October 4, 2020
School DistrictAvondale School District
How long have you lived in your district?
Have you received any endorsements?
Yes – Michigan Education Association (MEA)
Are you an incumbent?
Why do you want to be a school board member?
Most of my career has been in higher education, because education is a key value of mine. I have had great experiences in the Avondale School District, having two children in the district starting with preschool. They are now in seventh and tenth grade. I am passionate about the fact that we need gender diversity on the board, which is currently 100% male. I also think that we need some creative problem solving which I’ve prided myself in throughout my career in non-profits. We need this generally, but even moreso right now in a pandemic.
What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?
To me, education justice is about fairness and equity for all involved in education. At a time like now, it’s ensuring that everyone can learn and teach in a safe environment. It’s also about resources – ensuring that everyone has the same access to education. Funding also plays a role – not all districts are funded equally. Avondale specifically receives less per pupil funding than many surrounding schools. We also have a much higher percentage of student on free and reduced lunches, so the support resources needed are greater.
If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?
I think the pandemic has forced us to be more creative and collaborative in our approach to education. I think that it has helped us appreciate the value of in-person classrooms and the expertise that teachers bring to the classroom. It has also helped us to expand to utilize more technology in creative ways. I’d like to see this continue. There are opportunities to continue some use of technology to make education accessible in multiple ways (for example, utilizing google classroom as a hub for assignments, etc). I think it also can lead us to more access to education for special situations, like students with an extended illness. Sick policies in general could benefit from online tools, so students who may otherwise spread illness in the classroom won’t be too far behind because they can access assignments online. It’s also interesting to think that snow days may now be a thing of the past, replaced by learn from home days. I’d also love to see options for content in the summer to prevent the summer slide.
Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?
Involvement helps make a better district. Feedback should be encouraged privately and in open forums. Inviting stakeholders to take part in task forces and other planning forums and/or question and answer opportunities is also ideal. I’m a firm believer in clear communication and transparency, so that people can be informed.
Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?
My campaign is 100% self-funded. I am not accepting financial support.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?
Right now, the pandemic has taken the front seat as the biggest issue for the district. While safety needs to be a top priority, we also need to do everything we can to restore in-person learning so that it’s safe for teachers and students alike. This will take lots of planning, benchmarking other districts and listening to our district’s stakeholders. This is closely followed by budget – funding continues to be a struggle, with Avondale having much lower per pupil funding than surrounding schools. We need to advocate for more funding as well as ensure that we’re spending funds on our top priorities. I’d like to look at ways to collaborate and use our resources as efficiently as possible. I’d like to further lean on our partnership with Oakland University to help. The third priority is to attract and retain students and teachers by working to show our community how great Avondale is. We have underappreciated strengths like our arts programs, robotics, ASD support and more.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?
Again, the pandemic looms large, and as such, having clear guidelines from the state is critical. While the return to school roadmap offers some help, things continue to evolve and new orders have made interpretation difficult. The funding of schools is also problematic – more funding is needed and more equitable distribution is needed. Michigan is also lagging behind other states in student performance overall and in special education. The key causes of that need to be determined, starting with curriculum standards and the frequency of testing.
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 challenges that our district faces with COVID right now are many. Families are in a difficult situation juggling work and children, particularly those with younger children. Mental health issues that were already near crisis-level before this are getting worse. And disadvantaged families are at even greater risk of falling further behind due to technology access and other supports that are needed. The school district’s top priority must be safety, however it’s important to work diligently to get back in classrooms when that can happen safely. To do that, there is a great amount of legwork to ensure clear policies and procedures are set. There must also be training of educators to know how they can stay safe and teach their students to follow safety procedures as well. There also need to be funding for tools to keep people safe – PPE, hand sanitizer, individual tools, cleaning supplies, etc. There also needs to be flexibility and community feedback to help guide this.
What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?
Instruction and instruction-related items should be number one. In this unique time, safety and technology may be higher than normal. While administration and operations are necessary, efficiencies should be examined to ensure budget is being spent as prudently as possible. One thing that I am largely not in favor of is utilization of privatized services if at all possible to avoid.
What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?
I would like to see less standardized tests. There are multiple tests multiple times of year, which takes away from the ability for students to learn new things. The tests used seem to change almost every other year too, so there’s no consistency or understanding of what they mean relative to other tests that existed before. It would be nice to see more accommodations for different types of learners, particularly those with an IEP.
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’d love to see more focus on STEM and earlier interventions for students before they fall through the cracks and “hate math” or think that they are just not good at it.
What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?
This is a critical piece of the education picture. If you are not emotionally well, learning becomes that much more difficult. Our district is already maxed out in terms of counselors and mental health professionals’ bandwidth. I’d love to see this as a priority from the state or federal government to provide resources in the schools. Without more funding, though, schools can only be a triage point, to identify issues and provide resources for families to handle outside of the school system.
How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?
There are a few items that need a zero tolerance policy, for example bringing weapons to school, making threats that endanger lives and other extreme behaviors. Involving local law enforcement may be necessary with some of these types of examples. Other discipline items need to also be taken seriously including violence, bullying and more. Involving families, problem solving and keeping students accountable through detention and in-school suspension have been effective for our school district.
What are your top priorities around special education in your district?
I’d like to ensure that we’re meeting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and that our outcomes for these students are positive. I’d like for Avondale to be a district of best practices in the state for the work that we already do like the Bridge Buddies program and special programs for students on the spectrum (ASD). I’d also like to see more partnership with Oakland University in this area to continue to elevate our programs.
What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?
Avondale is a diverse district in race, religion, socioeconomic status and much more. We are much more diverse than our neighboring districts. While we have a lot of programs aimed at equity and services to help those with need, our district could use this diversity as a strength if we can utilize our differences to learn from each other. I’d love to see more collaborative efforts among the four elementary schools, so students will become friends with those from within the district long before middle school – anything from athletics and drama camps to community gardens and more.
I also think that this needs to start with our board’s lack of gender diversity being addressed.
Any other information you want to include or share?
My background in non-profit organizations makes me particularly well-suited to problem solving with limited budgets. My role at Oakland University provides me access to community leaders and faculty members to develop an even stronger partnership with the Avondale School District. I am eager to serve the Avondale community and work with multiple stakeholders to better understand the issues and find solutions.