October 6, 2020

Michelle Southward

Pronouns:She, Her, Hers
School District:Bloomfield Hills School District
City:Bloomfield Hills

How long have you lived in your district?

10 years

Have you received any endorsements?

No

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I am interested in supporting the district in assisting black and brown families in overcoming the recurring challenges of the achievement gap. My nearly 20 years of experience working in higher education and serving in numerous leadership roles has subsequently prepared me for being a school board member. I am confident that I can be successful working with Bloomfield Hills schools, because I have a background in strategic planning, diversity affairs, retention, and academic advising that will go a long way in bringing forth systemic changes. I believe that my skill sets will complement our current leadership and bring a different perspective.

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

Justice to me means equitable representation and fair practices throughout every educational practice. Education justice means that we educate our students and staff on what is and how to respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination to disband systemic racism in our schools and curriculum.

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

I would imagine that we would establish a place where we can practice good citizenship and respect the differences of our neighbor. Be it where socioeconomic status or disability does not place greater distance between our opportunities, but brings us closer together as a district of diverse learners to foster a deeper understanding of and commitment to inclusive and equitable practices.

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

I believe that leaders infuse the right people into conversation with enthusiasm. Therefore, as a leader I believe that the voices of the parents, students and families are what makes us thrive as a district and invokes a more diverse perspective. Ultimately the decision rests with the board of education, however that does not mean that we eliminate the platform for our district’s family to be heard and make valuable contributions to the process. I think that it is important for us to learn more about our students and teachers’ direct and indirect needs, advocating for programs to support the social and emotional well-being, as well as maintaining smaller class sizes for more direct personal connections, inclusivity of learning styles, and to increase the social comfort relating to peer to peer relationship development

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

My family, friends, and families in the district! I am thankful.

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

My top three priorities would be (1) to support a robust mental health education program for our students and staff expanding social and emotional well-being, (2) increase our equity and inclusion district practices throughout schools and curricula to directly address the achievement gaps with established tiered interventions and targeted services for all learners, (3) improve our community relations and communication across the district through intentional initiatives.

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

(1) Enrich the educational focus in the classrooms to include more realistic depictions of history and contributions of all Americans to be cited properly in our textbooks and literary selections within all districts across the state and our nation. (2)Additional financial resources from the state to support fine arts (STEAM) curriculum within the district, so students and teachers don’t have to be concerned about budget reductions to programs. (3)Work to support equitable and competitive wages to retain the best educators for our students.

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 things that some of us may find to be simple are not so in some low socioeconomically disadvantaged households. For example, access to printing documents for assignments, internet in the home, materials for art projects, are all of the items your student’s school would usually supply, may not be as easily accessible and may become financially overwhelming for families. These barriers to education are not only disadvantages, but may create more systemic issues for our students. Some students may fall behind academically, or develop new stressors all because of the lack of resources readily available. As for the second part of the question, to keep students safe, no protocols should be taken lightly or missed. We would also need to maintain communication with a district representative that maintains the surrounding data to keep track of state progress. It is important for us to establish an environment that supports continuous communication between students, staff, parents, and administration to keep everyone safe.

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

With the loss of parents to homeschooling and transferring, our districts need to manage unnecessary spending in our budget and account for all of the unexpected expenditures the district ensued during the pandemic and forecast future state cuts in order to not have reductions to our workforce, to prevent an increase in classroom sizes, or unnecessary reductions in programs and services for our students and staff. We have to also be good stewards of the additional bond funding that was allocated to the district by our community.

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

I would advocate for the inclusion of course textbooks that have true historical depictions that highlight the varied views of historians of our country, infusing into our curriculum valid depictions of times like during the Antebellum period and understanding contributions to our nation made by African-Americans, Latinx, immigrants, etc. and not just Eurocentric.

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 am a strong advocate of mental health and well-being, working to remove the stigmas associated with mental and emotional health and well-being. We need a plan that helps to educate students and staff on how to practice wellness and self care. I am a mental health first aid trainer, and I understand the importance of learning about how to stand in the gaps and support others when in need. I believe that the district should have a commitment to providing resources and support to students and staff as it relates to mental health and well-being.

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

I am a strong advocate of mental health and well-being, working to remove the stigmas associated with mental and emotional health and well-being. We need a plan that helps to educate students and staff on how to practice wellness and self care. I am a mental health first aid trainer, and I understand the importance of learning about how to stand in the gaps and support others when in need. I believe that the district should have a commitment to providing resources and support to students and staff as it relates to mental health and well-being.

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

Disciplinary processes should be uniform and followed accordingly based on the nature of the incident (grade level appropriate). All individuals associated with said incident or behavioral infraction should be reprimanded and sanctioned with unbiased judgment according to the act(s) or action(s) whereby a regulation established by the district’s code of conduct has not been upheld. The restorative model should be utilized to decrease the effects of punitive responses with excessive suspensions.

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

The top priority of my candidacy will be to provide awareness on all fronts. In the classrooms, the boardroom, and in the Bloomfield community. My focus on special education would include reviewing the quality of the models that we have established and the efficiency of our current systems that guide our staff. The laws around special education are extensive, which highlights the importance of being compliant, while at the same time addressing each and every student’s unique needs daily. Furthermore, it is important that we maintain knowledgeable stakeholders among our staff in order to continuously improve upon the processes by which our district provides services to students who receive or who are evaluated for special education services.

As a parent of a special needs student, I understand the importance of the Individuals with Disability Education Act being appropriately implemented.

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

We have to be able to collect and interpret the data, and find strategic approaches to share the information with families with support systems. The next step will be establishing a rapport with the student(s) that have fallen behind academically and implement grade level based tiered interventions district wide. The first step in this process to me is transparency and accountability.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I am looking forward to having an opportunity to work alongside our current board of education members, superintendent, teachers, staff, and students as well as in support of a finalized strategic plan that outlines clear goals, tactics, and outcome measures.