October 4, 2020

Nikki Lilje

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictGrosse Ile Township Schools
City:Grosse Ile

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?

The answer for me is simple. I love Grosse Ile, our kids, serving the community and know more can be done for our schools. After attending board meetings and seeing the same two board members ask critical questions and really dig into whether a decision was in the best interest of our district NOW and in the FUTURE, I knew I needed to act. Talking to parents frustrated with limited communication from the board cemented my desire to serve. I want to join the critical thinkers on the board and work to improve communication and engagement between the Grosse Ile family and the board.

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

Education justice means giving every student a fair opportunity for quality education. This is done by the school working to understand the challenges a student faces in and out of the classroom and working to support them by providing resources to close the educational gap those challenges create. In terms of my home school district, this means going beyond a 504 or IEP to really dig into what the student needs to be on par with mainstream students.

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

Schools would have technology, connectivity and instructional design and delivery enabling every student to have an equitable educational experience both in-person and on-line. Today, the in person students have a better educational experience than the on-line learners.

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

The school board and school administration should solicit feedback through the use of surveys, social media, comment forms, and townhall meetings. Board meetings should be available over public access TV and streamed via the internet to encourage more community members to participate. Meeting minutes or a summary should published within 24 hours of the meeting to drive engagement.

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

I chose not to accept donations.

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

First, we need to invest in 1:1 technology, integrating a modern digital platform into our learning delivery system and hiring a great instructional technologist to work with our curriculum director and teachers to ensure a seamless educational experience for all kids, both virtual and in person. Second, we need to aggressively study revenue and cost reduction options as only 12% of our budget is able to be decisioned; the remaining 88% is for salaries and benefits. It makes it very difficult to invest in anything with such a small percentage of our budget available. Thirdly, we need more community members to get involved with the school board and we need to have more immediate transparency regarding Board meetings and decisions to the public.

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

First, Michigan ranks 15th in the country for teacher pay (https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salary-in-every-state-2018-4#15-michigan-37) but ranks 36th in quality of education when scores are adjusted for student heterogeneity (https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/fixing-bias-current-state-k-12-education-rankings). This means we are inefficient with how we spend money educating our students. The investment the state has made in having higher teacher salaries is not producing the kind of educational results we should expect. This needs to be studied and fixed. Secondly, Michigan public schools were not prepared for remote learning. Businesses everywhere are expected to have robust disaster recovery plans and waste no time getting back to business as usual. It was quite a surprise schools had no remote plan and that it took so long to develop and execute them. Specific funding and accountability measures need to be put in place to ensure we are able to educate our children from anywhere and ensure this is practiced on a regular basis so we never put our children in this sort of position again. Thirdly, I believe character education needs to be put in place across Michigan to help educate our kids on social media use, diversity and inclusion and kindness.

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?

Students with 504 or IEP’s will struggle more than those who do not in a hybrid or virtual environment. This will create a divide between students in districts everywhere. There will be a similar divide between students with robust family support and those who don’t. The answer to this is to get kids physically in school. Hybrid and virtual plans treat all students the same and do not look to provide additional in-school support for students with additional needs. School districts should follow CDC and State health guidelines for safety and follow recommended sanitization guidelines. Testing should be available to all students and staff on a regular basis free of charge and masks and social distancing should be required. Catching our students back up may require changing the school year so they can spend more time in school after the second wave subsides.

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

Technology, 1:1 student devices, digital platform integration into the learning delivery system should be prioritized for my district. Wayne County RESA should fund a pool of instructional technologists to help bring districts up to the level of technological capabilities in other S.E. Michigan counties. Efforts to improve the instructional efficiency of our district (money spent per student compared to educational quality performance) should be well understood, measured and prioritized. As funding cuts are made by the state, cuts to the budget should be shared equally by all areas, including salary, benefit and retirement funding.

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

Standardized testing should be reduced as it takes away from time spent actually learning. Today, NWEA test results are used to guide individual student education but doesn’t take into account the fact that a student may have blown off the test or rushed through it. They may be targeted for learning they already know but didn’t demonstrate adequately. The emphasis on individual education, takes time away from the teacher’s ability to educate everyone. I believe reliance on standardized testing and the time it takes to prep the children to be successful on the tests reduces the overall effectiveness of Michigan education. Teaching to the test is not a strategy for success.

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?

Math curriculum in my district focuses on teaching children strategies and having them explain why they solved a problem a certain way. They don’t have enough time to become comfortable with a given strategy so it sticks with them. As a result, middle school students in my district struggle with concepts learned in the fourth grade and need to relearn them. I would shift math curriculum to focus on fluency over learning a variety of strategies. I would also improve the writing curriculum to spend more time on spelling, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure; teaching children to write for their post-school life. I would also include character education in late primary, early secondary grades to help students learn about self care, mental and emotional wellbeing, how to stay safe from the dangers in society and how to be a kind, responsible citizen.

I would keep STEAM, Art, Music, PhysEd, and library programs in place today. For High School students, I would introduce financial literacy and a life skills class to prepare them for independent living.

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

Considering the lack of mental health and emotional support available and covered by health insurance, the school is the primary touch point for nutrition and mental / emotional health for students. The federal and state governments should provide dedicated funding to create a team of professionals to support students across school districts at the RESA level so the financial burden is not carried or cut by the local district. As case loads increase, funding would have to increase at the state / federal level and would not be tied to local taxes.

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

Schools should ensure acceptable behavior rules are well known by the students and parents. Consequences for not following those rules should be equally well known and consistently implemented by the staff. Rewards for adhering to behavior and attendance rules and achieving high grades, should be implemented to encourage student achievement. Negative consequences should be meaningful and function as a deterrent. Parents should also be involved in the discipline process at a school.

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

During COVID, more consideration should be given to offering for all 504, IEP and Special Education students to attend in-person full time to ensure their needs are being met. This was not part of our district’s COVID planning.

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

I would start with addressing the bias in testing and result reporting. This article provides a lot of good information which aligns with my views: https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/fixing-bias-current-state-k-12-education-rankings This would ensure we are addressing student population needs which can then be looked at on an individual level.

Other ideas for achieving educational equity are:

-Equity training should be provided to teachers and staff
-Technology access gaps (home computer, connectivity, etc.) should be understood and addressed for every student
-Character education around diversity, inclusion and belonging should be introduced and modeled
-Classrooms should be a place where all students feel they have a voice and can tell their teacher, principal or counselor if they are facing hardships at school, home or elsewhere
-State/Federal funding for mental and emotional health support for students in schools

Any other information you want to include or share?

Why should people vote for me…As Mom says, if you want the same result, keep doing the same thing. I offer myself as a servant leader. I will listen to and consult with the community on ideas and challenges. I will study future trends in education to ensure our kids are not behind. I will seek to understand the benefit and risks of decisions and engage in meaningful discussion before voting. I will use the creativity, efficiency expertise and scrappiness I have gained over the years at Ford Credit to ensure we are getting every bit of funding and cutting every bit of waste possible