October 4, 2020
School DistrictWaterford School District
How long have you lived in your district?
Have you received any endorsements?
Waterford Democratic Club
Are you an incumbent?
Why do you want to be a school board member?
Being a Waterford School Board Trustee allows me to utilize my educational and classroom expertise to bring a voice to the board that teachers and students often do not have. As a public school teacher, I have chosen to run for School Board because it’s time for educators to be part of the decision making process. Too often, School Board Trustees’ only experience with the public school system is from when they were children. With all of the changes occurring in the wake of COVID-19, someone with current classroom experience must have a role in moving the district forward. This means working to improve Waterford’s educational outlook, retaining highly-qualified teachers, and updating the district’s outdated technology plan.
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 with a high-quality education regardless of race, socio-economic status, access to technology, etc. In the United States, children are entitled to an education that provides them with the skills to be competitive in a global economy. Unfortunately, many districts do not have the resources in place to provide their students with this type of education and Waterford is no exception. Working off of a technology plan from 2015, Waterford is falling behind on preparing students for future careers. As a School Board member with a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology, it will be my mission to update the plan to purchase devices to create a 1:1 technology environment, regular training for teachers on technology implementation, and upgrading existing wireless networks. This type of plan will require community and teacher support. However, when we all work together to improve the quality of our local schools, everyone benefits.
If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?
The havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on the education system is just beginning and will continue to affect students, teachers, and communities for years to come. Despite the devastation, some changes that are happening in the schools right now may benefit the overall educational achievement for certain students. The first is a shift to a fully virtual learning option for students. Unfortunately, many students struggle with in-person learning due to distractions, bullying, etc. By permanently offering a virtual option taught by highly-qualified Waterford teachers, students can learn at their own pace in an environment that works better for them. Continuing to offer a virtual option also allows for improvements within the classroom as well. Having some students virtual would reduce class sizes which would allow teachers to give more individualized instruction and one-on-one time. Making these changes a reality requires investments Waterford needs to be making. However, by changing the way we think education should be delivered, Waterford schools would be able to provide families with the educational experiences that work best for them and their students.
Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?
A school district is a fundamental community service and the decisions made should include parents, students, and community members. The overarching goal of decision making should be improving the educational achievement of all students within the community. Too often decisions are made without the input of the number-one stakeholder in a district, the students. This group is seldom given the chance to make their voices heard. Students know what they need in the classroom. They can see if they are working in buildings with leaky roofs, with technology that does not work, and in overcrowded classrooms. It is the responsibility of the School Board to listen to everyone within the district to make decisions that benefit the community as a whole.
Who (if any) are your top financial supporters for your campaign?
I have been fortunate enough to have my top financial supporters to be family members and friends. They believe I can utilize my educational expertise to improve Waterford Schools and they have afforded me the opportunity to fight for what I believe will make Waterford a place all families desire to be part of.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?
The first issue facing the Waterford School District is an outdated technology plan. For students to learn the skills necessary for their future careers, they need modern resources. Currently, Waterford is working with a plan that was finalized in 2015. Many technological needs have changed since then and the plan must reflect those changes. As a School Board Trustee, I intend to utilize my educational technology expertise to review and update the district’s technology plan. Parts of a new plan would include time for teacher training and technology implementation, purchasing devices to create a 1:1 technology environment, and adequate funding to upgrade existing wireless networks.
The second issue facing Waterford School District is a potential decrease in overall per-pupil funding from the State. As a School Board Trustee, I will defend students and teachers through any budget cuts that may occur. To provide students with the education they deserve, we mustn’t decrease per-pupil spending. It is also significant for teachers to not be forced into pay reductions. By reducing salaries, a district risks losing highly-experienced teachers and not being competitive to hire new teachers. If schools cannot fill all positions, class sizes increase, or substitute teachers will be utilized to fill positions. Neither of these situations is ideal for students to receive a high-quality education. By defending these groups during budget decisions, I can work to create the best learning environment for all.
The third issue I aim to undertake is the greater promotion of racial justice within the schools. One way I plan to promote racial justice is by analyzing discipline data. I will work to identify and root out racial bias in suspensions, referrals, and expulsions. Around the country, African American boys are at greater risk of being suspended than their white peers. With Waterford School’s changing population, I aim to create an environment where no students are being singled out due to race or culture. If the data determines there are clear biases, I will push for professional learning programs that aid staff in the exploration and acknowledgment of their personal biases. Through this type of training, staff members can develop strategies to overcome their biases and form a learning environment where all students feel valued.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?
The first priority is to equally fund Michigan’s public schools regardless of property tax values. Under the current system, districts with higher home values end up with more money. This adversely affects areas with inexpensive or multifamily housing. Every child deserves free high-quality education, unfortunately, many children are not provided with the resources necessary to receive it. By changing the way districts are funded, all students, regardless of zip code, would receive a high-quality education. It is time for the state to fund all districts in a way that makes them equitable no matter what kind of homes their students live in.
The second priority is for more educators to be part of the conversations when learning standard decisions and laws are created. Unfortunately, many legislators have no educational background and are out of touch with what happens in a modern classroom. An example of this is the third-grade reading law that was put into effect. In this law, any third-grade student who is one or more reading grade levels behind will be required to repeat third grade. We should be holding our students to high and rigorous standards, but are we providing enough support for teachers and students? Are we punishing school districts and teachers by adding cumbersome paperwork explaining why a child doesn’t need to be retained? Is this the best practice? I believe in the spirit of this law, but in execution, it is falling short.
The third priority is reducing the burden student count day has on districts. Students could be sick on count day, there could be a death in the family, or even a family court appearance, the reasons for absences are endless. Districts should not be financially penalized for students missing one specific day of school. There needs to be more leniency for providing data which shows a student attends a specific district. By changing this and the overall way schools are funded, Michigan can work towards creating a more equitable public school system.
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 caused by COVID are going to be extensive. Whether it is requiring students to wear facemasks all day, not allowing students to work with peers, or families not having adequate internet to learn from home, districts need to be thinking of how they are going to be keeping students and staff safe when there is a return to in-person learning. The first aspect of safety districts must be considering are expectations for utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE), i.e. face masks and shields. There need to be clear guidelines for when PPE needs to be worn and consequences when the guidelines are not followed. Districts also need to be in constant contact with local health officials regarding COVID levels and outbreaks. Currently, school boards are reevaluating the situation in their area monthly. It is vital they have the most up-to-date data so they can make decisions that are safest for everyone. Lastly, when making COVID-related safety decisions, the entire community needs to be considered as well. If there is an outbreak within a school it will not stay isolated, it can easily spread out into the general population. There is much we do not know regarding COVID, and when making decisions it is always better to be cautious.
What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?
Waterford’s top spending priority needs to be improving student access to technology and the wireless systems in the schools. With the possibility of students going back and forth for in-person to at-home learning, it is vital they are given the resources to make it a smooth transition each time. This requires Waterford to update its technology plan and make purchases that create a 1:1 technology learning environment for all students K-12. Purchasing the technology also allows for students to have the tools necessary for high-quality learning that will prepare them for future careers. The increase in technology can also lead to changing spending priorities as well. With the modernization of education, purchasing physical textbooks leads to unnecessary expenses that become outdated very quickly. By purchasing digital content, districts can save both money and space. This money could be used to help fund other student support programs that could help the lowest-achieving students reach their fullest educational potential.
What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?
Standardized tests fill the role of checking students’ progress and should be given at the beginning, middle, and end of a school year. However, they should be only used as data for teachers so they can better individualize student learning plans. Tieing teacher quality and student achievement to standardized testing data shows that policymakers are out of touch with what happens in school. Standardized tests provide a one day snapshot of student’s learning but do not show all that a student has achieved throughout a year. They do not take into account if a student got into an argument with their mother in the car or if a beloved pet died the morning of the test. It will only show that they are behind. Standardized testing has its place but should not be the only way we look at student achievement.
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?
As a School Board Trustee, one change I would like to see is an increase in racial and gender representation in the curriculum. Public schools need to be a place where all students are represented in the curriculum, and regrettably, most of the curriculum focuses on the accomplishments of white men. I witnessed this first-hand while teaching state history in South Carolina. I taught in a school that is majority African American and some of my students were direct descendants of slaves on local plantations. Unfortunately, these students rarely learned about the scientific, literary, and historic contributions of African Americans. In Waterford Schools, it is imperative all curriculums represent the students being taught. I would also like to see an increase in the amount of career and skilled-trades courses being taught at the middle and high school levels. It is the goal of a school district to prepare students for future careers. By allowing them to explore various career and skilled-trades options, it may spark an interest that leads to a successful future. As information and content knowledge change, our curriculum needs to change with it. The aspect of curriculum I would keep the same is the focus on reading and math. Based on state-level data, these are areas Waterford needs to improve in. However, this does not mean that there cannot be changes to the ways it is being taught that would better help students achieve their personal best.
What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?
Schools need to be a safe space where students are able to open up creatively without the fear of being judged or ridiculed. It also needs to be a place in which students are able to receive no-cost counseling for mental health and emotional concerns. Staff also need resources available to them to help with mental health and emotional issues stemming from the job. Teaching is a high-stress position in which you are responsible for not only the education of students but also their daily wellbeing. By providing staff with mental health resources, districts can create an environment where everyone is able to work at their best.
How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?
School districts need specific protocols when dealing with student discipline and they should not deviate from them when being used. However, these protocols should be created by a combination of staff, administration, and community members. To create a safe place to work and learn, everyone needs to know what the behavioral expectations are. They also need to be aware of the consequence when the expectations are not followed. It should not be a surprise to families when students are put into detention or suspended. The first line should be dealing with disciplinary issues within the classroom and letting parents/guardians know what has happened. Then consequences should gradually increase from there. Police should be used as a last resort when there is an active threat to the physical safety of the students and/or staff. In the end, the ultimate goal is to create a safe learning environment for everyone.
What are your top priorities around special education in your district?
Community members feel that students with learning impairments are not having their needs met within the general classroom. My top priority is to make it so all students are receiving the education they are entitled to. This disconnect can be due to a lack of relationships between the classroom and special education teachers, and the caseload of special education teachers. Preparing the paperwork required for supportive services such as individualized education plans (IEPs) takes a lot of time and often special education teachers are the only ones who are able to complete it. This paperwork takes time away from developing specialized curricula for students. This is a systemic issue across the country and Waterford is doing the best it can with the resources it has been provided. To improve this issue, Waterford needs to hire more special education teachers to reduce teachers’ caseloads. This would allow them more time to provide students with the services they require.
What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?
Achieving equity is not a matter of treating everyone the same, it is changing the way things are done so everyone is receiving what they need in order to be successful. To do this, districts need to look at every student as an individual learner with specific needs. Once they do this, then they can begin making changes such as reducing class sizes, providing teachers with more freedom presenting curriculum, and allowing students to show their learning in various ways. Not all students learn the same way, and until districts stop requiring standardized tests as the only way to show growth, they will never truly achieve equity.