October 4, 2020

Wendie Dillehay

Pronouns:She/Her
School DistrictFlushing Community Schools
City:Flushing

How long have you lived in your district?

Currently 5 years, however all together it would be 13 years.

Have you received any endorsements?

no

Are you an incumbent?

No

Why do you want to be a school board member?

I want to bring a progressive approach to the board. I have been working in several districts as a guest teacher. I have seen the disconnect between administration and real world classrooms. I would stand on the side of the teachers and faculty who work with the students to make sure their voices are heard at the board level. There needs to be a voice on the board for curriculum changes to include proper history of the US in regards to race relations. I have a passion for supporting LGBTQ kiddos. My son had an unpleasant experience in the Flushing schools at the hands of administration, I want to ensure no other student suffers due to lack of knowledge on best practices for our LGBTQ students. I also want to make sure that all of our students with IEPs (Individual Education Plan) or special needs are given the best support possible with the most highly trained people. We in Flushing need fresh, innovation to uplift the district and be fully on the right side of history moving forward.

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

Education Justice is a very important issue across Michigan. Ensuring all children have the best education regardless of tax base and revenues for the schools. Flushing is not a fully affluent community however, it is not a disparaged area either. This district is one of the highest in tax revenue in Genesee County. The focus put on having innovative and comprehensive curriculum is strong. The resources given to teachers to met the needs of all of the students could be improved. The students who are struggling, at times do not have the resources available as quickly as should be to help them not to fall behind. This needs to be carried out at a faster rate. One area where all of our students have been given a disservice of education is the area of race relations in the US. Flushing schools needs to develop an age appropriate curriculum that focuses on the true history whether it sheds a bad light or not, of America. By not teaching our youth the systemic oppression carried out towards minorities in the US we are failing them in their ability to fully understand and make change going forward in their lives.

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

This question is quite hard to answer without variables being addressed. One thing I would like to see is a system where focus is never placed on perfect attendance. Perfect attendance as a reward often places pressure on students and families to show up for class whether they are feeling well or not. We need to refocus the approach from an, “I pushed through and went anyway even when I didn’t feel great.” To an approach of, “I didn’t feel well and I made the decision to look out for my peers/coworkers and stayed home.” Yes, attendance is important however the focus on perfection needs to be addressed. Having a system that offers an online check in to record attendance would be a way in which students could be counted when not feeling well and this would not endanger others. To not impact low income, uninsured families there could be a parental/guardian log in to confirm in higher grades the student is not “skipping” school rather than a doctor’s note. If then a child does not log in or parent/guardian does not confirm then that student could be marked down. As we are providing wifi and at home devices now continuing that protocol for wifi or device services for all low income/disadvantaged families would be continued. In order to support the health of all students and faculty moving forward. I know this answer barely touches on one policy however, there is too much that needs to be addressed in this question to give a comprehensive answer.

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

It is clear that having input from those impacted by decisions for the schools should be noted. The system now is set up for input to be given however, many times parents, students, and families sit idle and do not give direct input. It is a fine line walking as many of those not on the inside of policy and financial decisions are not educated in ways which would be helpful when giving their advice. Poling could be a potential system in which hot button topics could gain feedback in a constructive way. Taking in the responses and looking at a majority opinion and seeing if there is a way to implement the changes that the community is requesting.

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

I have only support from my friends, and family at this time. Community support has been growing as well.

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

Top three would be to create a curriculum addressing the white washing of American History at age appropriate grade levels, create a faster way to implement IEPs for children who are in need of additional resources and provide highly qualified individuals to work with these students, and comprehensive diversity training for all faculty that interacts with students.

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

Again I would say it is crucial to address the disparity between the truth of American History and what is taught. Our next generation can not fully understand and move forward to make change if we have failed them in their education.

Allow Deaf and Hard of Hearing students a direct path to Michigan School For the Deaf (MSD) before they have failed out of mainstream schools. Keeping a child in a mainstream school is not the least restrictive path to education when they are Deaf. Interpreter or not they do not gain social skills and do not learn to read and process English in a mainstream school. Children going into MSD after having to fail out of mainstream schools has already set them back. They are behind in every aspect of their development by the time they reach the doors of MSD then the state says they are below reading level and can’t learn properly. These children deserve the right to go to a school that specializes in their first language American Sign Language and in their culture. They are not impaired they use a different language and until that is addressed we will continue to fail them and then blame them for failing out of mainstream schools as if they are broken.

At a state level education justice has to be imperative. We see children move from one district to another next door to one another and are already behind due to lack of resources in the first district. We already know that socioeconomic factors impact children at home. Those factors along with a lower tax base only set these children up for failure. The system of education based off income only continues the cycle of systemic poverty in this state; under-education leads to lower income which then leads to under-education and lower income. This cycle can not be changed and educational justice can not be found until this system is changed. As much love and strength our teacher put into this system they can not solely save these children and fix this broken system.

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?

Having a comprehensive plan is crucial. A plan that can relate to real world classrooms is imperative. Accommodating all parents requests will be very difficult. As I run my campaign I am hearing from parents on both sides of the debate, desperate to have their kids in classrooms and also desperate to keep them home. Having a system in play to allow some students access to in-person learning will eventually have to be viable. Not only for the sake of education but also for the well being of many children who are being neglected and abused at home. The economic, covid, life stress and long hours being around children can create more abuse at home. The amount of time required on the computer for our youngest K-3 is unbelievable. Whomever decided that a kindergartner could sit at a screen for 5+ hours a day has never taught a kindergartner. If we continue with online classes we need to asses age appropriate expectations. I would like to see smaller class sizes and a larger hybrid system. I understand the schematics would be difficult to configure however, it needs to be done. At this time I am working as a premier guest teacher in a neighboring district and the struggle is real when it comes to social distancing. The teachers in the hybrid classrooms are teaching two different grades at the same time and this is not sustainable. Some of the classrooms have 30 children in them all day five days a week and this is not practical for social distancing. Having a system in Flushing to set teachers up for success with in-person and hybrid is crucial. Restructuring may be the future of public education. Having more educators to take on more load. The money needs to come from somewhere, I understand that this would take some digging deep and planning like never before it needs to happen. It will be a long time before face to face all day with hundreds of kids passing one another in the halls will be common place again.

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

Currently making sure all students can continue have free wifi and computers is a priority. The option to work from home needs to be available for quite some time moving forward. As I understand sports and arts are crucial to development of children’s brains, Flushing needs to work on pathways to success for our most vulnerable students. Flushing needs to give teachers the tools needed to make their children successful in the classroom. Too often even in Flushing, I see teachers buying out of their modest salaries, tools they need for the classroom.

Teachers need diversity training provided by the district. Diversity across the board, race, gender, sexual identity, family dynamics, elitist mentality, are all things that need to be addressed. I see teachers saying “boys and girls” and “your parents-or mom and dad” these are not meant to be isolating however, to a child who is non-binary or a child without parents or with two dads, etc. these things are very isolating. I would like to see training for them so that they can learn how to best fit with all their students.

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

Children learn at their own pace and in their own ways. Standardized testing is ineffective and frustrating at best. Our teachers should not be penalized if a student’s scores are not where the government assumes they should be. Managing those children who are struggling is where the most impact will be felt. Curriculum mandates a certain level to follow to see if children are in need of more challenging work or if they are in need of support. If we can give more resources to our struggling students it will lessen the strain of the classroom teacher and all students will thrive organically.

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 stated before, it is imperative we address the white washing of American History. Flushing schools are vastly white across the board from faculty to students. Education is the fruit of life and these children are being malnourished at our hands. If we do not teach age appropriate and comprehensive true history how will our white youth understand the plight of another, recognize their privilege and make change? As for the few black students coming into this district, it is crucial they understand the systemic racism and oppression that has been holding the black community at bay for centuries and most recently decades. They need to not believe the white washed lies that after desegregation the black community has just been lazy, unmotivated, etc because there were no barriers. They need to know about Tulsa, Red lining, The GI Bill etc. They need to know the real situation along with their white peers so they can all learn and make change for their futures.

I would also like to have gender and sex as a integrated part into health class. Gender is separate from biological sex and it is time that it is taught to our youth. This misnomer that they are the same and sex defines gender this needs to be rectified moving forward. Allowing a space for a Gay Straight Alliance club and support for our LGBTQ kiddos is so important for them to formulate a positive self image. Teaching that there is a spectrum of gender at an age appropriate level is so imperative. Diversity in the curriculum to allow teachers to read stories of families with two dads or moms, stories about kids living who they are even if that is a boy who loves glitter and sparkles. That gender is a social construct and it is absolutely ok to be who you are. Kids are going through things internally because they are shamed, all due to the fact people don’t understand, teachers don’t understand. If we can work towards raising our next generation to understand the shame and guilt within these kids will go away, as they will be accepted for who they are with no prejudice.

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

Self care is crucial. I think we should have a network of support for all staff as well as students. Making resources available to students has been something Flushing has been fairly good at providing. Making resources to faculty has not been a priority. Mental health care in insurance at no extra cost, a monthly or biweekly class on self care with focus on particular topics each session, a mentor program, all of these would be nice. We all know that self care, less stress and stress management produce better employees. I think the district has to play large role in this.

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

Reducing the school to prison pipeline is important across the board. As with this being a more affluent district there are not as many actions that need harsh discipline. However, if we have proper diversity training and more of an effort to find the reasons our kids are acting out we will have less need for discipline. At times there may be a need for a harsher form of discipline, however if we can find the root cause (again this comes back to the resources that teachers and faculty need to have) we can break down this need immensely.
Having a strong atmosphere from a young age that different doesn’t mean bad will also help. Teaching that picking on others will only bring you down. Teaching that if someone pushes your buttons to the point that you hit them, they have won. Teaching how to become a positive, and productive adult when they move on into the world is our goal. If we can recognize the warning signs and find the root cause and treat them with understanding and kindness we can make changes. Once a child is habitually in “trouble” the will to do better is broken. There is no incentive to achieve and be their best self anymore. We need to lift our children up not make them dig deeper down.

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

Flushing needs to make sure that there are properly trained staff working with our special needs children. Resource rooms are often understaffed and unequipped for working with the diversity of special needs students. Paraprofessionals are often untrained for working with our most vulnerable students, which then leads to ineffective education for the students. Paying for highly trained paraprofessionals to assist with the needs of the special education teachers is paramount in the success of these children. When we pay a basic wage for someone to work with our special needs children they are getting basic help.
I also believe there needs to be a faster path to determining what the needs are for the children who need an IEP. Assessing the specific needs and working quickly to address them is crucial to their development.
I understand that Deaf and Hard of Hearing students fall under the umbrella of special needs and accommodations under the ADA. However, if Flushing has a student who falls under this category, it should be paramount to educate the parents on the choice of the Michigan School for the Deaf as a best alternative to mainstream education. When a mainstream school does not have a Deaf Education Department they can not fully match this child’s best need. If then the parent is pressing for mainstream education then the school has to provide the absolute best practice to try to match this child’s needs. Which would include a Deaf advocate, an interpreter which is qualified to interpret at the educational level of the student, the interpreter must be involved in all IEP meetings not as the role of the interpreter but as part of the teaching team and a separate Deaf education instructor to work with the child as needed to ensure this child is doing as best they can in a mainstream school. The way the system is set up now, the parents have to fight to have their child transferred to MSD. They have to first prove their child is failing in mainstream. Why is this? This is simply about money and ego. The focus should be on the least restrictive environment and to place a child who is Deaf in an all hearing world everyday is extremely restrictive.

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

Equity definitely needs to be addressed in this district as it pertains to our lower income families. There are small programs to help with extra curricular activities however, they are not enough. I will use my own situation as an example if I may. I was newly divorced and my son was in the 8th grade in Flushing. I was living with my disabled mother and had basically nothing to my name at the time. I didn’t want to have my son miss the opportunity to go on the DC trip. It was going to be roughly $900 plus any spending money. I applied for the grant they had set up. I was heart broken when the grant came back to only cover $159.00. I begged, borrowed, and pleaded to find the remainder of the money for my son to be able to go on this trip. The equitable thing would have been to endure that all children could go on this trip regardless of income. However, Flushing schools do not do that. They have an assumption that all families have the means and do not need assistance greater than a few pennies thrown one’s way. This is true with music programs, sports, etc. If a child doesn’t have the means to play, whether that is transportation, money, parental time, etc that student just can not participate. This income gap has to be addressed.

Any other information you want to include or share?

I have a passion for several things with regards to my running for school board. Those specific goals do not detour from the fact that I will work for the teachers. I have stated I am a guest teacher. I will admit I do not know exactly what it is to be in their shoes but, I listen and I see. I listen when I hear the complaints in the staff lounge, the frustration they feel as their hands become tied by bureaucracy. I see the struggle with the very obvious disconnect from the top down. I want to be a voice on the board for them. I may have specific goals as I said and some of those would require training at times, however that training is to set them up to be able to give all of their students the safest, most successful place possible to be.