AAPS Board of Education Candidate Interviews: 12/9/16

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education candidate interviews (December 9, 2016): Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk Dr.

8:59 AM Vice President Christine Stead explains the purpose of the meeting is to conduct interviews of the six candidates who expressed interest and submitted applications for the open AAPS Board of Education seat, recently vacated by Donna Lasinski. CTN will broadcast the interviews, beginning tonight.

Stead says they received a lot of great questions from community. Parliamentarian Simone Lightfoot and Secretary Andy Thomas were designated to take all suggestions and come up with a list of questions. Each trustee will ask one question; candidates will have five minutes to answer. The trustee who asked the question can ask follow-up questions during the five minutes.

At the conclusion of their interview, each candidate is given a topic prompt, which they will need to address at the next regular board meeting on December 14 [ Forsythe Middle School, 7:00 PM]. The candidates will each have three minutes to present. They may use PowerPoint to assist in their presentations. The prompt: “Tell us why we should pick you to fill this vacancy.”

Trustees present: Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Andy Thomas, Patricia Manley, Christine Stead. Trustees-elect Jeff Gaynor and Harmony Mitchell are both in the audience.

HUNTER VAN VALKENBURGH (9:00 AM)

Lightfoot: What do you see as the role of a school board member?

Van Valkenburgh: Charged with making sure students get best education, given the budget. Also need to make sure we are fair to our employees, and that the needs and the voices of the community are heard.

L : How do you see that role as it relates to the Superintendent and the cabinet?

V: They are going to be the ones to implement the policies of the board. Board’s role to make sure the policies line up with what the voters ask for.

Baskett: Want are some of the challenges facing our district, and how could you help our district meet those challenges?

V: Budget, especially in the past seven years, especially with the hostile legislature in Lansing. General movement of forcing public schools to do more with less. Educate students well and treat employees well.

B: How can you help our district meet this challenge?

V: When making a budget, try to balance out the needs of various employee groups, make sure the students are getting the services needed. Need to allocate things fairly. Should be a more cooperative, collaborative system.

B: On a local level, our community talks to us, and has brought forward concerns to us. One of which has been a request to establish a policy around prevailing wages. What should we do about this, and how can you help?

V: We should have a prevailing wage policy. We don’t want contractors to take advantage of exploited labor. School district circulates money into the community.

Manley: What would be your highest priority on the Board of Education?

V: In terms of what policies to address first? Excessive standardized testing – would like to look at existing regime of testing we have. Evaluate them for validity and effectiveness. Give students more opportunity to learn in class. “You don’t make a cow grow by weighing it.” When 12 hours of tests are done per year, that’s time students could be learning.

M: So what would you suggest or have you thought about, how the district would evaluate overall success of our students?

V: M-STEP is required. Could look at combination of M-STEP results and other measures of success. Look at graduation rates, GPAs.

M: Do you think the M-STEP will find out what each individual student needs to find where the students who are not at the higher level?

V: Student-teacher relationship is key for determining those. If the student load is not excessive for teachers, they will have the time to address each indidiviual need.

M: How would you respond to the mandated tests?

V: We can reduce the amount of testing for data’s sake that is being imposed within the teaching regime we already have.

Thomas: Already addressed some of this, but as a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers? 

V: Right of students to a good education is a primary right. Those who are charged with transporting, feeding, educating are given a fair voice. Parents deserve a greater voice in front of the board. Would like to see time for actual dialogue added to the board by-lawas.

T: Diversity within our community, certain schools, PTOs, parent groups are very “well heeled,” have lots of access, are well organized. Others in the district are less prepared to do this. How would you ensure that these groups who are not as well represented received their due from the public schools?

V: If a community was not doing well because of low SEO or low resources, we would be able to identify those areas that are not doing well, and would be able to rectify that. Could possibly lower class sizes for those schools.

T: Any other issues where there are some trade-offs where there would need to be decisions made, given a fixed pot of money.

V: Always making trade-offs. Every time we set the budget, and if the legislature makes more cuts, the sacrifices should be made by those who are making the most.

T: Some of the issues we went through three years ago, we had a packed board room advocating on behalf of theatre programs, but not a packed room of people advocating for kids who need reading intervention. Would be interested in how you think we ensure we do the right thing for all students?

V: Tough call, but reading assistance would have to take a higher precedence over almost anything else. If there is a parental group who is strongly advocating for a program, they could be asked to put their money where their mouth is.

T: If parents have to kick in money for fees for band, field trips, etc, what would be your approach for students whose parents can’t do that?

V: Scholarships available. Would need to look at the budget.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? Think about it comprehensively as how a trustee would think about it all year long. There’s the budget time, but then what trustees do all year.

V: Schools are already very good. We have a good system, we can look at what works and keep that going. Can be constantly examining if the budget we set working throughout the year. Examine if the money was spent wisely. Need feedback from various constiutencies. Solicit feedback form the employees to see where they find waste.

S: August 18, Allen experienced a massive flood when a water main broke. Something that happened. In the meantime, we have had to do several things in parallel. Needed to keep the Allen community together, and welcome all students to our district. Real improvement opportunity at one building and try to maintain our programming. What would you do in that example by maintaining?

V: MLive comments – some question if it’s worth improving Allen versus repairing. Would want to make sure all of our buildings are careful inspected. Would like to see each building had an accessible cut off valve. Literal maintenance of the buildings are important.

Stead: Last question is for you to ask us. Do you have any questions you would like to ask the Board?

V: I don’t really. I’ve been following the stories. Two campaigns of trying to get on the board. Hope people know where I stand by now. I hope you take a variety of things into consideration. We are all in this together, we all want the same things.

B: I don’t know where you stand re: later high school start time. Any suggestions re: processes we should follow, what would be things we should consider.

V: Research shows teenagers need more sleep. If no other factors to consider, we should move to later start times. But there are other factors: athletics, transportation. District should see if it can be done, and should do if possible.

B: How?

V: Model it. Start with a hypothetical 8:30 start time and see if transportation schedules can be adjusted. Survey parents of athletes. Go to the community to try to make it happen. Balancing two seemingly impossible needs. Need to cue from consituencies: parents and students.

Stead: Thank you. Osinski will hand you the presentation topic for Wednesday. Each candidate is getting the same thing. Welcome to prepare material with you, presentation, etc. Begin Wednesday evening first thing. Selection process, whoever wins will be seated and expected to act as a trustee, with voting privileges.

REBECCA JACOBSEN (9:35 AM)

Lightfoot: What do you see as the role of a school board member?

Jacobsen: We’ve seen the role of the school board changing. Increasing state and federal regulations. School board job to think about what is best for our community. As a board member, link between schools, teachers, parents, students, and legislature. How can we best accommodate what we are being asked.

L: how do you see the role of superintendent?

J: The board is set up to be the voice of the people. Superintendent might not have deep knowledge of the community. It’s important for the board to act as the liaison between the community and the Superintendent. Important to act as advocate for students and community.

L: Role of engaging community and media?

J: Engagement with the public is super important. Ever increasing amount of attention on education, increasing data. In Michigan, poor job of communicating the excellence of our education. Has studied as a professor of education, the report card for Michigan education is abysmal. Important for us to be able to translate those policies and put them into real terms for our constituents. Why we’re making the decisions we are, speaking to all of our population. Important we reach out and be active in reaching the populations who might not have the time or knowledge to know who to contact.

Baskett: Want are some of the challenges facing our district, and how could you help our district meet those challenges?

J: Financial challenges, schools of choice. Concerned with new federal administration and what that will do for school choice. Whether we like it or not, we are in an environment where students are receiving quality education but that parents see that. Not just for the dollars but for their support. In an era where we face challenges around what it means to be a good school. Not just good test scores. Not all that our citizens want out of our schools. Balance test scores and maintain our focus on the whole child. How do we communicate to our students this is equally important, even though it’s not on the test.

B: Articulated the challenges, but how would you help us meet those challenges?

J: Background in education policy. How do we measure a good school. What are other indicators we can show to demostrate our success. Lots of room to grow in that area. Our students are not just safe, they feel welcome and known in a school. Important especially for students on the margin. Ways we can gather that data and communicate it – more powerful than bar graphs and numbers. Can bring the deep knowledge of how to ask those questions, how to measure.

B: Community has demanded prevailing wage, later school start time. How can you address?

J: One of my strengths is the ability to analyze problems from multiple perspectives. Start time: consequences to those decisions. If we jus too quickly to conclusions, what does that mean for students who need to work, for parents who need to coordinate multiple pickups. Our job to help parents broaden their view, and understand our perspective is for all students, all schools. Need to work with parents to help them understand why we might come to a decision that is contrary to what they like.

Manley: What would be your highest priority on the Board of Education?

J: Thinking about other indicators of good schooling. Not talking about more testing. A lot of information we can gather about good schooling, not only to demonstrated what we’re doing, but to keep the focus on that. Very concerned we are narrowing the purpose of our schooling to reading and math scores. Many things we can be looking at to keep eye on whole school, whole child development.

M: Why is this your priority?

J: Fundamental to what public schooling is. If you lose that focus, we do disservice to citizens and our democracy ultimately. Sounds lofty, but concerned that students aren’t being prepared for the world. Concerned that if we don’t keep our eye on that, easy for certain groups of people to only get reading and math. If that’s the only thing we hold ourselves accountable, some students get a very different education.

M: With all decisions that are coming out of the state that puts pressure on the school boards, how do you see being able to accomplish this?

J: Certainly things we need to respond to, and the State can keep continuing to surprise us. Important to be that voice that doesn’t quit saying it; otherwise it will fall off the agenda. Need to keep it on our own agenda. Having someone on the board who focuses on this is important.

M: What research have you done that you see would be a great way of indicating good schools?

J: working with a district outside of Boston, similar to Ann Arbor. Have done lots of focus groups with parents, listening to what they want form their schools. Implemented a system where we asked questions via cell phones, asking students if they’re engaged, if they feel known. Questions asked to teachers to determine if they felt supported. Look outside of school data, such as national health data. A lot more out there – if we’re creative and know where to look.

Thomas: As a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers? 

J: One of the biggest challenges of the board, because they sit at the nexus of all those groups. Similar to when I was teaching and a parent would come in, speaking on behalf of their child, and the teacher speaks on behalf of the classroom. Encourage groups to adopt wider perspective of community good. Takes effective communication, translating information by code switching. Ultimately, our responsibility to make best decision we can made collectively for all of our students. Anticipate some of the concerns and address to the extent possible. At the end of the day, live with some people being upset with us.

T: One of the issues trustees frequently face, three years, significant budget cuts, some groups have stronger voices than others. Not proportionate to their concerns. Example: drama program cuts versus reading intervention specialists. How would you handle the competing groups of people?

J: Sometimes we wait for people to come to us, I think sometimes we need to go to them. Boston research, Latina moms said no one has asked us this before. On our us to be able to do that because we are representing everyone. There is a role to think about not just number of voices, but the significance of the impact. Conflict is never easy. Maybe talking to the media to explain the why.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? 

J: Look very carefully at the long term impact of privatization. Looks good in the short run, but long run turns out not to be the deal they thought they were getting. As a researcher, look at other districts, look at how studies may or may not translate to our population.

S: $2.2M reduction to make. One of the options was to move custodial services to a private model, which would. In order for trustees to save that amount of money in another way, 200 teachers would have needed to be fired. Expand on your approach?

J: Can you say what you mean about “my approach”? – Looking at long term ramifications, community impact. All of the groups who work – custodial, food service, transportation – these people are our parents, too. When privatized, sometimes job quality is not as good. Balance the needs and what is the best option. I tend to be skeptical of privatization. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to support it if it is the best solution. I’m going to be cautious. It is not just about the bottom line, as schools are community.

S: Won’t have the opinion of every community member.

J: Foster mom who has just recently adopted my kiddos. Worked in Harlem as a teacher. I have experiences that might help me see from other perspectives. My kids are on Medicaid. While I don’t know it, and I don’t claim to know it, it’s important to ask. Think about those populations who might not speak up.

Stead: Last question is for you to ask us. Do you have any questions you would like to ask the Board?

J: What are you looking for? How do you all work together? What kind of balance are you looking to achieve here?

T: Speaking as someone who is shortly leaving the board, the dynamics of how board members work is very critical. Board has been diverse, has reflected a lot of different points of view. Common element: priority that whatever decisions we make are going to be in best interest of students. I’m looking for someone who will put the needs of students first.

M: Would like to add that as a board, we have to agree to disagree. We’re not all going to see it the same way, but we need to be willing to listen intently and sometimes compromise and sometimes not. Need to understand

J: Increasingly boards are becoming politicized. 5-4 split, etc. Sees that as divisive. Not someone who says I’m never going to cross the aisle. I hope that’s the functioning of the board.

JESSICA KELLY (10:10 AM)

Lightfoot: What do you see as the role of a school board member?

Kelly: A person who needs to find balance of obligations to all stakeholders in the district. Obligation to students, families, community, teachers, maintenance, transportation. Board has obligation to community at large. Property values depend on schools in the area. Provide checks and balances with one another. Make sure we work together to see the district as a whole. Finding balance.

L: role of board member as it relates to superintendent and cabinet?

K: Making sure superintendent is a good fit for district. Providing guidance for what her role is in the district. Strategic planning. Making sure there is a good understanding what each person’s job is. Clear separation of duties.

L: role of trustee as it relates to advocacy at state level?

K: Background as special education advocate. I don’t work in the district, but I have children in the district. Many of my jobs have been in a role of an advocate. Maternity care or advocate for students in other districts. The work of assisting, making space for the voice of those for who you advocate. Jobs I’ve done would be a continuation of advocacy work I’ve done. Advocate for the district when federal, state legislature. District as a whole for whom the trustees advocate.

Baskett: Want are some of the challenges facing our district, and how could you help our district meet those challenges?

K: Challenges are both known and unknown. Concerns about challenges that may come down from federal level. Have witnessed challenges from state level. Local challenge, when you have a very vocal segment of the public who wants something specific from the board and the board has to balance between district priorities.

B: Expand on the local.

K: Challenge of third grade reading law that the state has recently passed. As someone who has worked with special education population, I have specific ideas. don’t be reactionary, but facing challenge head-on. More local than state?

B: How can you help the challenges?

K: Post secondary education creditor. My role was to understand the regulations, then translate it for the population. My role would be to take expertise in understanding regulations, then being able to figure out how to match. Not an attorney, but I have a law degree. I can’t provide legal guidance, but I have training in reading regulation and giving me understanding in how to meet those regulations. Teacher evaluation: meeting the regulations, but not stepping so far that we meet animosity from the teachers. Doing what is required.

Manley: What would be your highest priority on the Board of Education?

K: I have three children in the district. Obvious answer: the students. Ultimately, that’s the mission of a school district. My priority is making sure all the students in the district get what they need. the district has been doing a great job in starting to close the achievement gap.  Doing a better job of closing achievement gap between students of different ethnic backgrounds, and SEOs. Special education gaps have not begun to close. Failing that particular segment of students could put the district in a vulnerable position, given the federal regulations. Short answer: students. Answer, given my background: closing the special education achievement gap.

M: Have you done the research on how special education students are achieving better?

K: Number one factor: teachers in the student’s classroom. Highly qualified teachers. Something like 80% of students who qualify for special education have dyslexia. Schools don’t diagnose, but science tells us that’s what’s usually the case. There are some districts that identify students early on and remediate it early on. We know that when we address the problem early on, it almost fixes itself. We can address it much earlier. The science is in our corner. Obviously, there are students in the system who do not have dyslexia. We can spend not more money, but smarter money.

Thomas: As a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers? 

K: A big question, there’s a lot of that. There are loud voices, there are voices that show up at meetings, they make phone calls. I’m not worried we won’t hear them. I’m worried about those who won’t show up because they don’t have childcare or are working second shift. we need to make space and amplify those quieter voices. Once everyone has been heard, and we’ve reached out to find those quieter voices, sometimes those groups might state conflicting interests, but while there’s no silver bullet, there can be a solution that makes many parties happy. Highly qualified teachers are the first line – need to treat them as professionals and make sure we are engaging with them in that manner.

T: How would be your approach as a school board member when you need to make the tough decisions? Budget cuts – reducing funding for drama versus eliminating reading intervention specialists. Loud voices from theatre, very few from reading.

K: A boring answer, but I think your priorities come from finding the core of what you need graduates to come away from. Need to turn out a productive graduate, that that belly is full first. Not that the drama program shouldn’t get a bite, or that art and field trips shouldn’t. That’s when it comes down to the character and the strength of the trustees to make sure they’re being good representatives.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? 

K: Afraid it’s going to be a bigger problem. Want to commend this board re: the beautiful results of the most recent audit. Commendable. Concern and question is that some of the one time revenue – Roberto Clemente and library – I wonder if there is a plan in the future for back filling the revenue those filled. Making sure we are keeping that blaandnce budget is a real concern. Comes down to what are district priorities are being met. Deep dive into the budget. Going forward with some of the decisions that have been made recently, such as the most recent 2015 Bond allocations for playgrounds. Each school gets a certain amount, and some money is reserved. Continue what the board is doing.

S: Past couple years have done work to make sure the district can invest, as well. Suggestions for improvements?

K: Monday night, I was at Huron for STEAM expo. Getting a hands on experience with Project Lead the Way, Pathways a promising program, making sure the IB program is successful. Priority making sure those programs get what they need to continue. Starting something new without maintaining would be dangerous. Some of these programs are so new, they need to be polished and shaped. If someone gave me a piece of the budget, I would look at some of the models of early identification of special education needs and be more proactive with kindergartners.

Stead: Last question is for you to ask us. Do you have any questions you would like to ask the Board?

K: Curious about the availability for additional support for new trustees? MASB new trustee training begins  in the winter. Whose financial responsibility is it?

S: Two new trustees who can tell you about the fun orientation. There’s a few layers to that. One is a thorough orientation and the background within AAPS: basic reports ad intro to the cabinet. MASB does a nice bootcamp job. The district pays for that. Haven’t set much of a budget beyond that for trustees; however, we also haven’t said no. Ideally would cover those costs. Baskett and I are looking at national level courses that address the needs of a district likes AAPS.

K: With those one time revenue items, what’s next? What’s on the horizon? How will the district intend to make up the budget in future years?

Thomas: We do not have any more large tracts of property we can sell. We don’t have a deal with any group such as the library. When we received that, we decided to hold on to that money and place it into the fund equity balance. Wisdom of that proved itself with the Allen Elementary flood. Beyond what is available from General Fund budget, adding students brings in additional revenue. Most of that revenue comes from students who were previously enrolled in charter and private schools. Raising of millages and bond issues are one way.

BREAK 10:40-11:00 AM

STEVE NORTON (11:00 AM)

Lightfoot: What do you see as the role of a school board member?

Norton: serve as a representative of their community. ensure continued strength and quality of public schools the community has set up. Means board members have to be ready tomato decisions in lots of areas where they are not necessarily exprets. Ready to think independently. Remember the interests of their constituents: not just parents and parent groups, but anyone who has invested in the community. Feel strongly we’ve lost sight of the fact that the public schools belong to local communities. They’re not something that exists outside, but are the foundations of our communities we’ve built. One of the first acts of our new nation is to enact public education. One of the things I’ve been trying to do over the past several years is to remind citizens of our right to participate and the need to participate. More specific terms, board has to maintain balance of overseeing of professional staff and the interests of public are being protected. High wire act, I’ve watched you doing it and watched you doing it quite well. Ambassadors of school districts to other communities, keep people apprised of what’s happening in school district.

L: You mentioned communicating with people, and sharing the “but.” What is your answer when there is no answer that works.

N: Life must go on in some way. Schools must continue to educate students. Even if there’s no obvious, acceptable answer, the first responsibility is the think of an answer, and sometimes there is nothing you can do but figure out what is the thing that will do the least amount of damage. But not just do that and not find the way to push back to figure out what to do to fix the underlying. This board has faced a lot of these no-win situations. Not easy on anyone. Explain to community why there’s not a good answer. Remember that you need to go back and say that even though we accepted that poor answer, we will accept it again.

Baskett: Want are some of the challenges facing our district, and how could you help our district meet those challenges?

N: While I’m familiar with a lot of your work, there’s a lot I have to learn. Challenges I know about it, challenges I would learn about. Why I applied for this position and after the election. Happy Laskinski was successful in her bid. That same election showed conditions are not going to change. State Board Education had a potential of being a strong voice, now seems likely they will be neutralized in state wide debates. And most recent selection of Betsy DeVos, a strong advocate for private schools and vouchers, as the Secretary of Education. Because of the work I’ve been doing in Lansing, I know exactly what her priorities will be. They’ve been everything Ive been fighting against. Existential level: push to say it would be better if all education were handled by private entities. The very idea of community governed education is at stake. If its very legitimacy is at question, hard to get your community to help. More continuing obstacles and dilemmas that districts face – underfunding of schools. Rates of child poverty in Michigan have increased dramatically. Children who are living in poverty come to school with heavy weights around their ankles. Job of schools to work to remove those weights. Hard to fund those things when general funding is compromised. We’re going to continue to face these dilemmas and constraints.

Manley: What would be your highest priority on the Board of Education?

N: Because of my own background, one of the things I’m most interested is helping our community advocate for our schools and all schools. Areas of policy at the state level. We’re not alone, but we can’t make changes by ourselves. We need to find allies. I have had the opportunity to see how schools work on the inside, not as an educator, but as a parent advocate. Member of PTO Council. Extremely concerned about equity in public education. Not let bad law and bad legislation affect the quality of education we provide. Would work to try to expand the ability of our professional staff and educators rather than be led around by the nose by the legislation from Washington and Lansing.

M: You’ve talked about how you can be an advocate. I’d like to know why this is so important to you.

N: I’d have to start with my family. My father was a child of New England WASPs, and yet he and they were always committed to the idea that every American deserves an equal chance to benefit from what our country has to offer. My mother was a child of two immigrants from Greece. My grandfather chose to settle in Lafayette, IN because it was a college town. His top priorities were to get his children the best education possible. As I grew up, both my parents were always committed to the ideas that our public schools were the foundations of our communities. Public education and schools help shape what we are as a country. That role is central in maintaining both the quality  of the country and the freedom and democracy we enjoy. I share the values of which I was raised.

Thomas: As a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers?

N: Many of those are the same people. Some times were forget about that. The first thing any elected representative needs to do is be clear about what they stand for. At that point, always need to be ready to listen to your constituents. Need to figure out what courses are available that are in line with the values and priorities you hold and in the best interest of the school district. That means sometimes disappointing some people and explaining to them. It means listening to them, their fears and hopes. In the end, it’s not about finding a balance between all competing issues. When responsible for the education, the work that gets done is wise and intelligent for the future. Hopefully, you can help do that by listening to all the consitutents and engaging them in constructive conversation.

T: Appreciate your comments about the existential problem we have with public education.  Sometimes tough decisions between what you hope versus what is, like budget decisions we had to made about three years ago.

N: Watching that from the outside, never under the impression there was any easy way forward. You were asked to make impossible decisions. Have to be guided by your first principles, your values. Then you listen, especially to those who can speak to what would truly happen, the costs and benefits. Depending on the particular question, all you can do is make the best decision in the circumstances.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? Also, given time constraints, think about any questions you have to ask the Board. Include them in your response.

N: One of the things I think everyone, especially elected officials, should so is think of something that doesn’t require as many resources or the resources we tend to think of. You and Swift have been doing this – can we think of something different and worthwhile that hasn’t been done here before. Are there are ideas that would allow us to serve our students better that wouldn’t use up too many resources. My impression is that for a long time, public education in Michigan had been stable without a tremendous amount of pressure to rethink them. What has happened in the past few decades, there has been a dramatic contraction in resources available to schools. Boiled frog syndrome. Need to be constantly thinking of alternatives, of ways of perhaps changing the situation. Many school officials are accustomed to figuring out how to implement and comply with the rules, instead of thinking of the opportunities to change the rules.

N: If I were going to ask you one thing, what are the things you believe that the board needs right now? What are you looking for in a seventh board member?

Thomas: I’m looking for someone who is absolutely solid in favor or putting the interests of students first. That’s why we are here as a school board. That priority needs to be put higher than some of the competing issues coming in front of us.

Manley: I would think we are looking for someone who has ideas about things we haven’t thought about. Be willing to compromise and listen to each trustee’s individual take on the situation before moving forward.

REBECCA LAZARUS (11:35 AM)

Lightfoot: What do you believe the role of a trustee to be?

Lazarus: Sets the vision, establishes goal to establish student achievement. Establish policies to happen in the most efficient way. Place some accountability to make sure what we put in place is actually happening.

Lightfoot: How do you see that with superintendent and cabinet?

Lazarus: Board shouldn’t micromanage the superintendent.

Lightfoot: How do you see the role of the trustee as it relates to the community and to advocacy?

Lazarus: The board is in the position to go out to the community. You are in a unique position because you can go to the superintendent. Important that school board members build public will. Community has to understand what the role of the trustees actually are. Average person doesn’t know what school board trustee actually does. Need to do a better job in reaching out to community.

Baskett: Want are some of the challenges facing our district, and how could you help our district meet those challenges?

L: Locally, we are becoming a much larger community. We have to embrace those technologies that can expand students’ horizons. Need to give teachers and students access to those. We are facing issues of funding. How we spend out money is a big issue. Who are we contracting with, put into place accountability measures so we can determine we are receiving the services we expect. When you put your trust in a company to provide services, there is a relationship, but it should happen before. There should be measures in place.

B: What is your position, how could you help the district with evaluating setting a prevailing, or area standard wage?

L: I don’t want to sound as if I’m criticizing the district or the trustees. I don’t know all the details of what’s in your brains. That’s why it’s so important to help the public understand why the board makes some of the decisions that have been needed to be made. You have to be that voice to the public.

Manley: What would be your highest priority on the Board of Education?

L: High student achievement. If our students aren’t being prepared to be a valuable citizen in the workforce, we have failed as a district. Are my children going to have the resources to be productive after they graduate? We also want to be a leader, so we need to look at best practices, not just in United States, but globally. What is China doing where students are coming over at such a high level? Something happening in their school system that is allowing students to score well on standardized tests. Some Chinese expats are speaking just as well as you or I. We need to look into this.

M: Mentioned best practices and high achievement. What would be the one thing you feel would need to be implemented to bring this high achievement?

L: One of the other things I would like to focus on is improve quality of the facilities. The buildings are old, the funding has been scarce, but some of these things are average maintenance. My background is business – you have a certain understanding of how you need to balance your budget to maintain your facilities. I would love for the district to outfit each room with technology and furniture to create an environment of higher learning.

Thomas: As a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers? 

L: Easy question. Just kidding. Goes back to having a good relationship. Being that voice that unifies the community, students, admin, parents, unions. The media can sensationalize. I think if we can improve upon that relationship, it will improve the overall community.

T: Our school board has had to make some very hard decisions relating to budget items. Some members of community are very strong in being able to voice their concerns. Others have concerns that are no less valid, but who do not have that voice. What would be your approach to making tough budget decisions.

L: Need to gather all the facts. You utilize the research the district has available. The board has advantage of having diversity of backgrounds of each trustee. Individual skill sets from our industries. We can talk and realize there might be other solutions. We pull together as a board, bring our skill sets, that’s how you make the decision.

T: Some groups in our community who historically have come up on the short end of resources. Some communities in school district who have fewer resources for field trips. How would you advocate for those who have been disadvantaged.

L: When I was a child, we went on some serious field trips. We need to reach out to our community in a different way. There needs to be a relationship between foundation and non-profits. Need to ask for funding for those field trips. The corporate world is more apt to be generous to needs if they know exactly what we’re funding.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? 

L: The district has done a great job of increasing Fund Balance and increasing staff because of the bond. I don’t want to sound as if I’m criticizing because i don’t have all the facts. Facilities is an important thing. Increasing student achievement is at the forefront. More competition from charter and schools of choice. Need to make it clear we are the best choice out there.

S: You’ve mentioned you want to improve communications. If we’re embarking on a budget process where you had to weigh a certain amount of reductions, as a trustee we will often go to the community for a series of budget meetings, then our budget process is what it is. In terms of timing, what would be your approach to listening. You have to make a decision. What would be your approach in reconciling and getting to a decision? Expand on your approach of what you would do to get to a decision.

L: Unfortunately, the process you just described is the process. As a board member, before we get to that point, there are financial consultants, advisors. Need to look at best practices of maybe a smaller district by understanding how they dealt with budget cuts. You’re not going to get 100% of public behind you, but you need to have a good relationship with the community so when these decisions are on the table, the information that is shared with the community makes a little more sense.

Stead: Last question is for you to ask us. Do you have any questions you would like to ask the Board?

L: I want to understand the time you have. The amount of time you personally have to dedicate to school board to make it work. I see the schedule you have. How do you organize your schedule amongst all your personal needs?

Lightfoot: As a unit, we literally see the mission first. Being a trustee on the board is like being in a marriage. Have to work through honeymoon years, then challenge years, then smooth understanding. Have to be prepared for emergencies. Many of our lives have shaped around our service. Many of us just carve Wednesday out period – that’s the business of the board. It takes the commitment and the family that understands. Your willingness to adjust your life around the service.

Baskett: I’ve been on the board the longest. It’s true that it’s been ebb and flow. My time is different now that my son has graduated. It’s an intense professional job. Right now, I’m in a caretaker position for my mother and when I traveled, I’ve had the support of my colleagues. You have to look at what makes sense for you. This is not for everybody. It’s public service. If you’re on the board, we’ll support one another.

Lazarus: What are you looking for from a colleague?

S: I like Thomas’s response. We are looking froward to someone who focus is “students first.” If we can’t provide a good education for our students, we are not doing our work. We’re looking for another colleague who can deploy that filter for everything that comes our way. We have many adults who are vocal in this community. We’re looking for someone who takes students first as their top priority.

DEB MEXICOTTE (12:10 PM)

Lightfoot: How do you view your role as a trustee on the board?

Mexicotte: First and foremost, representative of the community. You are the liaison form the community to the board and to the administration. You are the liaison back to the community. Other roles you take on, you are a spokesperson and an advocate for traditional public education. Advocate to the district, to the state, nationally. You are the voice to the press. You are part of the countrywide consortium, representing Ann Arbor in that context. Incredibly important that you are thinking about all of these entities who need to hear about the schools, who need to hear about the challenges and the successes. I see that role of advocacy as being very important. The other role is of stewardship. AAPS has been in place for over 100 years. My time as a trustee is limited, but during that time, I’m picking up the mantle of all those people who came before me, hoping to leave the district better than when you found it. That we have moved the educational enterprise forward. I take those responsibilities very serious. Representative of the community, advocate, spokesperson of the district, steward.

Baskett: You know there are many challenges facing the district. We’ve been challenged by the community to talk about prevailing wage and later school start times. How do you help us as a district meet the challenges of the community?

M: Those are two you’ve outlined we’re currently discussing. There have been many issues the community has brought forward to us. When brought on Swift, there was a Listen and Learn tour. Out of that, came IB programme, increased world language. Having done forums prior to hiring Swift, not new items that had come forward. They had developed enough of a critical mass for us to dig in and look at them. The two items you described, Baskett, have reached that critical mass. It’s not as if we haven’t looked at prevailing wage or school start times. We were looking at start times and some of the research was still on both sides of the issues, we looked at the finances, we looked at how much the community seemed interested in the topic. We made some minor modifications where a student could start later, then use a 7th hour period. We improved 7th hour curriculum. We put that in place to see if students and families started to opt for that. Was that enough to take the pressure off that developing issue of later start times. That has now risen back to the top, we have new data, we are looking into it more deeply. That’s not to say we don’t receive a number of issues where we take the temperature of how the community feels. We might put some small measures in place. We take measured, incremental approach. When I first got on the board, they were looking at building a new high school. It wasn’t a new topic, but it was time to put it on the ballot. Some things emerge quickly from the community, and some take time.

Manley: Should you be seated on the board, what would be your highest priority?

Mex: My highest priority would be student achievement. One of the frustrations is that we don’t get to focus on it all the time. We have to focus on it when we can, and then we have to direct administration to focus on that. When I first got on the board, the achievement gap was a very concerning topic. It continues to be concerning topic. We had to look at discipline, early childhood education, counseling, curriculum, unconscious bias, eliminate taxes that we were being levied against students such as being tardy, access to technology. When I think of student achievement, I think o how you have to approach it from all of these different places. All of these places had to have focus for a significant amount of time. Student achievement and all of those pieces we put in place have worked to narrow the gap and have created a better environment across the board. We have to deal with budget, infrastructure, contracting. All of those areas, for me, are about student achievement.

Thomas: As a school board trustee, how would you balance the legitimate but sometimes competing concerns of students, parents, teachers, unions, community groups, and taxpayers?

M: That’s the role of the trustee – to balance all those constituencies. All of those constituencies want strong public schools. Some of those groups overlap, all of whom are intensely invested. They want the best for our students and they want to have the best environment in our community. You have to start with where your foundation is. My foundation: the absolutely best education for the students in AAPS. When I’m balancing constituency needs, I’m looking for inflection points of student achievement. While I may have a particular constituency need, I serve on a board with six other trustees. There’s a collaborative process of where we can agree. The job for me is what will bring us the best outcomes for students and balancing those constituency needs and our constraints to get that best outcome. Sometimes, it’s not always clear, which is why it’s good to have seven trustees. We have been able to maintain art, recess, and extracurriculars because we have always balanced.

T: Diverse community, some members don’t have as strong a voice as others. How would you approach the idea of leveling the playing field so everyone has their concerns address?

M: When you talk about having everyone getting their concerns addressed, it is our job to remember that we are hearing from those who are best resourced or able to come to a meeting at a certain day or time. That’s our job of every trustee that if we were, for instance, set up an online registration, we have access to that in other ways. If we were pushing out an initiative, we would go out into the community to explain. We have not always been good at this.

Stead: What would be your approach to maintaining and improving our schools in the face of very restrictive budgetary climate? 

M: When it comes to things such as infrastructure, we are looking for opportunities afforded to improve playgrounds, buildings, musical instruments. We are not allowed to go in front of the community to get money for operating costs. We have looked for how we can shift dollars. The bond we went out for recently did not raise anyone’s taxes by the dollar, because of increasing property values, without putting too much of an additional burden on the community. We are always on the lookout for those places where we can make a small improvement. We look for statewide consortiums for purchasing power or partnerships. When you look into the face of a child, you are looking into the face of the future. If you’re not thinking of the future then, you’re not thinking of the stewardship. Looking for additional partnership, additional dollar, additional curriculum standard.

Stead: Last question is for you to ask us. Do you have any questions you would like to ask the Board?

Mexicotte: I don’t know why, but I’m surprised by that. We had this opportunity to put candidates on the board in the past. I see many of my colleagues who were first appointed then continued to serve. The board has the opportunity to put on the board the person who will help them with what they see to do next. If you were going to articulate what you think needs to be done next, what would that be?

S: I’m looking for someone who is truly going to use a students first filter for every decision we make.

Manley: Equity and student disparity.

T: I would like to see a trustee who is committed to a continuation of the path we have taken over the past three years under Swift’s leadership. We’ve made tremendous progress, reflected by the growth of student numbers. We are headed in the right direction, and I don’t want to lose that momentum.

L: I’m interested in someone who can stand in a storm. Our country and education is going to face some storms we haven’t seen in a long time. I’m looking for someone who can stand for collective and sustained greater good. Will need to buck up and fight and be diplomatic.

B: We’ve served through the storms, through the craziness. I’m looking for all of the above. We’ll be a different board. It’s time for us to go through some self-reflection. My fear is that are we starting to look like “the crazy board.” I’m looking for someone who can reunite us with the community. We’ve lost the faith of the community at large. I’m looking for someone who can help us rebuild that trust, especially given the storms coming towards us.

PUBLIC COMMENTARY (12:45 PM) 

Barb Byers, district parent: Commend anyone who is motivated enough to want to serve on the board. We have built an outstanding district. We need board members who are experienced and who can work well together, especially given the storm coming. You all know what it is like to serve publicly. Each of you has probably felt that pressure. The board president has born the brunt of these attacks. Mexicotte has always put our district first. I feel she is the best person to work with you. Many people feel the same way, given that she had the next amount of people. I’m appalled by the personal attacks. It’s simply wrong that someone who has given so much time to our district. Mexicotte and you all have taken the heat. We have seen steady improvement in a constrained environment. Deb will best help us continue that by putting students needs first.

Suzanne Perkins, one of the chapter leaders of Start Schools Later: I want to thank Baskett for asking questions about later school start times. My personal impressions. I was heartened that several people on the board talked about putting students first. Van Valkenburgh mentioned a change to the bylaws which would allow for dialogue with the board. I support that. That’s why we put together the organization to have a greater voice. Our own research shows coaches aren’t worried about later start time. Their athletes need more sleep. Jacobsen raised after school work and sport schedules. Currently there are a lot of people who pay for after care. Just conjecture. It’s concerning to me that she mentioned that we are just loud parents, thinking of only our own kids. This isn’t about wanting later school start times because we are lazy parents. Later start times would matter to the most vulnerable. Kelly mentioned achievement gap. Happy with Norton’s response. Lazarus supports later school start times. Mexicotte talked about a liaison with the community. One of our concerns is that we weren’t being listened to by the board. She was the president of the board while we were bringing this in front of them.

Giedre Bowser, district parent: The AAPS community has already decided they don’t want Mexicotte on the board. I believe the community would be best served by someone with a new perspective.

Margaret Weiss: Thanks the board for all the work they do. Grateful to Swift. That said, I do have some serious issues re: the way the board has behaved. It seems as if all comes down to putting students first and money. I heard that increased enrollment could be equated with putting students first. Is our district after increasing students for the money or addressing what our students need. I could be consider a vocal parent. While some of the programs put in place are good, not necessarily the best. Haven’t put enough money into preschool programs. Secondly, I was in support of STEAM. What I don’t understand is the money that went into the Technology Fund, in place of classroom size. We have introduced IB during a time where we are fiscally constrained. I’m not opposed when we are fiscally constrained. forget about the fancy icing now, and when the skies are bluer, talk about them.

Mary Duerksen: I’d like to balance the public commentary from Wednesday’s regular meeting. Wrong to characterize the election results as being a referendum on Mexicotte. Mexicotte came in a close fourth. Leadership Mexicotte has shown over the past 13 years has provided a steady hand. Reminded of a recent presidential candidate who had things pulled from her extensive background. Please don’t let the noise you are hearing, which has  a focus on punishing a trustee for making difficult decisions.

Mike McGregor: You have six candidates who are qualified, some more or less. My sense is they are all good people. This was a difficult time to have a meeting, when not many people can take off the time. Could it have been done at night, you might have had a bigger audience. Please think about that going forward. Question: there are two people who are coming on the board in January. It seems to me that the voters have a say in the new people coming on. Will the trustees elect have a say? Will they be part of the deliberations? Will you be talking to each other in small groups?

Harmony Mitchell, trustee-elect: You have a big decision to make. I’m so grateful to the community for putting me there. One of the things I ran on was being a voice for the community. I appreciate Baskett raising the question about how the community was involved. It bothers me that I do not hear the community’s voice coming from the board. You owe the community the opportunity to speak to you. I’m going to definitely support the community I represent. I will take into consideration the community, the research, and my own personal beliefs. I’m going to make sure I’m doing my job as a trustee voted in by the community of Ann Arbor.

Stead clarifies the rest of the process. What’s next? Because the two new trustees are not active trustees, they will not be deliberating on the candidate selection process. They have no authority, as their positions haven’t started yet. Their terms begin January 1.

Thomas notes that the Performance Committee is meeting on 12/21 to discuss the issue of school start times. He says they are modifying their usual procedures a bit, given the amount of public interest. Will be held at the Courtyard Marriott, and there will be 10 minutes of public commentary in the beginning. At the end of the committee meeting, there will be about 20 minutes devoted to Q&A.

The Performance Committee, Baskett clarifies, is comprised of a few board members. She reminds the public that, by law, not all board members are allowed to attend. Trustees Manley, Lightfoot, and Thomas, along with the administration, will be present at the committee meeting. Baskett welcomes emails from the public regarding their input on the topic of school start times.

1:12 PM MEETING IS ADJOURNED


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