October 9, 2020

Michelle R. Heikka

Pronouns:she/her
School District:Milan Area Schools
City:Milan

How long have you lived in your district?

10 years

Have you received any endorsements?

No

Are you an incumbent?

Yes

Why do you want to be a school board member?

Education transformed my life. I was the first member of my family to attend college because my grandmother taught me that my life could be different and that I did not have to repeat the same patterns of the women that came before me. The first step in breaking that pattern was to graduate from high school , an accomplishment denied both my mother and grandmother. I do not take for granted the opportunities afforded me after I took that first step.

I also , unfortunately , know the helplessness a parent feels when fighting for educational services and assistance for their children.

These experiences inform every decision I make on the Board. I am dedicated to ensuring that Milan Area Schools provides the transformative education and experiences the children of Milan deserve , regardless of their race , gender identity , sexuality , ability , culture , socio-economic status , or background. All children deserve the opportunity to take that important first step.

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

Education justice means providing all students the transformative education that changed my life path. It requires everyone in the learning community to acknowledge their own unconscious bias. It also requires us to understand and appreciate systemic racism , and how historic systemic racism impacts not only past learners , but current learners as well.

In the context of Milan Area Schools , education justice requires us to build an educational environment in which we focus on the whole child. We must meet that child where they are educationally , socially , behaviorally , health wise , economically , and culturally and understand that a child’s life experiences , and the experiences of the adults around them , inform that child’s current performance and must inform how we assist that child.

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

The COVID-19 health crisis made clear what many of us in education already knew: Much more than learning happens in our buildings. Schools provide shelter , clothing , food , mental and physical health services , safety , and much more to our students. Unfortunately , the funding and support provided to schools fails to reflect the many functions we ask schools to perform. A reimagined education would fully fund all the social functions performed by schools to provide not only a high-quality education , but social workers , behavioral specialists , nurses , and other professionals required to perform those functions.

The crisis amplified the growing digital divide between our students. In Milan Area Schools too many students do not have access to reliable internet , software , or hardware. A reimagined school closes this digital divide to equitably educate and prepare our children for the jobs of the 21st century.

Lastly , while unrelated to the health crisis , a reimagined school provides a safe learning environment in which children and staff were not forced to participate in lock down drills or active shooter training.

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

All stakeholders should be involved in making decisions in Milan Area Schools. In February , the Board of Education brought together various stakeholders , including parents/guardians/trusted adults , business leaders , elected officials , teachers , staff , and administrators to develop a multi-year strategic plan for the district. The collaborative work performed that day made clear what we already knew , Milan Area Schools’ stakeholders put our children first.

Input from our stakeholders is critical to the governing process. I always encourage stakeholders to attend meetings , contact board members , or even stop us at Kroger or on the ball fields to let us know what is working and what is not. Additionally , participation in the many surveys sent to our stakeholders is critical to guiding our decision-making process.

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

I have largely funded this campaign myself. I have one financial supporter , my dear mother-in-law who insisted on making a donation to support the continuance of the work I’ve done while serving on the Board of Education.

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

The lack of diversity among our administration , teachers , and staff is unacceptable. I have pushed the administration to rethink how they recruit candidates to increase the diversity among our candidate pool. I recently voted against hiring new candidates because the administration relied on its normal protocols for locating them. Protocols that continuously fail to diversify our staff. I also voted against laying off one of Milan’s two African American teachers. I will continue to hold the administration accountable for the lack of diversity in our schools.

Managing the budget is one of the most important Board responsibilities. Milan receives the lowest possible foundation grant from the state. While the state may believe our children’s education is worth less than others , in Milan , we believe our children are worth so much more.

Milan has a history of providing a platinum education on an aluminum budget. Squeezing every dollar in a budget requires careful scrutiny and attention to the actual needs of the District. I have a history of voting no on spending items and budgets that did not align with our budget constraints or District priorities. If re-elected , I will continue to scrutinize every budget request and vote no if the requested spending is not designed to , first and foremost , provide the best possible educational opportunities for our children.

Providing a top-notch education requires top-notch teachers , staff , and administrators. We must use our budget to retain and attract highly qualified and diverse educators.

Lastly , we must communicate better with our parents and other stakeholders. Now is the time for us to be more transparent , not less. That’s why I pushed the administration to include a COVID-19 dashboard on the school website. Stakeholders can now see the number of positive cases and those quarantined in any school building.

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

In this budget cycle , our state leaders worked together to craft an education budget that left Michigan schools largely unscathed. The negotiations were a great example of what can happen when politicians put party identity aside and work together to put our children first. Those funding levels must be maintained in the 2021 – 2022 school year. We must stop balancing the state budget on the backs of our children and teachers.

Over the past several years , the State has used the School Aid Fund for budget priorities other than K-12 education. The raiding of the School Aid Fund must stop.

Per pupil funding should equitably reflect the cost of educating individual children. Not every child needs or receives the same services. As such , it doesn’t cost the same amount to educate every child. School funding should reflect the actual cost of educating our children.

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 first and foremost priority is to keep our learning community as safe as possible. We must strictly adhere to our current safety protocols and continually review those protocols and amend them as appropriate to address the changing landscape.

Milan was at the forefront of designing a hybrid and virtual learning environment. Indeed , many nearby districts are now implementing plans similar to the plan implemented in Milan. We must continue to support our teachers , staff , learners , and parents/guardians/caregivers. Like many others , I am working full-time and teaching fifth grade math , high school advanced algebra , and listening to seventh grade band all at the same time. I am also watching my teacher husband , friends , and neighbors spend countless hours ensuring their students are prepared to learn. We are all stretched further than we imagined possible. We must provide all those in our learning community the supports necessary to keep us all going through this tough time.

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

In February , the Board of Education brought together various stakeholders , including parents/guardians/trusted adults , business leaders , elected officials , teachers , staff , and administrators to develop a multi-year strategic plan for the district. The strategic plan reflects the community’s priorities for our children and their futures. We must use the budget to implement the strategic plan , otherwise the hard work in February would have been a waste.

While providing a safe learning environment for our children , teachers , staff , and administrators was always a top priority , the pandemic brought new safety issues and concerns to address. We must ensure that the budget provides the supplies and equipment needed to comply with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control , various Executive Orders , the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration , and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Additionally , providing a top-notch education requires top-notch teachers , staff , and administrators. We must use our budget to retain and attract highly qualified and diverse educators.

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

Standardized tests present a small snapshot of a particular moment. They fail to take-into-account a child’s personal history , including how many schools that child attended in the last year , whether that child had a place to sleep the night before , or ate breakfast before the test. Yet our children , staff , teachers , and administrators are evaluated based on those incomplete snapshots.

Milan Area Schools has taken very deliberate steps to use the “data” collected from standardized tests to best inform instruction for individual children , and for the District as a whole. Teachers , staff , and administrators take part in “Data Days” at which they dig deep into the data to learn what skills may be lacking and address accordingly. Paddock Elementary School set specific curriculum based on a skill gap identified by the data. This data also demonstrated curriculum gaps in social studies and science. Prior to COVID , the District was exploring new curriculum for these subjects.

While these statements may seem incompatible , the reality is we must find a balance. We cannot over test our children. The Michigan requirement that we test our children in the middle of a pandemic is untenable. We cannot allow our children to measure their self-worth or their intelligence by a test score. We have to make sure they understand they are so much more and have talents not measured by a standardized test. Given the State requirements to test our children , we should take advantage of the data provided and plan our instruction accordingly.

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?

In recent years , Milan Area Schools has focused more on an equitable approach to learning. Incorporating diverse stories , histories , pictures , and points-of-view enhances the lives of all learners and improves outcomes. One of our principals reported a story in which a little boy was overjoyed because the characters in the book looked like him. Children should see themselves in our curriculum and in our staff , teachers , and administrators every day.

Not only does inclusive curriculum improve outcomes but working within an inclusive and diverse environment is a 21st century skill that our children can no longer afford for us to ignore. The future workforce and environment will be more diverse and inclusive and we must prepare our children to work within that environment.

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

The reality is that our schools often provide many students with the only available access to mental and emotional health services. The COVID pandemic exasperated not only the need for , but also the lack of availability of these services. To address this issue , Milan Area Schools continues to hire social workers and behavioral specialists to assist our students. Our teachers and staff are focused on a trauma informed approach to education and discipline. Children cannot learn if their mental health needs go unaddressed. For this reason , Milan Area Schools has chosen to focus on the whole child , including their mental health.

We are asking more from our staff and teachers than ever before. We’ve asked them to simultaneously teach kids in-person and virtually , use all new technology , and continue to provide the safe community and other services they have always provided our students. We must provide our teachers and staff the support they need to get through this difficult time.

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

Discipline is on-going concern in districts across the state. As stated earlier , schools often provide the only available access to mental and emotional health services. Our families also face more food and housing insecurity and other socio-economic stresses than ever before. These stressors often present themselves as behavioral issues. To address these issues , Milan Area Schools continues to hire social workers and behavioral specialists to assist our students. Our teachers and staff are focused on a trauma informed and equitable approaches to education and discipline.

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

We must continue to fight for special education funding by holding the WISD accountable for its spending. Monies spent by the WISD directly impact the remaining funding for local districts. We can no longer afford to write a blank check to the WISD. Milan Area Schools often votes to not approve the WISD budget because it fails to hold its own spending in check. I will continue to advocate for spending limits at the WISD to allow those dollars to trickle down to the local districts and students in need.

An equitable education meets our children , all children regardless of their ability , where they are. Kids requiring special education services are no different. We must provide all of our students the services and tools they need to become the best version of themselves.

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

I know first-hand the transformative power of education. My education changed the trajectory of my life. All children , regardless of their race , gender identity , sexuality , ability , culture , socio-economic status , or background deserve the opportunity to learn , not only the state mandated education , but who they are and who they are meant to become.

We must build an educational environment in which we focus on the whole child. We must meet that child where they are educationally , socially , behaviorally , health wise , economically , and culturally and understand that a child’s life experiences , and the experiences of the adults around them , inform that child’s current performance and must inform how we assist that child.

I am motivated to provide the education and experiences that will allow our children to realize their full potential and become the singer/song writer , musician , sculptor , writer , activist , scientist , machinist , builder , parent , coach , community leader , or careers not yet invented that they were meant to become.

Any other information you want to include or share?

Thank you for taking the time to read my responses and consider my candidacy. Thank you also for caring enough about our schools and our community to research the candidates and vote.