October 4, 2020

Richard Mukamal

Pronouns:He/Him
School DistrictFarmington Public School District
City:Farmington Hills

How long have you lived in your district?

26 years

Have you received any endorsements?

yes! I am endorsed by the Farmington MEA and the Community Equity Organization. I also have a growing list of endorsements from local public officials and colleagues.

Are you an incumbent?

Yes

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I want to help lead the transformation of our school district so that it provides educational excellence for all of our students in the 21st century. This will manifest itself in three significant ways. First, it will impact what and how we teach and assess our students. Second, it will impact how we operate as an organization through greater transparency with stakeholders and a collaborative approach between school board, administration and the union. Third, it will impact how we interact and treat one another and a diverse and inclusive community.

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

This is a new phrase for me, but the intent is not. I understand education justice to mean providing quality opportunities for all students to achieve their personal best in a positive and welcoming environment irrespective of their means. In our district we have an Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Inclusion to help support and lead initiatives that are consistent with educational justice.

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

I see the need for us to transform the culture of this district in three major areas. First, I’d like to see us look to educate our kids to be successful and productive citizens in the 21st century. We can’t do this using 20th century methods and assessments. Our students must learn core competencies rather than information which is readily available to anyone with internet access. We need to incorporate in our curriculum and assessments the following skills:

Critical thinking and problem solving
Collaboration across networks by peer led groups
Adaptability and agility
Initiative and entrepreneurship
Effective oral and written communications
Accessing and analyzing information
Curiosity and imagination

Second, we have already begun to transform how we operate as an educational organization. Every administrator must have clearly defined areas of responsibility, time sensitive goals and be held accountable for their results. Decision making should be based on objective metrics and not on political considerations. Our educators are our most important employee and they should be treated as such.

And third, we need to ensure that students and staff feel safe in an environment that embraces equity and inclusion, irrespective of a person’s race, religion or sexual identity. We are already working to address concerns expressed by several staff and students. We have reorganized central office to have an Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Inclusion and will be conducting an equity audit. This will assist us in developing a thoughtful strategic plan that will enable us to have the long term cultural change to which we all aspire.

I want our students to be excited to be in school and see it as a way to have the same curiosity that they naturally have at a young age. I want our teachers to remain excited about their careers and feel appreciated, supported and respected. I want them to have the tools they need. And I want our community to know that their school district is future focused, forward thinking and a place where families will want to live. I want our students and staff to feel safe and valued irrespective of their race, religion, culture or sexual identity. I want our community to feel that FPS is open, transparent and is a part of the community.

All of this requires leadership at the highest levels in the district and I believe I have the requisite skills and experience to have a strong positive influence on the district.

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

The strategic plan that we created a few years ago included considerable input from all stakeholders which included parents and students. As we move forward with our transformation, there will also be considerable input from parents, students and families as well. It is essential that these people are part of the process because the long term changes I seek cannot be done without their buy-in.

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

I have decided to self finance my campaign because these are very financially challenging times for so many families.

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

1. Teaching and assessing students based on critical success skills in addition to content.
2. Giving students the opportunity to control up to 25% of their educational time to work on topics/projects of interest to them within the context of curriculum requirements.
3. Expanding the definition of success to include CTE, internships and other practical and real world experiences as part of a student’s educational experience.

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

1. The minimization of standardized tests as a means of assessing the competency of our students.
2. The acceptance of teaching skills in addition to content such that it would be part of the assessment of qualified applicants to colleges and universities.
3. Additional funding consistent with the School Finance Research Collaborative.

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?

We are balancing the quality of education with keeping our staff and students healthy and safe. We have a very vocal group of parents who insist that our district return to in-person instruction immediately. They correctly describe the challenges of remote learning and its impact on their children’s mental health and socialization in addition to the quality of instruction. However, they seem to ignore how other stakeholders might be impacted. Our district has well thought plans and we plan a slow and gradual return to in person instruction. We have begun with special ed who require it and our preschool. We hope to have K-5 in hybrid learning in November with middle and high school in hybrid in January.

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

Since our revenues from non-bond sources only provides enough for daily operations, the priority is for staff salary and benefits as well as other classroom instruction expenses. My concern is that our revenues are insufficient to deal with the growing inequities that the COVID-19 situation is magnifying.

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

I think that standardized tests have a role but they should be completely reexamined within the context of my earlier answers.

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?

My priority would be to transform our curriculum and assessment as I have already outlined. I would also examine our curriculum through the lens of equity and inclusion to ensure that each topic area includes the contributions of our diverse country and world. In the case of social studies and history, there must be an accurate reflection of the treatment of our indigenous peoples and African Americans by European colonists. I would also include the contributions of these groups to the fine and performing arts.

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

Our district plays a vital role along with parents in supporting students’ mental health and well being. For staff, it is similar. School districts are in a position to identify potential problems early on and provide appropriate interventions, particularly in situations where the potential outcomes could possibly cause harm or injury to people.

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

Our district uses restorative practice as a means of dealing with student discipline along with a multi-tiered intervention depending on the type of behavior exhibited by students. I would like to see our district transform its culture so that our interactions with one another are respectful of individual differences and that there are confidential means of reporting problems without concern for potential reprisal.

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

My priority is to ensure that we are providing adequate support for each student in special education so that they have the resources they need to reach their potential.

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

This is a high priority for the district and for me personally. The inequities in our society are significant and profound. It is incumbent on us to do our part to create an educational experience for our students so that they are confident that they will be successful in their lives no matter what they choose to do.

Any other information you want to include or share?

My commitment to social justice and equity goes back many years. As a resident of Metro Detroit, I have long felt the need to assist underserved people, principally African Americans. Ten years ago, I began convincing the director of my community concert band and my friend of the need to help kids in Detroit. We spent two years researching and debating how best to do this. I came across an organization called El Sistema USA and attended a conference with him. This organization oversees and provides assistance to after school programs across the US in providing intensive music programs for underserved youth. Following the meeting I joined the board as Vice Chairman and led the strategic planning effort for this relatively new organization. At the same time, my friend and I co-founded Crescendo Detroit in the Dexter-Davison neighborhood in a church basement. Our program is music and dance centric, but it also provides literacy, social/emotional support and nutrition. I was Board Chairman and worked 30 hours per week for three years to get the program up and running.

My background also includes 18 years as a corporate manager and senior executive in Fortune 500 companies, a consultant specializing in strategic management and a non profit leader as describes above.