October 6, 2020

Sarah Prescott

Pronouns:She/Her
School District:Northville Public School District
City:Northville

How long have you lived in your district?

14 years

Have you received any endorsements?

Yes, Northville’s teachers via the NEA and Northville Democrats

Are you an incumbent?

Yes

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I ran originally because my areas of legal specialty and professional practice (employment law and civil rights) substantially overlap with the areas in which School Districts most often make legal errors and are sued. If that happens, it is because someone asserts they were injured or treated unjustly, and it means that the District will spend time and money to resolve the matter. I had represented teachers, administrators, families/students in such suits repeatedly involving other Districts. I didn’t want our District to make the errors in the first place. I also saw other schools getting terrible legal advice, therefore prolonging the pain and cost of the suits. I wanted to insert myself as a sophisticated consumer of that sort of advice, to avoid waste and protect our people and budgets.

Now, 4 years later, with Covid-19 on the scene, these issues are even more pressing. We are re-building education from the ground up. That entails the possibility of many mistakes, errors of judgment or miscommunications that lead to legal problems. Again, under those legal problems are potential harms to kids, families or staff. I want to help us continue to focus on our core mission of educating our kids without falling prey to these sorts of issues.

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

Education justice to me refers to the just and fair access to a quality education regardless of disability, race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, gender identity, weight, height, exercise of fundamental civil rights or other legally protected category. It also refers to such access regardless of resources, as I believe socio-economic factors are or ought to be as compelling as these other categories.

Within our District, attention to education justice requires attention to issues such as equality of access to education (especially given Covid 19); proper training and enforcement of policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment; attention to discipline and disparities in discipline across gender or race; favoring restorative justice practices over suspension; ensuring Title IX, ADA and IDEA compliance; hiring and advancing diverse educators; promoting inclusion and celebrating diversity.

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

If I had a magic wand, school would run year round. This would give time for more outdoor time and some attention to practical life skills, taught age appropriately. We would have fewer standardized tests. Teachers would make more and be regarded as professionals. Funding would be equal across Districts.

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

Parents should be Board of Education members, and they should attend Board of Education meetings. They should (and do) staff committees such as our curriculum review committee. They should advocate and be heard. They should be surveyed for hot button issues and solicited for input and feedback. In short, the community should have oversight over the education of our kids, both because we are taxpayers and we are guardians of our children.

Students can help us better understand the experience of education through feedback as well. Currently we host live student panels to talk with our Board and exit interviews of departing seniors. We also hear from students at many (perhaps most) School Board meetings.

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

I decided to self-fund my campaign so I could answer questions like this by saying, no one.

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

1. We need to get past Covid 19 and get kids returned to school safely. Judging and carrying out this transition will be a major challenge.

2. I’d like to see us re-examine our language education K-8. It is not best practice to teach young kids a language 1x/week for 45 minutes. If I could have my way, we would also look to developing an immersion program/offering.

3. We need to continue to improve differentiation in education — the opportunity for kids to work at their level of challenge, with teachers separating them into smaller units to tailor their lessons. Many kids “in the middle” especially need more attention and specific guidance at their correct level.

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

1. Our educational funding system has not been revisited for decades. It is time to re-examine the system. There is no excuse for capping what Districts can receive (as Northville is capped) while other Districts receive and spend much more on their students. A student in Northville is not worth less than a student in Farmington Hills or Bloomfield.

2. The MEAP test was replaced by MSTEP, which has been a mess. We don’t get the scores fast enough to use them. Worse, it hasn’t had enough format stability to actually be useful as a year-to-year comparison (i.e. to assess student growth). The state mandates that students spend their time on a test that has basically not been perfected. I’d love to see this situation improved.

3. Without quality teachers, we cannot run quality schools. This state needs to really consider recent legal changes that have very arguably made it less attractive to become a teacher in Michigan. We face upcoming teacher shortages, and we need to be proactive in addressing why.

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?

The number of challenges is seemingly infinite. As each “onion layer” is peeled back, the next issue presents itself. The issues touch operations, transportation, finance, curriculum, staffing/personnel management, community relations and many more categories. The issues around kids with special needs alone could fill up many paragraphs here.

Excellent, reliable, and timely communication is fundamental in any public health emergency. We certainly need to continue our mask mandate, continue to teach and lean on handwashing, continue to embrace, train and require at-home screening as our first line of defense. We should have a robust campaign for flu shots. We must continue our work to keep kids as distanced as possible, and faithfully use barriers in the classroom between students. Teachers need to be encouraged to stay home when sick and we need to work with them on leave policies. This is an infinitely difficult issue because leave creates the possibility of understaffing.

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

Our budgets are built out for years to come, and I believe they are well done. 70%+ goes to salaries and benefits of our teachers. We have one of the lowest percentages of overhead for non-direct educational costs of any District in the State. But all that said, my priorities are:

1. Direct education costs (ex. teacher salaries, books, lights)
2. Maintenance of capital assets (ex. stitch-in-time expenditures)
3. Bus and education technology maintenance and scheduled upgrades
4. Social support costs (ex. social workers, nurse, counselling staff)
5. Administration costs (ex. principals, superintendent staff, training)
6. “Other” operations (ex. custodial, grounds, maintenance)

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

Our test schedule is state mandated. So if we assume that we must take all the tests the state requires, then the key is to put the test data to good use. That involves careful analysis kid-by-kid, as timely as possible — then pivoting to teaching what the kids need to know.

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?

As noted above, the greatest need is to re-examine our language education K-8. It is not best practice to teach young kids a language 1x/week for 45 minutes. If I could have my way, we would also look to developing an immersion program/offering.

There are many aspects of our curriculum to keep the same. We have a successful ALPS program and Academic Resources in the middle school. We recently added courses in Mandarin and Orchestra. We’ve added AP classes, such as AP Statistics. Our IB program sets our District apart from others. Our band program is award winning. Our AP scores in a large host of offerings are at the top in the State, as are our SAT scores.

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

School is the place where many students spend most of their waking hours during the school year. As such, it needs to be a place of calm and mental balance for our kids. We have an obligation to support emotional wellbeing, just like we support kids who need help with food or health services.

A school district cannot act alone, however. Mental health is a subject that addresses the whole person, and a whole person has a wider community. For that reason, in this past year I have supported (and the District has adopted) a plan to work with community partners in this area. We have convened subcommittees of this panel to address public health and diversity equity and inclusion. Northville Youth Assistance (NYA) is another resource supported by our School District. It provides mentoring, counseling, and social and academic support. Finally, we have recently sought and partnered with organizations to win grants to address grief and train on trauma-informed care.

All of these programs require sustained support and dedication. These issues are too difficult and sensitive to be solved with fleeting attention.

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

The American Psychological Association convened a task force to analyze different forms of discipline and spent many years studying the issue, using peer reviewed data. It concluded that many schools’ policies failed to do what they were designed to do, i.e., making schools safer. In fact, the study found that some approaches, such as “zero-tolerance policies” potentially worsened student outcomes and safety. As reflected above, I support a transition to restorative justice practices in which students are held accountable for the harm they have done without generating cycles of further harm. I am not a pushover or a softy. I think, on the contrary, kids need to face consequences of their actions while they are kids — and before the stakes of the criminal justice system loom over them. But I think that peer pressure, counselling, and restorative community-building are in the long run the best way to achieve both corrective opportunity and educational opportunity.

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

I think that we need to focus on our self-contained classrooms and ensure that Cooke School students have all the resources they need. But my greatest worry is for the high-functioning students with special needs, who are largely integrated into the general education environment. These students need extremely careful attention and guidance, to ensure that they are not left behind or socially isolated. This is especially true during the Covid-19 era.

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

Probably no one is against equity. Probably everyone says “equity is good and important,” at least I hope so.

I guess what I would add to such sentiments is that I have a lifelong demonstrated dedication to issues of justice and equity. I went to Harvard Law School, where 99% of my classmates went to Wall Street or huge law firms to practice. I instead became a civil rights lawyer and started working for regular people who had few resources. I have worked for police officers, waitresses, mail carriers, court clerks, and teachers. I have worked repeatedly for students with special needs. I have worked for sexually abused youth prisoners. I have dedicated time pro bono to a State Bar committee whose mission is serving the poor. I have also staffed Michigan’s Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission for 7 years, another voluntary position. In 2020 I taught a course on discrimination at UM’s law school.

Equity and social justice are my demonstrated life values.

Any other information you want to include or share?

My website is at northvilleschoolboard.org. I ask you for your vote November 3.