October 6, 2020

Renita James

Pronouns:she/her
School District:Bloomfield Hills School District
City:Bloomfield Township

How long have you lived in your district?

10 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Yes. 1. Birmingham-Bloomfield Democratic Club 2. Downtown Newsmagazine

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

My family and I have lived in Bloomfield Township since 2010. As a former elementary school teacher, I knew early on that I had a passion for education. Making a difference in the lives of youth was, and is still, my top priority. Now, as a proud parent of a thriving 9-year-old daughter, I have kept this same tenacity by dedicating countless hours to ensure the success of her education. As a public servant for the last 18 years with the State of Michigan, fourteen as a Departmental Analyst, I understand what it takes to serve my community-integrity, character, diversified skills and perspectives, compassion, and ability to be a voice for the voiceless. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s in Business Administration. If elected, my top priority will be ensuring that not only my daughter’s best interests, but the community as a whole and being given utmost consideration.

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

•Education justice – means balancing the inequity of access to a high-level education both through competent educators and opportunities that historically have not been afforded to the underserved.
•Education justice, specifically in the context of my school district – means having equal access to all classes i.e., honor classes, AP courses, etc. and representation, at all staff levels, of people of color and other underrepresented classes.

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

•In the future, for homebound students could continue utilizing remote learning.
•One of the silver linings during this pandemic is that virtual learning and connection was leveraged and perfected to meet the needs of our students.
•As we veer into the new century of technological and informational advancement, we know that remote learning can help reach students and facilitate and supplement all kinds of learning. Mastery of this forum is very important now and will be even more so in the future to meet the needs and expectations of societal standard.

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

There are many options to increase parental and care giver involvement, such as gathering information via surveys, transparent sharing of information and being intentional about the time and place of meetings to accommodate all interested attendees.

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

I do not have any top financial supporters for my campaign at this time.

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

Priorities/Goals, if elected:
•Protecting the health and safety of our students and staff during this era of COVID-19;
•Narrowing the achievement gap,
•Promoting more diversity, equity and inclusion within our schools.

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

Priorities/Goals at a state level, I will address, if elected:
•Increase funding for Special Education;
•Reduction in the number of charter schools;
•Making universal Pre-K an option for all 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?

Challenges:
•Funding cuts
•Assessing children at various levels of progress following months of irregular learning
•Mental health issues
There is not a definite answer on how to address the reopening of schools, but what remains a clear objective is keeping our community safe. If elected, I look forward to working with the fellow board members to resolute a contingency plan of action.

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

Priorities:
•Increasing mental health resources after COVID
•Hiring more trained mental health professionals in all school building
•Increasing funding for personal protective equipment

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

•We need teacher feedback to ensure that any and all tests are measuring what they purport to measure;
•Reviewing the overly restrictive 3rd grade reading law. This law was passed by the state legislature in 2016. This law requires all Michigan third grade students not scoring proficient on the third-grade state assessment to be retained if they are one or more grade levels behind in reading at the end of third grade. The state department of education granted a waiver of testing mandates amid the pandemic for 2019-2020 school year. However, the federal Secretary of Education has no intention of waiving the testing requirement again for the 2020-21 school year. It is not in the best interest of parents, teachers, staff or administration to retain young children. This can affect a student’s self-esteem as well as impact their future, such as their ability to have careers in various demanding industries. Pre COVID, my district has addressed the literacy issue by placing students into smaller groups based on their reading levels. For students needing more instruction, teachers are supported and able to commit more time to aid in the mastery of grade level reading. If elected, I will continue to support implementing learning tools that address differentiation among different learning abilities.

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 – Less initiative fluctuation and more mastery of math skills by committing to one curricular program for a substantial period.
•Increasing transparency in both the positive and negative outcomes.

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

•Reinforcing positive behaviors and decision making
•Focusing on social and emotional learning
•Validating the personal challenges every individual faces.

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

•Continuing Restorative Practices training for staff, students and parents. This training focuses on building favorable relationships while managing/reducing conflict. By shifting to a community building mindset, we repair, rather than punish, and restore the entire community.

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

•Coordinating the needs of special education within the general education setting;
•Increasing funding of this grossly underfunded sector of public education.
•Increasing more general education awareness and training, including departments like transportation and co-curricular coaches and staff.

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

I believe Bloomfield Hills Schools should be intentional in creating policy and programs that support the diverse make up of our community. Hiring, class selection, honors, teams, and all areas of academia should reflect the entire community. We need to change narrative of disenfranchisement. Our district needs to have annual training on anti-racism within our schools, communities, and organizations. Dialogue should be encouraged through role play, via presentations and participations.

Any other information you want to include or share?

My prior education and experience as a mentor, tutor, and elementary school teacher brought me to the realization that our young people are our future. Since my community desires a healthy, educated, caring and connected community, it is my goal to use my platform on school board to help facilitate a community for all students that prepares them to become leaders in their own communities one day.