October 4, 2020

Jonathan VanGemert

Pronouns:He/Him
School DistrictBloomfield Hills School District
City:Bloomfield Hills

How long have you lived in your district?

4.5 years

Have you received any endorsements?

No formal endorsements to date

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

The two reasons I am running are (1) to give back by volunteering my time, experience and energy to the learning community that has helped guide my children to be good students and citizens; (2) with three trusted members of the Board retiring, I want to be sure that the Board continues to be stewarded in a way that values student education as its highest priority.

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

Education justice means equity in education funding and addressing the school to incarceration pipeline that continues to plague our schools especially our BIPOC population. To my district, it means that in order to advance our whole community, we must advocate for equity in funding, or at least equity in budget cuts, which would place a higher dollar burden for cuts on my district, but a more equitable burden across districts based on total funding per pupil. Further, we must continue to foster an inclusive an open atmosphere where discussing race, racism and systemic advantage/disadvantage is considered an important part of the curriculum.

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

Education would begin in the offices of our OB/GYNs with educators meeting with soon to be parents/guardians and educating the on the benefits of reading to children everyday, and the resources available in the community related to education and childcare. I would allocate funding for pre-school education beginning at age 3, so that children have the best chances for beginning kindergarten on an equal footing. I would allocate funding so that no more than 20 students are in a class until after 3rd grade. We must lay a solid foundation from birth to 8 years old.

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

This question is fairly broad, but I think parents, students and families should be encouraged to be engaged in decision making. When we feel ownership or partnership in the process, then we feel ownership and partnership in the outcomes.

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

Friends, family and citizens.

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

(1) Mental wellness curriculum. (2) Continued efforts to infuse the contributions, perspectives and opinions of people of all backgrounds in all of our curriculum throughout the school year. (3) Setting short and long term specific goals for improvement in students’ achievement as is unfortunately often measured by standardized testing.

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

(1) Expand access to early childhood learning opportunities and pre-schools. (2) Expand access to early intervention programs for students struggling to read. (3) Improve health and safety by improving access to extracurricular activities.

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?

Education and student safety are always 1(a) and 1(b) on the list of priorities. This year we must consider that student safety is 1(a). In order to keep students safe, our school district must follow the guidelines set forth by the State of Michigan, the CDC and Oakland County. As of right now, that means social distancing and masks while inside and when social distancing cannot be maintained outside. Collectively, Michigan has done well over the last several months, but we must listen to the experts and follow guidelines, so that we do not endanger members of our learning community that could be hospitalized or die if infected.

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

The top spending priorities should always be with regard to those expenditures that directly affect students. With that said, a pet peeve of mine, with students, teachers and families increasingly using and communicating using technological platforms, especially now, there needs to be some focus on adopting a learning platform that is easy to use, comprehensive and which effectively facilitates communication between teachers, students and families. It is not that communication is not happening. Education professionals at all levels ARE communicating on multiple platforms simultaneously. The system for communication is disjointed, redundant, and in the end, confusing. Frustration related to communication is a momentum killer for students and parents. We cannot afford to lose engaged students, because their frustration with their education platform is greater than their excitement for a content area.

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

In my opinion, the vast amount of testing is unnecessary. however, standardized testing will likely always be a requirement. If we are going to require our students to spend 2 – 5% of their learning time taking standardized tests, the least we can do is attempt to analyze and utilize that data to help our current students achieve at a higher level, and to understand where deficiencies may lie in our curriculum so that future students can achieve at a higher level.

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?

Dima El-Gamal, Michelle Southward and I plan to work with the Board and Superintendent Watson to share our goal that students receive education in mental wellness and mental health awareness. Mental well-being and awareness of mental health and strategies to improve one’s one mental health not only lead to higher quality of life, but reduce violence, and increase self evaluation of ability, which s the number one corollary to student success. As well as continued efforts to infuse the contributions, perspectives and opinions of people of all backgrounds in all of our curriculum throughout the school year.

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

As described in response to the previous question, increased mental and emotional well-being correlates to increased self evaluation levels, which meta analysis of multiple studies, indicates is the #1 predictor of student achievement.

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

Our school district has been utilizing restorative justice practices for quite awhile. I am in favor of continuing that practice.

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

Our special education teachers do an excellent job. With all that is happening in our world today, trauma-informed teaching is something I would like to focus on regarding special education. In addition, I would read surveys of our parents regarding special education, and work with Superintendent Watson to determine how the concerns of our parents are being met.

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

Equity is often looked at utilizing the cartoon with three people at a baseball game, where equality is shown as each of three people – a short person, a medium sized person and a tall person each standing on a box. The short person still can’t see over the wall. Equity is then shown in the next frame of the cartoon with the short person standing on two boxes and the tall person, the medium sized person standing on one box and the tall person without a box. They can all see over the wall…equity. In education, I see this analogy slightly differently. Each student has a box of tools that is appropriate to their needs, and each student has a wall/obstacle that is appropriate to their abilities. Equity is achieved through appropriately rigorous coursework along with the appropriate tools to complete said coursework, according to each students needs and abilities.

Any other information you want to include or share?