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?
The financial situation for Michigan's schools is indeed dire. At the same time, there has never been a more exciting period to be in education. As the education landscape shifts under our feet, great opportunity exists to examine traditional practices and innovate, experiment and infuse more flexibility into the system.
I entered education 34 years ago because I felt passionate about helping kids learn. I still do. First as a science teacher, then as a curriculum developer, professional developer, project manager and author, I worked to help students learn. Being a member of the school board has given me another meaningful way to support our kids' educational success (and the health of our community).
As a current board member, my priorities are to:
- Insulate the quality of classroom instruction from budget cuts as much as possible and support ongoing teacher professional development.
- Foster collaborative relationships based on trust, inside and outside the district.
- Seek new and better ways to do everything from busing to instruction and support innovation and experimentation.
For more on my background, experience, and views on education, go to: www.AppelforSchoolBoard.org. From there, you can access my education blog www.AppelCoreIdeas.blogspot.com and my campaign facebook page.
What is the primary role of the school board and its members?
We represent the community and its interest in preparing every child for a full and productive life. Our role is to insure that the status quo is never seen as "good enough" and to provide support and resources to district staff to continuously improve our services.
How do you identify a good school or school system? What are the indicators of success?
1. Are students receiving a high quality, well rounded education? Are engaged learners able to apply their knowledge in authentic ways?
2. Are students pursuing post-secondary education (e.g. community college, university, vocational school)?
3. Are student succeeding in post-secondary education and the world of work?
4. Do the working conditions of teachers support collaboration and inquiry about teaching and learning in the interest of raising student achievement?
Evaluate TCAPS by the criteria you just described.
1. Our students are taking advantage of the wealth of opportunities TCAPS offers. For example, over 50% of students in grades 6-12 are involved in our music programs and classes. Student enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses has spiked dramatically and the number of students passing their AP exams is very high. Reading Recovery and numerous effective programs for struggling learners are in place.
2. Just over 70% of TCAPS graduates go on to post-secondary education, right around the national average. Everybody at TCAPS is working hard to raise that percentage. The employment and income prospects for students with no more than a high school diploma are dim.
3. It is difficult to obtain data from colleges and universities on the success of TCAPS graduates in post-secondary education, and even more difficult to collect data on graduates' success in the work world.
4. TCAPS has made significant strides in supporting teacher collaboration and learning through professional learning communities. The recent contract signed with the teachers includes additional paid time for teachers to meet together and examine student work in order to improve teaching.
Government officials in Lansing and Washington D.C. constantly talk about reform. Do you think TCAPS needs to be reformed? How?
All school districts need to aggressively reach for the highest level of performance from staff and students. This year, TCAPS joined with TBAISD to submit a Re-imagine grant proposal to the Michigan Department of Education as part of an effort by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan to support districts ready to truly re-imagine schooling.
Do you think TCAPS has strong leadership? Explain where you see leadership failing or succeeding?
We need to strengthen the climate for collaboration and productive dialogue between district leadership, building leadership and teachers.
TCAPS has a committed district leadership team and a set of skilled building principals. I would like to see more leadership opportunities created for teachers. A teacher who wants to remain in the classroom and at the same time take on leadership responsibilities faces many challenges. We need to puzzle out how to help teachers who want to both teach and take on new roles in their school or the district.
How do you stay informed about education and what is happening with schools in Michigan and Traverse City?
I work full-time in education managing a number of projects at the Michigan Department of Education. For that work, I continually engage and apply educational research to real issues and problems. I also review the state and national popular and education press daily and I receive daily e-mail updates from the state legislature on proposed legislation related to schools. I attend and sometimes present at national conferences, as I will at a national teacher quality conference in Washington DC in late October. There, I will join a panel on my work with the Michigan Department of Education addressing the needs of English Language Learners (ELL).
How well has TCAPS responded to the competition of charter schools in the area?
Charter, parochial, private and home schools have dramatically changed the world in which public school systems live and compete. TCAPS works hard to offer the kind of quality, variety and depth that our families want. Montessori, Sci-Ma-Tech and our extraordinary music and drama programs are a few examples. Programs such as our award winning high school year book and newspaper classes give students the opportunity to learn and apply their skills in authentic ways.
Our size allows us to provide an extraordinary array of choices. But it also means we have to help students and families feel connected. Our middle and high schools are rolling out a number of programs such as small learning communities, neighborhoods, advisories and student-to-student mentor programs this year to do just that.
It's a competitive education environment and families have choices. We want to be the district of choice. We're always looking for new and better ways to attract and retain students. We need to develop programs that resonate with parents and kids.
Ideas such as an elementary math and science magnet school, high school semester internships in business and non-profits, cyber learning and a world language immersion program all need to be explored.
We need to examine how to make the "school walls" more permeable. We need to investigate awarding credit for real world activities such as performing in an Old Town Playhouse Production, singing in the NMC Chorus, participating on a non-district sports team or doing an internship in city government--activities not under the direction of the district. School districts do not necessarily have the sole franchise on learning and we have to figure out how to recognize out-of-school learning while maintaining high standards.
TCAPS will likely have to make deep cuts in the years ahead. What would you most like to protect from cuts?
To the extent possible, it's important to insulate the quality of instruction offered by TCAPS teachers and protect the richness of educational programs that our community expects. It will not be an easy task and it is likely that the severity of cuts needed in 2010-11 will impact all of us. In this difficult economic climate, strong, collaborative and informed board leadership is all the more critical.