October 4, 2020

Monica M. Fink

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictEast Lansing Public Schools
City:East Lansing

How long have you lived in your district?

7 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Yes. Mayor Pro Temp Jessy Gregg, Council woman Dana Watson, Trustee Kath Edsall, Trustee Chris Martin, Dianna Erickson, Melissa Fore, Ana Cardona, Katy Larson, Crystal Award Recipient Ginger Ogilvie, Executive Director of RDC Erika Brown-Binion, Marble food service staff Teia Johnson, Marble Equity Team Treasurer Rachel Layne, ELPS parent James Rosinski, ELPS parent Micah Veith, Marble School Community Council Communications Director Ann Siegle, ELPS parent Cara Wegener, Marble Kitchen Manager Melba Bledsoe, Marble School Community Council President Tali Faris-Hylen, Marble School Community Council Treasurer Tanya Paslawski, Marble Equity Team Vice President Simon Perazza

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I believe in quality public education and have a personal investment in preserving, promoting, and improving the quality of our school system. I have a wide breadth of knowledge pertinent to each level of the educational system. I have 19 years of involvement in elementary school, middle school, high school and early college systems in a multitude of ways and in many different states that gives me a unique insight and perspective that will augment the necessary oversight needed by the school board. Additionally, my work within our school buildings gives me daily communication with our staff and families to get quick firsthand knowledge on what issues are being presented, experiences, needs and desires of our staff and families.

I feel called and summoned to continue my meaningful and exciting work within the to make things better within our school system and community. There are so many needs plaguing our schools and families that it is time for us, as a community, to double down on our supportive efforts aiding our teachers, staff, and families while continuing to make a positive impact on our children.

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

I believe education justice is the collaboration between our schools and community to provide every student with equitable, quality, and accessible educational resources that accommodate and assist in their specific needs. In practicing education justice, we must acknowledge the opportunity gap, privilege, history rooted in oppression and the understanding that if afforded the same opportunities the achievement gap would not exist. We also need to acknowledge and identify the forms of racism that shape our community, schools, and classrooms, begin addressing and dismantling the racist structures of internalized racism, interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and structural racism in each of these settings.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and the reduction of social and economic barriers that limit academic and economic advancement are critical implementations to move toward educational justice. Ending zero-tolerance and exclusionary discipline policies that disproportionately effect Black and Brown children sending them into the school-to-prison pipeline. Implementing restorative justice practices are not only more humane, they are essential to moving a school district towards education justice.

East Lansing Public Schools has already taken the first step toward educational justice by implementing restorative justice policies. I believe the next step to continuing education justice in our district is through the hiring of more people of color for teaching and leadership roles within our schools through equity-driven hiring practices that intentionally seek out diverse candidates. The experience young children have of authority and leadership in school not only impacts their view of education in general and their own educational success, but it influences the views they carry out into the world with them about how things should be and what they can achieve. I believe that hiring more people of color is the first step because it is imperative that we have the voice of people of color to ensure that the important conversations that address the issues that happen almost exclusively to Black and Brown children happen through an antiracist lens.

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

We have all had months to watch the world going through an ebb and flow of Covid-19 responses and still have yet to make it to the other side of this pandemic. Each of our families have had to make difficult decisions on how to navigate education during this time that best fits their family needs. Before Covid-19 we were used to tasking our schools, districts, and most importantly the staff members to take on more than just the academic aspect of our students lives. In large, all the societal failings, through inequitable policies, that have negatively impacted our community have been shouldered by our schools in an attempt to bridge the gap.

Our families have had and will continue to have to make difficult decisions that best fit family needs. While supporting our students and staff with online learning we are seeing that the one-size fits all education strategy is flawed. I think that in the wake of this public health crisis we will have to reconsider the purpose of school and the inequities within them.

My hope for what schools will look like after the public health crisis is that our community comes together, and we take steps to move away from the one-size fits all education method. This method has good intentions but offers our students, families, and staff a grave disservice. This approach assumes that all students learn in the same ways. In our focus for supporting the whole child, our curriculums need to be differentiated to suit the unique and individual needs of our students so that we are providing the best possible education for their success.

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

I think parents, students, and families are essential pillars in the educational process. Having a voice in making decisions in the school promotes feelings of belonging and a personal investment in the outcomes of the educational process, the school and the community. I believe it is vital to have input and participation from many diverse voices and ongoing parent, student, and family participation supports a collaborative learning environment with many positive partnerships and outcomes.

Increased parent, student, and family involvement increase achievement through ownership of the process. Students involvement in their educational path will increase motivation and a belief of control and confidence over their success. I believe that for us to ensure our students are globally competent, can knowledgeably and confidently navigate the world, and can weigh perspectives while interacting with diverse audiences we need a large intersectionality between the school, families, and students.

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

Supportive neighbors in the community.

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

Leadership and transparency-Covid: The lack of clear directions on how to handle this pandemic from our nation’s leaders has shifted the responsibility for how we navigate the return to school during Covid-19 to local superintendents and principals creating a lack of unity with neighboring schools, dissention and chaos. With the sole responsibility for planning falling almost exclusively to the local educators the lack of guidance is fraught and inadequate. The reliance on processes, procedures, and protocols from above while dealing with rapidly changes requires leaders to act swiftly, with foresight, careful consideration of options and consequences of side effects. While there are no precedents to leading schools in a pandemic the transparency of what actions are being taken, what structures are being put in place to take planning to the next stage and identifying problems, to name a few, need to be communicated to the stakeholders and those affected so that we can increase information to make informed decisions, increase accountability and increase the potential of finding a solution. We have a responsibility to ensure we create a welcoming, nurturing and safe environment for all and transparency and communication are the key to making our families feel welcome.

Diversity, equity and inclusion: I would continue prioritizing the diversity, equity, and inclusion work I started with the Marble Equity Team. Priorities must be established, and budgets need to be allocated to respond to these priorities. It is important that we not only identify the forms of racism that shape our community, schools, and classrooms but also begin addressing and dismantling the racist structures of internalized racism, interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and structural racism in each of these settings. We also need to identify where we stand in relation to those destructive social forces and continue to evaluate effective ways to influence changes that will lead to better outcomes for all our students and families. This work needs to continue with progressive, aggressive, mindful and targeted practices that require the voice of people of color to ensure that the important conversations that address the issues that happen almost exclusively to Black and Brown children happen through an antiracist lens. Children of color seeing themselves in authority figures they encounter in school will promote pride, feelings of being understood, and combat the real and consequential implicit biases of those with privilege and power.

Educating and engaging all students: I would prioritize actively focusing on mental health and special education as imperative to educating all students. It is important that each child receives a well-rounded experience that will support their success. We should make every effort to ensure that students with disabilities and mental health needs have access to the opportunities that will foster their success. We must provide each student with the resources that accommodate and assist in their specific need while acknowledging the opportunity gap, privilege, the history rooted in oppression and the understanding that if afforded the same opportunities the achievement gap would not exist.

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

Diverse hires: I advocate strongly for a diverse body of ELPS employees that represents proportionally the make-up of the ELPS student body, and that this includes hiring more people of color for teaching and leadership roles within our schools. I support deliberate, equity-driven hiring practices that intentionally seek out diverse candidates, including posting positions widely in venues likely to reach a diverse audience and creating hiring committees that include diverse members and employ equitable and culturally relevant systems for evaluating job candidates.

Systemic inequity: It is important that we not only identify the forms of racism that shape our community, schools, and classrooms but also begin addressing and dismantling the racist structures of internalized racism, interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and structural racism in each of these settings. We also need to identify where we stand in relation to those destructive social forces and continue to evaluate effective ways to influence changes that will lead to better outcomes for all our students and families. This work needs to continue with progressive and mindful practices.

Mental Health: Mental health and special education supports are important during normal circumstances but are now more urgent than ever with the onset of increasing mental health issues and the inability to receive the in-person supports necessary for additional needs students due to the circumstances of this global pandemic. It is important that we as a district acknowledge these families and their needs as these are the students most susceptible to being lost and experiencing an opportunity gap.

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?

I anticipate that we are seeing and will continue to see that the one-size fits all educational approach is not serving all of our students well because it assumes falsely that each student learns the same way. The most vulnerable of our families and children rely heavily on our schools. It is important that we as a district acknowledge these families and their needs as these are the students most susceptible to being lost and experiencing an opportunity gap.

In our focus for supporting the whole child, our marginalized students are going to need greater access to counselors, social workers and other support staff to address and accommodate their needs. We need to ensure that we provide for the parents and families of many of our students that may not be able to keep the jobs that feed them if there is no in-person school option to provide childcare, that families trying to work from home that are struggling to assist their child(ren) with online work, not all families have access to reliable internet or computers, and a plethora of many other considerations.

We ask a great deal of our teachers and staff to nurture and grow our children and young adults without providing an appropriate amount of support. We need to ensure that we provide our teachers and staff with support as well. We need to push for our teachers and staff to receive the professional training and support that will give them the necessary tools needed to navigate this school year and beyond.

Reopening our schools should be done as safely as possible, in the least disruptive way, with as much fluidity as possible. I believe a hybrid approach that meets stringent safety protocols is the best way to ensure maximum safety, flexibility, and a non-disruptive learning environment for our staff and families. While the hybrid learning model offers more continuity, it will need additional support to ensure its success. This model will get our students that need in-person learning back within the schools while giving those families that do not want to return in person the option of remaining online. The hybrid model will provide us a way to truly maintain our focus of student centered, teacher supportive, family inclusive work and support. We need to move forward with our plans with caution, care, compassion, and empathy during this unprecedented time.

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

Our top spending priority should be invested into mental health and special education supports, challenging and engaging curriculum, and diverse hiring.

Mental health and special education supports are important during normal circumstances but are now more urgent than ever with the onset of increasing mental health issues and the inability to receive the in-person supports necessary for additional needs students due to the circumstances of this global pandemic. It is important that we as a district acknowledge these families and their needs as these are the students most susceptible to being lost and experiencing an opportunity gap.

We need to invest in and procure challenging and engaging curriculum for all our students. The deeper learning that occurs when the learning materials are challenging and engaging foster the skills, understanding, and mindsets to ensure our students are prepared to engage on the global scale and builds world citizens. This type of curriculum improves problem solving skills, collaboration, critical thinking, as well as academic knowledge that leads to success.

I advocate strongly for a diverse body of ELPS employees that represents proportionally the make-up of the ELPS student body, and that this includes hiring more people of color for teaching and leadership roles within our schools. I support deliberate, equity-driven hiring practices that intentionally seek out diverse candidates, including posting positions widely in venues likely to reach a diverse audience and creating hiring committees that include diverse members and employ equitable and culturally relevant systems for evaluating job candidates.

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

I think that standardized testing should be used for us to assess the quality of our curriculum and education program. I think that standardized test results can help us determine how effective our programming is and identify areas that need improvement. These tests can also serve to identify where we need to invest more time and resources.

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?

We need to invest in and procure challenging and engaging curriculum for all our students. The deeper learning that occurs when the learning materials are challenging and engaging foster the skills, understanding, and mindsets to ensure our students are prepared to engage on the global scale and builds world citizens. This type of curriculum improves problem solving skills, collaboration, critical thinking, as well as academic knowledge that leads to success.

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

I believe our district has to place a great emphasis on supporting our students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing as good mental and emotional health is critical to staffs’ interactions with students and to the student’s success in school and life. We need more advocacy to garner awareness of the need for more mental health services. Our students and staff spend more of their time in school than any where else and have accessibility of appropriate support to the learning environment from school-employed professionals. School mental health services are essential to creating and sustaining safe schools. Mental health support increases a sense of connectedness, promote pride, feelings of being understood, and reduce negative outcomes such as teacher burnout or student behavior problems.

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

I agree with the removal of law enforcement from our schools and the utilization of restorative justice as a disciplinary practice that moves us further away from the school-to-prison pipeline. The presence of law enforcement officers in our schools has fed Black and Brown students disproportionately into the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to invest in evidence-based solutions – not reactionary spending that gives the appearance of safety. Violence prevention programs to include anti-bullying, teacher trainings, and peer mediation interventions are some examples of solutions that provide more than an appearance of safety.

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

My immediate priorities around special education during Covid-19 are to get our students with additional needs back to in-person learning as safely and as soon as possible. Remote learning solely puts our marginalized students at risk of being left out and facing the widening of inequalities. These students need increased accessibility to technology, supplies, printed materials and personal interactions with supportive staff in the areas of academia, mental health, and social emotional health.

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

Priorities must be established, and budgets need to be allocated to respond to these priorities. It is important that we not only identify the forms of racism that shape our community, schools, and classrooms but also begin addressing and dismantling the racist structures of internalized racism, interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and structural racism in each of these settings. We also need to identify where we stand in relation to those destructive social forces and continue to evaluate effective ways to influence changes that will lead to better outcomes for all our students and families. This work needs to continue with progressive, aggressive, mindful and targeted practices that require the voice of people of color to ensure that the important conversations that address the issues that happen almost exclusively to Black and Brown children happen through an antiracist lens. Children of color seeing themselves in authority figures they encounter in school will promote pride, feelings of being understood, and combat the real and consequential implicit biases of those with privilege and power.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I have been active in numerous school and community roles including: President and cofounder of the Marble Equity Team (the first of its kind in the ELPS district), I currently work as a breakfast and lunch Monitor at Marble, an active member of the parent council, the District Parent Council, and a former member of the Black Parent Union at the High School. I have been room parent at Marble for 2 years and have been active in securing grants and donations for Marble Elementary students and staff. I am a member of the MacDonald Middle School Return to School Work-group. I have provided input to the ELPS Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment and the K-8 Science Committee for the new science curriculum as well as the East Lansing High School Mathematics Department regarding the proposed textbooks and instructional materials. I provided input with an equity lens for the District Continuity of Learning Plan. I also continue to work with the Safe Routes to School group. As the Marble Equity Team president, we have provided training and informative documentary screenings to the community while extending professional development credits to staff for attending these events. I am eager and excited to continue this work.