school district, we have begun the school year with family interviews. We are reaching out to families to ask them what is going well and what has been a challenge. We are inquiring about academic, technology, and physical needs. We are asking caregivers about their goals for their children and how they’d like to be involved. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We are involving parents and caregivers in ways beyond the parent-teacher organizations. Increasing relevance in school board meetings, PTA/O meetings, and school events could increase engagement. By connecting with families through these school interviews, more families feel connected to their child’s school experience. Increased involvement leads to greater student achievement.

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

I am funding my campaign.

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

Safety: Creating and maintaining safe and engaging learning and teaching experiences, especially during Covid-19.
Academic Excellence: Contributing expertise to the areas of teaching and pedagogy to ensure access and achievement opportunities for all students.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Advancing and supporting the commitment to DEI practices throughout the district.

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

Funding for Public Education: The current model is neither adequate nor equitable.
Academic Excellence: Supporting legislative initiatives with adequate funding for personnel, resources, and professional development.
Safety: Equipping all districts with measures to provide safe learning environments, during Covid-19 and beyond.

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 biggest challenge has been providing equitable opportunities for all students to engage in learning. Saline Student Services is leading the way for many others in our state with their efforts to meet the needs of our most vulnerable learners. During the first month of school when school was being provided remotely, students with IEPs were able to connect in person with their service providers for small windows of time. We need to share that model with others so more students who depend on these accommodations can access their learning opportunities too.

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

The highest spending priority needs to be directed toward the students. This means that we must prioritize the people who provide instruction and operational support services that directly impact the daily achievement of students. That includes the bus drivers who pick up our students, the custodians and maintenance personnel who ready the buildings and classrooms, the office staff who ensure the organization and information of the school building, the teachers who plan engaging learning opportunities, and the administrators who manage the big picture. When times are lean, we need to make difficult decisions about spending and we can also look for areas of cost savings. In the last few years the school district has saved money by installing for eco-friendly lighting. I would like to pursue additional similar saving measures.

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

I am not a fan of standardized tests that are linked to high-stakes and the billion dollar testing industry. Many of the standardized tests are a snap-shot of one moment in a child’s life and don’t take into consideration the child’s whole story. They are often used to compare students to other students, again without consideration of differences in opportunities which can influence performance. There are assessments that can be used to gather formal and informal information to guide teacher decision-making that can drive achievement. Without a major overhaul, most of the current standardized tests are widening the opportunity gap for students in America.

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?

Saline is a leader in many curricular areas. I would like to see a greater emphasis on culturally responsive teaching practices at all levels and in all courses. These practices can improve relationships between students and teachers, and students and their peers to build a community of learning that allows all students to feel safe and valued.

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

I believe that the mental and emotional health and well-being of everyone involved in education-students, families, and staff-is incredibly important to maintaining an environment that is conducive to learning. Marc Brackett, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University. He has developed tools that allow children and adults to recognize and regulate their emotions. As we see rates of suicide increasing each year amongst teens, we must take action to equip schools with opportunities to develop the skills needed to provide learning opportunities for students to recognize their emotions and make decisions that allow them to regulate them in healthy and safe ways. It would be naive to overlook the fact that many emotional challenges are the result of systemic social problems like inequality, racism, sexism, and poverty. Tools to foster emotional intelligence can acknowledge these inequities and improve the ways individuals deal with the feelings they encounter.

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

Bullying behavior doesn’t typically begin at the high school level but rather in our earliest school experiences. Many of our elementary schools have begun to explore opportunities to expand community building practices through school-wide initiatives, including community meetings and programs, such as Leader in Me. We must address root causes of bullying early, seek accountability to safeguard against it, and implement teaching methods to equip students with strategies when faced with adversity.
When justice has been violated, staff and students must be equipped with resources and tools to interrupt the injustice. Implementation of restorative practices and courageous conversations could support and repair harm that has occurred. The school district has adopted a student-led stance in learning spaces and could extend that to incidents of hate speech, bullying, and other injustices. With support, students could lead efforts to implement restorative circles to develop relationships, build community, and respond to reports of harm. These are not easy practices to implement and will take commitments from all of the stakeholders to be effective.

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

Currently, there is a focus on the Seclusion and Restraint Policy. The board policy states that Seclusion & Restraint will be eliminated, but practices and training continue. Either the policy needs to be revised or the practice needs to be reevaluated. In the state of Michigan, 73% of school districts do not employ S&R practices. SAS and stakeholders, including families and teachers, should explore alternative tools and resources that would continue to ensure safety for all. Having worked with SAS special education colleagues for years, I have seen first hand their advocacy for their students and I have no doubt that they want to provide the best for their students.
All classroom teachers should be trained to recognize verbal and non-verbal cues from students that could indicate a student’s need for a change or a break. Every teacher should be trained in de-escalation techniques so they can safely support all students. It is imperative that measures are in place to protect all students and staff while reducing the trauma related to seclusion and restraint.
With the numbers of students who have experienced trauma increasing, and we anticipate numbers could increase due to a variety of variables related to Covid-19, school districts must provide professional opportunities to support trauma informed teaching. Often students exhibiting signs of trauma may not have IEPs or 504s, so it will be increasingly important for schools to expand training opportunities beyond the special education staff.

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

Any policies and decisions need to be made with the consideration of the most marginalized students first. Each course, at all levels, needs to be reviewed and assessed with the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity to determine that resources and teaching methods are fair and void of any biases or stereotyping. It is imperative that SAS resources and teaching are embedded with experiences and identities that have, historically, been excluded. Inclusive curricula and resources enable all children to expand their compassion and understanding of experiences that don’t mirror their own.

Any other information you want to include or share?