This is not a very pleasant time for public education. The pressures on schools are immense both financially and politically. Why do you want to be on the school board at this time?
Cicero, a respected Roman philosopher and commentator on civics, is known to have observed that "it is the character of a brave and resolute man not to be ruffled by adversity and not to desert his post." Under this premise, I am asking for your votes toward my re-election to serve on the TCAPS Board of Education. Our district needs strong leadership and experience now more than ever to guide us through this tenuous period. I am choosing to rise to that challenge, to meet those needs, and to bring about positive changes for our schools. There are no easy answers to our current problems, and there is much work to be done. But I will not turn my back on our community and our kids in these desperate times.
What is the primary role of the school board and its members?
The nature of most any organization's leadership defines the nature of the organization overall. For that reason, the leadership provided by TCAPS School Board members has a substantial impact. The role of the superintendent is to manage the district, while the role of the school board is oversight. Our community has entrusted me and the other School Board members with a considerable charge: to represent the families of this community and see that sound choices are made to provide our kids with the best education possible. I do not take this lightly; I know that I serve as your liaison, to render decisions and take action on your behalf, in the interest of our children's education. Trust is a wholly virtuous attribute; leaders in government are scrutinized heavily, and rightfully so, as they truly are entrusted with important roles. I will continue to ask for your trust, so that I can help this district move forward and fulfill the promise of a quality education for our kids.
How do you identify a good school or school system? What are the indicators of success?
School districts often are judged by test scores these days. Other measures include graduation rates, college enrollment numbers, and parent "report cards". Granted, these are all indicators of success, but do they apply to all students? Some students never go to college. Yet others enroll in college, attend for a while, and then drop out. It would be useful to know how successful TCAPS has been in outfitting these students for a successful life, including employment. Good school districts consist of students, parents, staff members, and administrators striving to reach agreed upon goals. These goals need to be broad enough to reflect the needs of all students, regardless of ability or socioeconomic status. Simply, a successful school system advocates for and seeks to prepare all students for adulthood, both college-bound or and non-college-bound.
Evaluate TCAPS by the criteria you just described.
Our state government currently believes that all students should attend college to be successful. This way of thinking has driven recent, significant changes to the state's graduation requirements. Consequently, TCAPS has been forced to change its offered curriculum, and now, students are not so readily able to pursue a technical education as they once were. This is not the fault of the district; it is a reality that has been imposed on us by Lansing. As a result, I am very concerned that many non-college-bound students may not stay in school. It is costly to do follow-up survey of students. As a result, though we now receive actual college enrollment numbers, we do not receive data on the number of students that actually graduate from college, what happens to those who do not graduate from college, nor the fate of those who never enroll in college. So we cannot accurately evaluate TCAPS' ultimate success until we know how successful our graduates are. Nevertheless, I feel that what our board can and must do is to advocate for all types of students by working with policy-makers in Lansing to institute graduation requirements that ensure equity and parity among all students.
Government officials in Lansing and Washington D.C. constantly talk about reform. Do you think TCAPS needs to be reformed? How?
If the budget shortfall occurs as predicted, TCAPS indeed will need to make some fundamental changes to the entire system. As we implement these changes, we must be mindful to remain within the parameters of the state requirements for curriculum, instructional minutes, staffing credentials, calendar, and a host of other functional areas. I believe the community should have considerable input into these changes. The current Budget Advisory Task Force, which I helped to organize through an ad hoc committee, is currently addressing possible short-term reductions. What needs to occur is a rebuilding of the entire system from the ground up with a much leaner format. Toward achieving this, the community needs to have a voice to express what areas residents feel is important to retain and what they could bear to lose. No one really knows what our students will be facing as they mature, but we do know that change is taking place at an unprecedented rate. Therefore, we need to infuse flexibility into future plans.
Do you think TCAPS has strong leadership? Explain where you see leadership failing or succeeding?
These are very challenging times for school leaders. Our local administration has been very proactive in lobbying to obtain more equitable funding for all school districts in Michigan, as currently there is a huge disparity among schools around the state. The fact is, TCAPS receives the lowest funding from the state yet delivers a very high-quality education to its students, as demonstrated when comparing our MEAP and other test scores to those of other districts. Our finances are very well handled as shown by our AAA bond rating and annual financial audits. Despite the current dismal economic picture, TCAPS has managed our millage monies in a manner that enables the promised rebuilding of schools, purchase of needed musical instruments, updating of vital technology, improvements to parking, and school safety among other capital projects. These millage monies may not be spent for staff wages, benefits, books, supplies, fuel, or other annual operating costs. So, as operating costs continue to climb, the disparity in funding becomes an ever more important issue to address. Out leadership team is cognizant of these challenges, and will continue to implement measures to sustain our quality of education in the face of tough economic times.
How do you stay informed about education and what is happening with schools in Michigan and Traverse City?
I read materials from the State Department of Education, the newsletters sent out by each TCAPS school, the daily announcements sent out by our public relations department, and the daily newsletter sent by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The "ASCD SmartBrief" contains information on new developments in education from around the entire nation. I have been reading this on a daily basis for more than ten years, including several of my teaching years. It has given me a perspective on national trends and best practices in education. I also read Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce news, local newspapers, and a weekly national news magazine. As important, if not more so, I make continuous efforts to stay connected and responsive to local families, administration, staff members, and other stakeholders in our community's educational system. I think it is essential that each board member become informed on the issues within our own district that drive policy decisions at the board level. This dialog is imperative, because my job is to represent you, the public.
How well has TCAPS responded to the competition of charter schools in the area?
Some parents opt for charter schools for their perceived benefits to students. TCAPS has worked hard to determine what parents believe they offer that is perceived TCAPS does not. In fact, the MEAP scores of Traverse City Area Public Schools students are higher, and we have comparable class sizes. Further, TCAPS offers transportation, and our entire teaching staff is rated "highly qualified" by state standards. Our schools have continuously upgraded technology. We have a well-regarded Talented and Gifted program, and award-winning fine arts programs, Advanced Placement programs (some of which will now earn college credits), on-line classes, and numerous other programs that charter schools are not all able to offer. Some parents are wary of large school districts, fearing their children could be lost in the numbers. TCAPS is aware of this perception and is working very hard to personalize each child's educational experience. Our leadership team and our staff members live in this community, too; we all want the very best for our students. This is our principle, to always "reach higher."
TCAPS will likely have to make deep cuts in the years ahead. What would you most like to protect from cuts?
I would like to save everything we currently offer, but in reality, we have tough choices to make. I feel strongly that transportation should continue to be offered to students. One assurance parents have had is that students can ride on well-maintained buses operated by highly-trained drivers. In the past, high school transportation was eliminated, and as a result, high school enrollment declined. While special provision was made for public transportation, it did not meet the needs of students, and ultimately, school transportation resumed. TCAPS recently has purchased a new computerized routing system which promises to bring savings to the district. We very recently had an in-depth analysis of this department conducted by an independent transportation consultant, the results of which reveal ways to substantially reduce our costs. TCAPS offers award-winning fine arts programs and popular sports programs. Advanced placement classes increase in number, as do on-line class offerings. These all are assets to our school system. It will be the task of future planning groups to determine what the community holds most dear. I encourage your input into this process, so that my fellow board members and I make decisions that reflect the needs of local residents.