October 6, 2020

Samuel Oh

Pronouns:He/him
School District:Birmingham City School District
City:Birmingham

How long have you lived in your district?

8 years

Have you received any endorsements?

No

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

From 2019-2020, both my elementary sons were victims of racism at school that went unabated. Ironically, at the time my son’s Kindergarten class was more than 40% minority, 2/3 of those Asian-American. However, there are no Asian principals, superintendents, or Board of Education members in the BPS system. Nothing ever changes without numbers and representation at the highest levels, not just tokenism. Leadership needs to reflect today’s reality of class diversity to purposefully defend equality.

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

To me, education justice means that all children are treated equally and afforded an opportunity to succeed. In the context of the Birmingham School District, this would mean accurate racial representation at the executive leadership levels.

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

A technology device would be in the hands of every student, regardless of their economic status. This would allow for us to pivot between on premise and virtual school models depending on the health climate. It would also provide the foundational technology skills that are needed in this digital era.

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

I would advocate for more public surveys on major decisions. After conducted, these surveys would require an action plan if more than a pre-determined percentage of the community desires a certain result. I would also propose the creation of a high school student association that would represent their peers and having a voting voice in key decisions. This would not only give our students a voice but also teach them how to become a voting member of society that practices civic duty.

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

There are no financial supporters for my campaign. I have no political agenda and only care for what makes sense for our schools and children.

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

Firstly, recent events have shown that Birmingham Public Schools is woefully ill prepared for the technology future. When COVID-19 first hit, virtual learning was an embarrassment. Even now, glitches persist, hindering our students’ education and putting Michigan’s schools further at risk of falling behind in national rankings. I would champion for an immediate technology revamp.

Second, the public school systems need to be laser-focused on growing population density. As the public schools have to increasingly compete with private schools, I would advocate for purposeful and strategic steps to achieve population density. If not, our local school districts will become a diminishing asset, over-staffed and underfunded.

Finally, executive school leadership and oversight has to proportionally reflect the reality of the incoming student body – 50% women, minority representation, etc. If elected I would look to correct this underrepresentation in our district.

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

I believe that school finance should be the top priority at the state level. Without proper funding and financial management, none of the other priorities can be properly addressed. Next, school safety is paramount during this COVID pandemic time. Finally, the state should focus on teaching quality. Michigan has been declining in test rankings of late and focus needs to be placed to ensure high quality education for our 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?

While establishing clear guidelines and safety protocols can be done, enforcing these may be challenging in a time when people’s beliefs and opinions on how to combat the virus differ. The schools must be united in fighting the pandemic, taking best practices and procedures that have been proven successful in hospitals and corporations.

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

The school district needs to focus on technology – tablets, laptops, and high quality software and applications. We also need to spend to create safe social distancing and a sanitary learning environment. This is also a time when many of our families are financially challenged. Therefore our district should spend less time on fundraising and focus more on cost savings measures.

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

Standardized test should remain – otherwise benchmarking is not possible. However, we also need supplemental measurement methods as well. Not all students are good test takers and intelligence has many dimensions.

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?

Ironically, data has shown that by focusing more on math and reading, this has actually caused our educational level decline versus improving it. Rudimentary reading and math skills will not develop reading comprehension. Our students need to go back to spending more time learning about science, history, and the arts. A deep and wide knowledge base is required as a foundation for reading comprehension. This will also improve student engagement as they can explore and discover what they are interested in. I would suggest establishing a reading program where our students choose and explore from a carefully teacher-curated option of books. By implementing this program by virtually incorporating technology, we can enable instantaneous choice. As for what I would keep the same would be testing and grading.

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

The school absolutely has responsibility in this. It should be a two pronged approached. We should weave healthy thought processes and techniques in managing life’s challenges into the curriculum. Our teachers should also be caring for the whole student, emotionally, mentally, and educationally. This way we can get ahead of a potential problem before it occurs. The second prong should be making available appropriate counseling for both students and staff. Partnering with local health institutions could also provide alternative avenues for subsidized professional behavioral health.

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

All incidents need to be recorded and documented, without exception. There is a tendency to brush off incidents to avoid conflict and correction. By making incidents public we enforce accountability and discourage deviance thus promoting a safer environment.

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

We need to strive towards maximum enrollment for our schools so that we can adequately fund our special education programs. As previously mentioned, this requires population density.

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

Technology is the great equalizer. I can not stress its importance. In today’s digital age, by providing adequate technology to each student we provide the same foundation for educational success.

Any other information you want to include or share?

With my family moving Birmingham in 2013, I consider myself more a recent resident. I have no political agenda and only care for what makes sense for our schools and children. With my corporate background and family of teachers, professors, veterans, healthcare professionals, and technology executives, I hope to bring new perspective, positive change, and tap into valuable best-case practices from other successful industries.