October 4, 2020

Leonica Riley Erwin

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictKentwood Public Schools
City:Kentwood

How long have you lived in your district?

7 years

Have you received any endorsements?

EquityPAC

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I want to ensure our children receive their education in a safe manner, e.g., ensuring students, teachers, and staff have quality PPE. I have several ideas to make remote learning engaging for students and ensure teachers learn innovative teaching techniques with the technology available. I would like Kentwood Public Schools to become a trauma-informed district to address stressors external to school (the pandemic, homelessness, community violence, violence at school, etc.) that impede the education process for students and educators alike. I’m also the candidate that will strive to achieve equitable outcomes for the most vulnerable students in our district.

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

Education justice is one of the major contributing factors in my decision to run for school board. It means that the district works closely with the community to develop collaborative strategies to achieve equitable outcomes for all of our students. It also means that teachers are paid accordingly for achieving those equitable outcomes. Education justice means that Kentwood Public Schools closes the gap in math/reading scores for Black and Brown children. It means that we identify contributing factors causing minority students to have high suspension rates. It also means that we have teachers to effectively manage issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equity justice means improved college-readiness rates for all students at Kentwood Public Schools. It means all children have access to a public education regardless of income, disabilities, race, sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, religion, culture, immigration status, neighborhood, etc. Kentwood Public Schools is the most diverse district in the state of Michigan. I want to make sure that is acknowledged. I want the district to be recognized for achieving Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that “that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls”.

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

After the pandemic, we will continue to use rigorous cleaning and sanitation practices. Sanitizing stations will still be widely available. Rigorous hygiene practices will still take place. Remote learning programs will improve. Some students will continue to learn in that manner because it works better for them. Students attending in person can also participate in remotely when they have a mild cold so they do not get behind in their lessons, but also don’t spread germs at school. The same is true for teachers too. Classrooms will be larger to accommodate more social distancing in the event of another public health crisis. The ventilation systems in school buildings will be improved to prevent the spreading of germs. Our children will write books about how they survived the 2020 Pandemic.

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

Parents, students and families should be involved in decision-making by being invited to school board meetings, completing surveys and focus groups about major issues, talking to board members at school and in the community.

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

Equity PAC

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

1. The safety and wellness of students, teachers, administrators, employees, and contractors
2. Equitable educational outcomes for vulnerable children in our district
3. Becoming a trauma-informed school district

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

1. Advocating to legislators for adequate funding to support the “new normal” after the pandemic is over.
2. Ensuring teachers receive adequate pay and health care for the difficult work that they do.
3. Making state decision-makers aware of the benefits of trauma-informed educational practices

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 related to COVID involves how to educate our children while containing the spread of the virus. That means making a decision about in-person or remote learning. An infrastructure for remote learning had to be developed and teachers needed training to facilitate remote learning. Ensuring adequate social distancing, hand washing, and masks wearing takes place consistently in all school buildings is another challenge related to the pandemic. Obtaining funds to supply educators with appropriate PPE is another. Monitoring the outbreaks in our district and implementing a remote learning backup plan is something else we have to navigate.

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

Safe buildings, PPE and sanitation supplies, technological advancements, trauma-informed training, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

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

Standardized tests impede the learning process. They take up too much time. They are biased and don’t measure intelligence. I think they should be limited.

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 be more interested in a curriculum that allows students to learn at their own pace, tells the truth about American history, and teaches math so parents can help. I would keep athletics the music, arts, and theatre the same. I would also keep the learning platforms such as iReady, Ingenuity, Raz Kids, and other technologies that make learning fun.

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

Schools are a major influence on a community, as well as its on students and staff. Therefore it is imperative that school districts support the mental and emotional wellbeing of students and staff. That’s exactly the reason making Kentwood Public Schools a trauma-informed district is one of my top priorities. Students and staff are under increasing amounts of stress. Trauma-informed practices, policies, and practices will instill resiliency in everyone apart of the district.

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

Discipline in schools should be handled in a trauma-informed manner. Now that we know remote learning can be implemented successfully, there should be very few reasons to suspend students. Social work and psychological services need to be in place to help children learn social skills, conflict resolution, civic responsibilities, and coping mechanisms. Referrals should be made for more intensive services when needed. There also has to be strong communication between school officials and parents of students who are at-risk of being suspended often. Aligning discipline strategies at home and school is imperative. It would be great if the district could provide parent education services to empower parents whose children often need disciplining. We need to identify the reason the students are acting out and address that, not punish the student. Research shows that students who are suspended often or expelled are more likely to drop out of school and jump on the pipeline to prison. We must find alternative models of discipline and use evidence-based practices to set Kentwood students up for success. This will also make it safer for teachers by reducing the risk of being assaulted. Teachers will learn skills to respond to students in a healthy, safe manner that de-escalates students. Violence between students should also decrease.

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

My top priorities around special education services include ensuring funding is available to provide the services students need, e.g., individual education plans, 504 plans, occupational therapy. I would like to improve the processes used to identify which children need special education services so there are no cracks for students with disabilities to fall through. I would also like to explore ways the district can provide more support to parents of students receiving special education services.

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

It is absolutely critical that Kentwood Public Schools is a district that is intentional about achieving equitable outcomes for our students. We are the most diverse school district in the state. That puts us in a unique position to become a model for school districts throughout the nation who want to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion. My perspective is we need to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us. We need to take advantage of it now.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I have been married to my husband, Deon, for 15 years. We have four intelligent, respectful, and handsome sons: Dre’Quan (28), Deonte’ (24), Dre’Shawn (21), Kimari (16). We recently adopted a sibling group of three (my cousins) in July: Serenity (10), Jazmine (7), and Kingston (2). We’re the process of closing on a home in the district so I have a vested interest in Kentwood Public Schools. We will have children in the district until the class of 2036. I want to be apart of developing the “new normal” and make sure KPS provides students the quality education they deserve.