October 4, 2020

Rebecca Chambliss

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictMadison District Public Schools
City:Madison Heights

How long have you lived in your district?

I’ve lived here for 10 years.

Have you received any endorsements?

I have received very welcoming and positive feedback from residents and city council members.

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

Having 5 children who attend school in 3 District buildings, I have a high motivation for improving upon the current systems in place. I have 2 high school girls who find it difficult and frustrating to receive limited available AP classes, limited clubs and programs to enrich their curriculum and limited ability to participate in their schools beyond student council (both were President of their classes last year and Vice President for my oldest the year prior). They participate in sports, robotics, Here4U a suicide awareness group and more. They have requested additional clubs but the resources are just not available. When I was 16 I was a straight A student with undiagnosed ADHD, I couldn’t handle how slow the classes were and I felt like I was drowning while sitting during the days new materials weren’t being learned so I’d skip and return on test day. I had straight A’s but zero credits due to attendance. I walked into the counselors office and dropped out of high school, not one adult asked me why. Not one person stopped me and wondered why a 16 year old was dropping out. They let me sign and I walked back out for good. I fell through the cracks, no resources were present for me to allow someone to notice what was happening. I was otherwise a model student, I had no behavior record, no disciplinary concerns, just a lack of attendance. No child should ever fall through cracks and I want to make sure the resources are available. I want to be the voice that pushes for advanced curriculum, sets the standard high and holds the district to it. I want to change the way local families see the District and enrich the programs so we are seen as competition for new enrollment. Push for our students to graduate proficient at higher levels, push for our community as a whole to work together to give our children a chance at leaving 12th grade as strong, well rounded and competently educated young adults. Our children deserve the best chance going forward, wether it’s college, trade school or jumping right into the workforce. I want to be the voice constantly pushing for anything that gives our students just that.

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

Educational Justice is closing the gap in quality of education for students everywhere. It’s enriching the curriculum, upgrading technology, reinforcing security and providing the strongest environment possible. I believe it is where access to education is listed as a public good and provided as a fundamental right. Hoping to achieve a community centered, academically challenging program & diversity relevant education system based on transparency, and public accountability. Madison District students and staff deserve schools that are safe, supportive, and learning areas that reinforce and build upon the melting pot of cultures. Where together we can be working to create an educational Picture, where all children have equal opportunities to grow and the ability to thrive freely. For Madison we need more open communication between students of varying diversity, groups for students to enrich their knowledge of others and build upon the similarities. Open the community up to acknowledge and accept the variety of cultures currently present within the District and encourage outside students to feel confident in enrollment at a Madison school, where they feel safe and that they will be nurtured to grow.

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

I believe our District has been on top of the public crisis since the start. We formed a back to school task force, which I was part of to get input from every level of student life. We have discussed from the transportation bringing students to school in the morning, classroom attendance, hallway transferring to each class, sports and programs. I believe it will be a difficult situation but with enough planning and forethought we can keep our students safe. I do however believe students that have thrived on virtual learning should be allowed to remain virtual for the remainder of the year if their families agree that is working well for them. This would allow students who are able to maintain structure from home and who have adult supervision and family support to stay home, lowering the body count inside the buildings and allowing less strain on a new and unprecedented school year. With a new and unprecedented system in place. It would also prevent students who feel unsafe from being forced to learn in an environment they do not feel comfortable in which could result in decreased education actually being received and retained. A student cannot learn while looking over their shoulder.

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

I believe the board of education must be present within the community they serve. I volunteer at multiple food pantry’s, work with the PTO, offer support anytime it’s needed. My family adopts families at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as students for back to school and during quarantine. We make it a family deal to give back as much as possible and this allows me to have my finger on the pulse of the community I reside in. I speak frequently to families who need help or have concerns and I believe board members must be open to their neighbors. Regular town halls for concerns and ideas should be held so the public feels safe and respected when they voice their thoughts. These town halls should be held for major votes coming up so trustees can gauge how the voices they represent feel on any given topic. The public at official meetings should be respected and never hushed or silenced. Students should have a place in decisions and be allowed to speak openly to the board either at the town halls or at official meetings. They are the benefactor of changes we would be making and no one can better explain why or why not to allow changes to be made. 7 people are voting for a community of thousands of families, 1200+ students and hundreds of teachers/staff.. seven… discussions are the only way for positive progression. Our diverse community needs to be heard and respected. Always.

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

I have received a limited amount of donations from friends, however, the majority of my finances have been through my own contributions.

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

1)Advanced programs, sports, clubs etc.- To benefit our current students as well as enriching our programs to compete for enrollment by school of choice students.
2) Responsible Budgeting – full assessment of current debts, current assets and financial guidance to give possible alternatives for becoming debt free, while never compromising the students experience in our District.
3) Trust and Transparency- we need to gain the trust of the community by supplying true transparency for good or for bad. The community has a distrust currently and at times are fearful to speak out to the board. We need to open the books, include the residents and make decisions that benefit the most. Without allowing personal gain or personal agendas to factor in to decisions. This includes educating the board so they never infringe upon the rights of others or fail to recognize ways to be transparent as far as legalities allow. While working closely with the superintendent and any advice allowed.

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

1)Provide access to an fair, equal, high quality system through a collaboration with business and industrial, labor, trade and higher education to ensure the chances of learning and future success. Guiding students from preschool to graduation from high school and their paths post graduation wether it is college, trades working, or jumping straight into the regular workforce. Not all students follow the same path, we must notice these students and customize their plan based on them individually.
2) Ensuring Strong district and building leaders, encouraging advanced education for staff so the students receive the best education by the best available educators. High quality instruction in every classroom using a child-centered model where students set and meet their personalized academic goals to reach their highest potential. While encouraging social goals and advancement through extracurricular activities. Making a variety of programs, sports and groups available for this process.
3) Implement resources to acknowledge influencing outside factors, including poverty, and provide resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure that they have access to a quality education. Our current District has attempted to do this through meal costs being waived, device deployment during Covid & multiple local resources such as food pantry’s and student involvement with Big brother/Big Sister, Future women of Tomorrow and Dollars for Scholars. Students have still struggled, I have adopted families to feed during the holidays, to dress during cold months, to supply backpacks full of school supplies etc. BOE Trustees cannot just show up to a meeting each month and not be involved daily with the community they represent.

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?

Challenges our specific district will struggle with will be the financial costs to maintain safe and secure environments for the students once in person resumes. As well as families struggling while virtual school is in place to support their homes due to being forced to choose between work and helping educate their child. Families struggle to feed their children so the schools are supplying breakfast lunch and snack to students as well as I volunteer 2-3 days a week with the Madison Heights food pantry, who works closely with Landmark Church and forgotten harvest, as well as monthly with Gleaners at the high school accompanied by the PTO. We routinely start emergency collections for local families and it includes clothing and diapers etc. Our community works together to not allow any family to fall, we hold each other up. If you reach out, we will be there 24/7.

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

Our priorities should be sanitation due to Covid, technology upgrades and security upgrades. We need to focus on program enrichment and higher education for all educators as well as building repairs to bring them up to code and safe for student presence. We should focus on using our newly forced upon on situation to our benefit. We have been forced to purchase devices, use them. Cut textbook costs by allowing students to use virtual textbooks. Going paperless may take a transitioning but if it comes between cutting staff, increasing classrooms and taking away extra classes and resources vs textbooks. I’d say get rid of paper and go paperless. This has saved hospitals millions. Our community will hate that we have to but accept this, if they fully understand our position. Madison District families will band together in a time of need, as long as they feel they are being given transparency, like they deserve. A fully transparent budget given to the families will allow parents, residents and even students to join in on what can and cannot be adjusted, without hindering a strong education for the students. We can do anything together, that’s what’s missing. Together.

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

Standardized tests are unfair the moment they are written. You are comparing school Districts using 3 editions ago textbooks to schools where normal process is a new laptop per child and always the most up to date information. Schools that cannot financially compete for the best educators, to schools hosting collegiate level professors. You are setting students who try hard and excel within their school up for failure. They may have aced their program but do poorly on the test by no fault of their own. A student can only learn as much as the schools offer them. At best the tests show the school districts who are not proficiently educating students at the same top notice level as others.

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 would add advanced placement classes to all subjects, Allow our higher learning students to be competitive with other students in local communities. Locate the students who require tough programs and challenge them while offering a variety of electives that enrich their learned skills.

Bring back Home economics to teach these students life basics. My oldest is 16 and never got below a B+ in her life, while holding straight A’s since 7th grade and I personally had to teach her to address a letter and mail it when she was 15. Balancing a checkbook, boiling water. Life basics that they need to know and some families may not be able to give them. Bring back wood shop and automotive club as not every child is college bound and being a well rounded adult when they graduate is important. Offer internships and collaborate with local trades to get our seniors in the door at companies for future employment. Encourage involvement within clubs and groups to learn skills and abilities they may need upon graduation. Set them up for success, not just pass them along and say goodbye June of their last year. We help raise these children, let’s prepare them for adulthood.

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

Resources must be in place to pinpoint mental health concerns and a process to get the help required. We currently have “Here4U” a suicide awareness group that need to be built on and spread more widely throughout the district. Staff needs to know they are part of the Madison family and feel secure in their job, they need someone they too may go to with any concerns and a process to get them help. We must support one another through the good times and the bad. An astounding number of educators report work as their greatest cause of stress, while rarely do districts use an employee wellness program. Teachers need to feel like they have autonomy and allowing them to build their programs not only benefits their mental and emotional health but it provides increased education and a better overall program for the students.

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

Student discipline should be a community affair. Parents, school admin, student counselor and the board need to understand many child hood behavior concerns are rooted at an emotional level and it is entirely possible to turn a child around and assist them to being successful at home and school. Discipline should be done with care and concern vs judgement and punitive rulings. If a child poses a safety risk for others than that needs to be minimized and addressed as advised by properly trained staff. I would hate to let a child receive discipline because they weren’t ever properly spoken to and we didn’t try every alternative prior to an action that results to markings on their permanent record. I believe any time a credible threat to the building occurs, as history shows, a police presence is required. Once the threat is thwarted, the police may leave to allow campus to return to normalcy as soon as possible.

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

My top priorities for special ed students is proper documentation and planning within their IEP, making sure staff assigned to those classes is well aware of the best methods of learning for each student. Just because a child is S.E doesn’t mean they don’t need or deserve to learn. I believe all teachers/staff in all the buildings, even those who do not actively teach S.E students should be properly trained with CPI. Non special ed students could require staff to know this training at times too. I think proper ratios of teacher and para professionals and students should monitored based on more than just the number of students but more so the acuity level of each student. At times one student may specifically require the time and energy of 5 “average” special ed students. So ratios at times need to be acuity vs physical number of students. I believe they are a at risk population due to staff burn out, caregiver strain at home and they are the population least spoken about in everyday administration.

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

This is a conversation long overdue. Every child in Madison district, deserves the same quality of education. I feel grateful to Madison staff who allow so much parent involvement, they assist in every fundraiser and every task we take on. During Covid our district distributed iPads and laptops to students in need, breakfast lunch and snacks were provided 7 days a week, the pto started a School supply drive, which I participated in and they were able to package and distribute bags of supplies to students in need. My family adopted multiple local families and provided backpacks full of supplies to make sure every child had the tools needed to be successful during virtual learning. We need to raise up the diversity within our district and build a enrichment program that helps bridge together the variety of cultures to raise everyone up as equals. The curriculum between buildings must flow to build upon one another, we should pull every resource available to do so. We need to compare our current curriculum to those of surrounding districts to confirm and compare that we indeed are preparing our children for their future paths appropriately. We should strive to challenge our academic programs to provide equal opportunities for our students. With resources monitoring the progression of each child to ensure no one is allowed to slop behind unnoticed.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I believe Madison district is under appreciated, we do not raise to the front of the list when prospective families are searching for a new District to enroll their children. We need to become aggressive with our programs to entice enrollment, therefore increasing funding. We need to look at grants and other ways to increase our budgets to increase our program options. We must be diligent in budgeting and not immediately look at cutting programs or staff. We need to compare our district to our neighbor districts similar in size to ours and educate ourselves on how to become debt free as they have. It is possible to fix budgeting concerns, increase enrollment and bridge the gap between the community and the BOE. Trust is literally in the name Trustee and it is a position that should earn the respect and trust of the district residents, parents and staff. Madison district can become an excellent district, worthy of blue ribbons and accolades, it just requires the 7 board members and the superintendent, as Well as community, Banding together and working hard for the children. They are who in fact all of this is really for.