October 14, 2020

Sarah Marie Jones

Pronouns: she/her
School District:Pennfield School District
City: Battle Creek

How long have you lived in your district?

17 years

Have you received any endorsements?

no

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I am running for this position because I am a stakeholder in multiple areas and I would bring a new perspective to the board. First and foremost I am a parent. I want my children to go to school in a district that is making good decisions that will help in their growth and development.
Secondly, I am an educator and I am familiar with how schools run and best practices for teaching and learning. It can be very frustrating to watch educational decisions being made by people who don’t truly understand the educational system. Too often people outside of schools go by the media portrayal of what is happening within the schools rather than what is actually happening. I understand that there can sometimes be a disconnect between the board of education, administrators and teachers. I think I could be a bridge in that gap as I would have understanding from both sides.
I believe the board should be transparent in their actions and board members should be approachable. As a mom, a teacher, and a person who cares about the community, I would be an approachable member. My grandfather was a school board member in a neighboring district many years ago. I fondly remember how proud he was to serve in that role and make an impact in the community. I desire to make a difference like he did.

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

Education justice means looking at equitable practices and making changes to long standing policies that are not best for students. In the context of Pennfield, this might be looking at culturally responsive practices since the demographics of the district have changed in recent years.

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

The biggest takeaway we can have from this experience is that it is not solely the job of the school to educate children. It takes a collaboration between the school and familles. As a teacher, I have worked and communicated with families more than ever during the pandemic and this has been so beneficial to myself and my students. Going forward, I would like to see parents be more involved in the everyday happenings of teaching and learning. I would like to see educators working more closely to communicate with families to show what learning is taking place and how it is happening. I also hope that there will be a greater pubic respect for teachers and the work they do to connect with students they care about so much.

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

Parents, students and families are important stakeholders that we need to acknowledge in major decision making. We need to hear from them. Surveys are a great way of collecting data, but if we make decisions without reviewing that data, we are not doing them any favors. Parents, students and families need to feel like their voice is heard. This might also look like having representation from these groups on committees before decisions are reached. It may also be as simple as making sure they are comfortable reaching out to members of the school board others in charge of decision making. Sometimes it should even be a town hall meeting or a phone call where their actual voice can be heard.

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

N/A

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

1. Better Communication overall 2. Improvements to teaching and learning through professional development and resource allocation 3. Adapting and updating to a changing world

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

1. Funding for education 2. Changes to testing 3. Placing a greater priority on education

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?

Right now the biggest challenge that COVID is presenting is how to proceed with education. Some want all the kids back in school, some think virtual is better. While everyone has their reasons for each side, the truth is there is still a lot of unknowns with this virus. As we proceed, schools must keep kids safe, but they must also continue the best teaching and learning for kids. Schools must keep on top of all of the new developments and be flexible to shift as needed. This may mean taking safety measures to get kids back in the buildings but pulling back to virtual learning if there is a threat to student or staff safety.

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

The top budget priorities should be two fold this year. First schools need to prioritize what they need to maintain a safe environment in a COVID world. There need to be changes to account for social distancing and new cleaning practices. Secondly, we need to fund resources and staff that can support students have not had optimal learning during the off site learning. This might include intervention staff to work with students who slid back during their absence from the school building. This might be investing in digital resources so students can have optimal learning if they do need to be away from the building.
In this time I would say that cuts should be looked at any place that there would not be a direct impact to kids. This could be administrative positions, it could be looking at resources that we will not need as much of. Even things like paper will be used less now that we have gone more digital.

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

Standardized tests are intended to keep schools accountable. They are a measure of student learning so we know if the school is doing a good job with teaching and learning. What they actually are, is a huge disruption to learning during the entire month of April and a great source of stress for teacher and students. Still, we do not have a choice in participating. Pennfield should really analyze all the data they receive from the test to inform teaching and learning. They should look beyond the percent of students proficient and really dig into the standards that kids are missing so adjustments can be made.

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 believe the district needs to do some forward movement with curriculum. They are embracing technology and moving forward in some ways, but I am still seeing some very old practices that wouldn’t be considered best practices for developing higher order thinking and authentic learning. For example, my son made a diorama in his English class. I think I heard it best in grad school when my professor asked, “When in your adult life have you ever finished a really good book and thought to yourself, I really want to make a diorama now?”.
I know there are areas that not like this. There are teachers that are doing some great authentic teaching and learning. I would just like to see it spread district wide.

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

I believe that the responsibility of mental health and emotional well being is more important than ever for the school. Social and Emotional learning should be a part of the school and there should be resources for staff and students that need extra support. It doesn’t have to fall solely on the school. It may just means having connections with outside agencies to get students and staff the support that they need.

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

I am a strong believer in PBIS (positive behavior intervention supports). I have done a lot of learning around this and have seen the research that supports this being a more successful model for changing behaviors. Constant suspensions and removal of a student from the learning environment are a temporary fix to a problem. Working with a student on what is causing the behaviors and teaching them to manage and regulate them is much more impactful. This is not to say that there is never a time when immediate removal is necessary for student safety, but in most cases, PBIS should be how the work is done.

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

Special Education is a very important piece in schools. Public schools have the task of educating all students and all students do not learn the same or have the same needs. Special Education students deserve access to the curriculum that all the general education students get with the proper accomodations in place for them to reach that curriculum. The goals of their IEPs should be taken seriously and they should be set in a way that would stretch the student to maximize his/her potential.

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

Pennfield is now a much more diverse district than it was when my husband graduated over 20 years ago. It is more racially diverse and it is more socio economically diverse as well. I think that training needs to come from the top down. Staff and teachers could really benefit from things like “Culturally Responsive Teaching” training. You need to understand people who aren’t like you in order to best teach people who aren’t like you.

Any other information you want to include or share?