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Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education

Overview

In preparation for the November 3 general election, Traverse Connect and the Traverse City Young Professionals (TCYP) would like to offer candidates the opportunity to provide information to our business community investors through online profiles.

Traverse Connect is the lead economic development organization for the Grand Traverse region and supports area businesses through a combination of business attraction and retention strategies, talent development efforts, and strategic coordination among partner agencies. We are focused on advancing the economic vitality of the Grand Traverse Region through the growth of family-sustaining careers. To this end, we serve the important role of sharing with the business community how candidates would advocate for issues important to our investors.

Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education candidates:

  • Josey Ballenger
  • Flournoy Humphreys
  • Michael N. Hurd
  • Jane Klegman
  • Jeff Leonhardt
  • Benjamin McGuire
  • Scott Newman-Bale

Candidates are seeking a 4-year term and voters may vote for not more than 3 candidates.

Candidate Profiles

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
​Through my relationships in the business and non-profit community, I understand the importance of a strong public school system to support our region’s quality of life, economic growth, property values, and the ability to attract and retain talent. In turn, public schools’ success depends, in part, on the support and partnership of the broader community. This is particularly true in challenging financial times, as we are facing now with flat K-12 funding and additional pandemic-related expenditures. But even in the best of times, TCAPS should maintain relationships with the business and non-profit community to leverage scarce resources and maximize value to our students. Given that most families choose to send their kids to public schools but have a wide range of choice, it is paramount that Traverse City has a strong district with a solid reputation to attract and retain not only outstanding educators but also medical staff (with Munson being our area’s largest employer), small business owners, and other employees across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. My own family is a prime example of this choice; in 2016, my husband got an offer to become the superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, while my job for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is telework-friendly (even pre-COVID). After doing our homework, and given our commitment to public schools, we chose TCAPS and are the proud parents of two elementary and middle school students.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
As a non-incumbent, I cannot comment or speculate on the TCAPS Board of Education’s relationship with the central office staff. However, based on my conversations with fellow parents, educators, and other community members, it is evident that there is considerable mistrust between the board and the community at large. Nonetheless, I believe that trust can be rebuilt, with time and with proper board governance, behavior, and fiscal responsibility in place. As a board member, I would demonstrate fairness, impartiality, and objectivity—and do the hard work it takes to gather and consider information from a broad range of sources before making a decision. I would apply my years of analytical and consensus-building experience with GAO and other board service, without a predetermined agenda or mindset. In addition, the community deserves to hear board members’ reasoning for their decisions during public meetings. I recognize that in most cases, no one outcome will satisfy all stakeholders, but a carefully considered and balanced approach—and communicating with the public our reasons for a given outcome—is essential in building credibility and trust. In addition, a high-functioning board demonstrates accountability, consensus-building, and inclusiveness, and I would help cultivate such a culture by focusing on results and treating my fellow board members, TCAPS staff, and the public with civility and respect. Furthermore, as a board member, I would encourage the Superintendent and central office staff to hold meetings with parents and the broader community—through town halls or community forums, on both sides of the district, a couple of times per year—to communicate TCAPS’ strengths, challenges, and plans to address those challenges. Better engagement and communication with the public would not only enhance the community’s understanding but also its ability to support TCAPS.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
Yes. My campaign slogan is “Classroom, Community, and Trust”—those are three critical elements that would make TCAPS even stronger. Regarding community and trust, which really go hand-in-hand, the board could play a bigger role in strengthening community engagement and communication. It all comes down to relationship-building, which takes time, commitment, and integrity. Even as a full-time working parent, I have invested hundreds of hours attending board meetings and building relationships with fellow parents, teachers, administrators, and other community members to understand our district’s strengths, challenges, and potential solutions—and I would continue to model that behavior as a board member. In addition to what I wrote in response to question (7), regular engagement between TCAPS’ central office and various community groups would build the public’s trust and advance the district’s and community’s mutual interests in providing the best possible service at the greatest value for our students and families. Furthermore, as I have stated during public comments at TCAPS board meetings, reinstating a second public comment period at the end of board meetings (as occurred prior to Jan. 2019) would enable the public to respond to the board’s deliberations and decisions at a given meeting—and allow the board to consider those comments in their ongoing deliberations. (Sometimes agenda items requiring board input span multiple board meetings, such as rebuilding our Montessori School.)

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
TCAPS’ mission statement is “We exist to educate,” and academic achievement is likely the first thing that prospective parents, educators, and other employees look at when considering whether to enroll their students in TCAPS or to pursue the job of their dreams in our area. However, classroom performance is only one piece of the puzzle that makes up a healthy school district. Other performance measures include (but are not limited to) the social-emotional well-being of our students, the morale of our teachers and staff, classroom size, the quality and breadth of the curriculum, the state of our finances, professional development opportunities, extra-curricular activities, our physical infrastructure, and the quality of our transportation and food services. Yet more indicators include TCAPS’ service to special-needs students, student attendance, graduation rate, staff attrition rate, standardized test scores, hiring practices, and anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. Establishing and reporting on a broad set of measures—and making that information easily accessible to the public—would demonstrate goal-setting and transparency and enable the community to better understand how our district is performing.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
Quite simply, a strong school system leads to a healthy community and vibrant economy. If our region wants to prosper and draw in top talent, then our schools need to be a priority. Talent in the workforce has choice not only statewide but also worldwide, and if there is turmoil in our school district, working parents may go elsewhere, lacking confidence that the district will provide their children with the necessary education for their success. Conversely, a strong school system with a solid reputation will lead to a competitive job market and help grow our region economically, as families will be drawn to our area and stay. Parents who are successful in their chosen field want to live in a community that provides their children the foundation for success in college, careers, and life. Also, it is important that we focus our efforts on all sectors of our economy and all students’ interests, whether they want to pursue college, an advanced degree, or vocational training and a skilled trade. Bottom line: Education creates opportunities, both for students and employers.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) facilitates programs like the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and Head Start, and there are several employer-sponsored and private providers of daycare for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. TCAPS also provides pre-school and pre-K programs. Nonetheless, there is a significant shortage of daycare in our region, exacerbated by COVID-related shutdowns. If TCAPS’ near-cancellation of its participation in the GSRP (geared toward at-risk pre-K students) in the summer of 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the community is ready and poised to help where there are gaps in the system—it was the nonprofit sector and other generous donors that saved TCAPS’ participation in the program for the 2020-21 school year. As the largest school district in our region, it is incumbent upon TCAPS to know where the gaps are and be part of the solution (such as incentivizing employer-sponsored daycare or advocating for more early childhood funding from the state), in partnership with the broader community, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. In the long-run, children who are not ready for kindergarten are less likely to succeed in school—which will end up costing TCAPS more down the road. As part of good governance, the board should always weigh the short- and long-term costs and benefits of any decision it makes—and avoid doing what is expedient or easy.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
There is no one-size-fits-all for the question of returning to in-person (face-to-face) instruction, as each family faces unique health, employment, and other circumstances. The good news is that TCAPS has given parents a lot of choice for both in-person and virtual learning. In addition, TCAPS is requiring students, teachers, and staff to wear masks, even though that is not a state requirement while we are in Phase 5 of the pandemic. Furthermore, TCAPS has acquired personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation materials and has undergone training to clean our classrooms regularly throughout the day and overnight. The biggest challenge, however, is maintaining a distance of 6’ in many of our classrooms. Going forward, by state law, every school board will have to revisit its mode of instruction every 30 days, and the decision for going all-virtual vs. in-person or a “hybrid” model should be driven by science and recommendations from the Grand Traverse County and state public health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public health officials are the experts on this topic; they participated in the state’s “MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap” and are on the ground daily, knowing the local and state trends, to guide TCAPS’ Superintendent and school board in their decision-making.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
The role of a school board trustee should be to champion a TCAPS culture that is inclusive and participatory, which values the diverse ideas, experiences, and background of every student, teacher, and other staff. This not only encompasses race, religion, and ethnicity but also women and other historically underserved groups. The school board should empower the Superintendent and administration to be responsive, innovative, and forward-thinking, allowing the district to be positioned for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. The school board should also support TCAPS’ efforts to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including student groups, to identify areas for improvement—whether that is the TCAPS curriculum, policies, or other actions—and to provide the support needed to ensure implementation.

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
A quality school district will help attract strong businesses and good employees. Employees/businesses moving to Traverse City want to know that their children will get a good education. Businesses can provide great opportunities for school age students like mentor programs and intern programs.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
In my opinion, the relationship between the board, the staff, and the community is very strained. I feel that lack of communication and transparency are the main issues. The board should be the leader in communication, honesty, transparency, and integrity. Teachers need to know that the board hears them and supports them. The community needs to know that their tax payer money is being used responsibly.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
Yes, as I stated in my previous answer, transparency and communication are the main issues causing the distrust between the community, staff, and the board. As a retired teacher, I’m well aware of how important it is to feel supported, heard, and valued. If elected, I will work to better relations with our community by listening to concerns and by seeking common ground to solve issues.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
Classroom performance is one of many indicators which show the health of a district. Others are staff and student morale, fiscal responsibility, and community support.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
Education is THE answer in solving the region’s talent gap. In the Traverse City area there is great demand for “professional trades” education, like what is being taught at the TBAISD Career Tech Center. We need more programs like the CTC to educate the next generation of skilled workers.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
I would love to see TCAPS and Munson partner together to solve this issue. Closed elementary schools could be used as child care centers and grants could be written to help with funding.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
I would tell a parent that TCAPS is making its decisions based on medical facts, statistics, and science; that TCAPS will take the necessary precautions to keep all students and staff safe; and that when it’s safe to resume f2f instruction we will.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
As part of the LGBTQ community this issue is very important to me. Having an open, informed mind is key and voicing your opinions on equity, diversity, and inclusion is one of the most important things a community leader can do. I would use my role on the school board to speak up for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

ON THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8, MICHAEL HURD ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD NO LONGER SEEK A POSITION ON THE TCAPS BOARD.

 

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
I think its important to partner the two because we currently have a lack of skilled workers. Collage is not for everyone, and we should be trying to get students interested in learning a trade. TCAPS does a great job of preparing students for collage, but I feel they could do so much more for the students who’s path does not lead to collage. Partnering with local businesses to teach students usable real world skills, that won’t leave them with crippling collage debt, seems like a perfect way to better the lives of so many students. Let them start an apprenticeship while in high school, that way when they graduate they can immediately get a good paying job that could turn into a career for them. While at the same time giving local businesses new employees, trained by them, with real hands on training.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
The board currently acts as the sole decision maker in a very complex organization. While that is what they are elected to do, I feel that rarely does the communities opinion matter. I think that the board should act as a conduit for the teachers and community to be heard and affect change. The board should act as an arbitrator not a judge and jury. Work to resolve the issue openly and as transparently as possible. If no agreement between the parties can be reached they should evaluate all of the evidence and make the decision that is best for the students, it should always be whats best for the students.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
I do believe there needs to be greater transparency and communication, its what I’m largely running on. The transparency part is easy, stop fighting it and just be transparent. I understand that there are a few things that need to be kept secret, at least in the short term, but over all there should be very little that needs to be, I would fight to make every bit of information available as possible. As for the communication, that is a harder accomplishment. There is a ton of info out there for parents and the community, but you have to go looking for it and at times you may have to dig to find it. I would reach out to parents and businesses to find better ways to exchange information, while TCAPS could make it easier to find info, the community will have help us figure out what ways work best. It would be one of my goals.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
This is a difficult question, while I do feel that academic performance is important, students are much more the a GPA. Ensuring that they grow emotionally and physically strong is just as important as them growing intellectually strong. I’m sure there are students who may not preform well in a classroom, that would excel at many jobs, given the chance, and the motivation to try. We need to focus on teaching our students how to be ready for life, not how to be ready for collage. There needs to be a major shift from grades being the most important, to students excelling being the most important, and students can excel without preforming up to “standards”. I understand that in our current school setting this will be hard to accomplish, however I feel that it needs to be done, and saying its going to be hard is not a good reason to not try. Our students deserve better.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
I think, at the moment, our education system is actively hurting the talent gap. Every student is expected to go to collage, even though many don’t, and some of those who do shouldn’t. I feel if the schools had a robust school to work program, like we had when I was a kid, we could be training students, while still in school, to do a trade skill. This would give them good paying jobs, right out of school, without any debt. It would start to increase the number of skilled laborers that the region has, and keep students from wasting time on collage when the could find a meaningful job, that they enjoy and could live off of without it.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
TCAPS could partner with other organizations by allowing students to sign up to work at day cares, or even start within the schools day care, run by students, overseen by a licensed adult of course. Then we are working on solving the childcare problem while at the same time teaching students parenting skills, and responsibility. There would have to be screening and some training for these students, but that could be accomplished.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
I understand the concerns about sending our students back to school, no parent wants their children to get sick, but there are children suffering because they are not going back to school also. The social skills children learn in school are just as important as the education they get. However, there will be cases that show up in schools, it would be ignorant to think there won’t be, but as long as we are prepared for that eventuality we can handle those and continue. Teachers and staff are doing everything they can to ensure that our children are safe. We as parents need to make sure that when our children are sick we keep them home. We are all in this together, and we can all get through this together.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
I think we can take a lesson from our students on this one, children are not born caring about who or what someone is. We as adult teach them that, be it directly or through our actions. We worry so much about diversity, equality and inclusion, that we treat people differently because of it. If we treated every person as a person, and not race or gender, we could eliminate the lack of diversity, equality, and inclusion. I understand the importance of these things our community can at times have a problem living up to what we should be. We should be looking at the bigger picture, what causes these problems to happen? Its a big question I know, but if we every want to over come these issues we need to ask them. If everyone would look at people, as just people, it would be a huge start to fixing these issues. Everyone should be welcome, treated the same, and included, and we should strive everyday to teach our students, and children that.

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
Education can benefit from both financial support as well as experiential resources provided by local business, such as internships and training opportunities for our students. In return, local businesses get access to a well educated work force. The business community is an integral part of the overall health of Grand Traverse County, as is TCAPS.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
I see the board as having an excellent relationship with the Superintendent, Executive Team, teachers, and staff. This is illustrated by the fact that we have multiple year contracts with all bargaring groups, and good communication. In regard to the community, there will always be dissent when different groups of people are involved. If handled properly, this can be constructive and foster progress. There are always issues in the community due to differing stakeholders interests. It is the board’s job to balance policy in the best interest of the students, teachers, staff and parents.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
Our board is dedicated to adhering to the Open Meetings Act Law. In addition, for many years, TCAPS has received Certificates of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of School Business Officials. Fewer than 2 percent of school districts in Michigan typically receive this award each year. Open communication should be the goal, to the extent allowed by law.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
Classroom performance is one of the most important indicators, however, district financial stability, relationships with employees and the community, also contribute to a successful district.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
The role of education is to provide the tools to our young people to become the excellent work force of the future.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
TCAPS will continue to work with many organizations to solve the issue of child care. We will search for additional funding, continue to work toward offering the use of our buildings for locations and help with staffing.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
I would recommend that they first look at TCAPS Safe Start Plan, and a video, posted on our website https://www.tcaps.net/. This plan will answer many of their concerns. I believe we are doing all in our power to offer the safest environment in our schools for in-person learning. We are all living in time of unknowns. With that in mind, we have offered several options for education this school year. The system will continue to evolve with time.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
For years, I have given talks to and answered questions from, students, religious groups, and community members about issues regarding diversity, inclusion, equity and prejudice in our area. Being Jewish and raising children in an area where you are a minority, we see all sorts of both intentional and unintentional bigotry. I have been part of several groups to educate our community in understanding and accepting those that they see as being “different” from them. I believe that the only way to combat the issues that are around us, is to talk about them. I am a firm believer in the statement- Silence is Agreement.

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
Education and business are inextricably linked. Businesses rely on a vibrant school system to attract and retain talent which fuels smart growth and to prepare young people for participation in the job market and careers. The business community is important to the school district because it provides much needed and valuable support for district initiatives and programs.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
Due to the pandemic and Covid-19 related issues, the relationship between the board, community and the staff is complex. The board wants to safely provide the best education possible which means students being served in the classroom. However, the complexity of doing that safely has become difficult to manage. There are no obvious or good solutions to the problems presented by the virus. Prior to the initial shutdown relations were strong and very stable. With our staff we had settled contracts with all of our bargaining units and did so in a non-adversarial fashion which has not always been the case in TCAPS. While there was a vocal minority upset over a personnel matter, I think a majority of the community supports TCAPS and the Board. I have been involved with district for twenty years and for the most part this is the best and most qualified board I’ve seen

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
Transparency has, unfortunately, become a loaded word. I think this board is transparent. We have and do adhere to all of the rules, regulations and laws regarding issues of transparency. I am not aware of communication problems with the business community at large and the district. Last year I attended maybe four Chamber events and virtually no one approached me to voice their concerns about communication, transparency or lack thereof. I believe regular meetings between the business community leadership and district leadership has and is happening. I also fully support that and think it is vital.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
What do you mean by classroom performance? It depends on what you mean by the term. Are you referring to standardized testing? Formative assessments? Parent feedback? Happy engaged students that are eager to go to school because they feel connected and stimulated by the environment? To adequately answer this question you need to provide me more information about what your definition of “classroom performance” is. That term is too vague. I don’t think only the classroom matters though, when you’re talking about a healthy district. Certainly it is where the core mission of the district takes place. You need to look at rich diverse programs that may take place outside of the classroom. Check out the finances of the district. What is the district’s capital projects plan and how is that being managed. Is it on track and doing what was promised? A school district is far more complex than many people realize. By all indicators this is a healthy and vital school district which is borne out by the many awards and recognitions received. However, the pandemic is presenting some extremely troubling problems going forward and we all need to rally around our children and schools.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
It is vital. We need the community at large to advocate for better and equitable funding. We do a lot with the smallest funding provided by the state. This district and therefore region, would be able to do so much more to prepare our students with the skills that are needed by the business community.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
Provide space, transportation, meals and qualified staff. We can’t do that at a loss though and we need partners to do more.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
I have great concerns. We have a plan as required by the State but they really left this on the shoulders of local school boards. Since we are going back to in- person, we need parents and the community to support all of the safety measures of the schools and while in the community at large so that we can stay open. It takes all of us to keep this virus from spreading. That’s the only way we stay open.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
Educate myself about what that means in schools. What does it look like? Rely on the professionals in the classroom to inform us what they need to hit those markers and for the board to support them.

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
First, I think that education and the business community have a lot of shared goals. We both want to see a well prepared and engaged work force. We are both interested in having a vibrant, growing population – this means that we all want a healthy community, we want to reduce poverty (with its impact on the community), and we want the community to grow and to attract new families to the area. This broad range of shared goals provides a lot of room for partnership initiatives.

Second, for our educational community, partnerships with the business community provide real-world applications for our student population. This means that we can connect collaborative opportunities with our curriculum. From field trips and speaker opportunities to hands on-learning programs and summer job placement, students can be shown that their education is relevant and useful as they imagine their future career paths. Student engagement helps all of us.

Third, the educational community is a front-line organization in identifying specific challenges for individual students and their families. In this role, community partners become our most valuable resource in helping direct those students and families to agencies and services that can help them successfully overcome the challenges and circumstances they face. We can work together to map out available resources, and direct those with the most need towards them. Without these partnerships, the chances of creating positive change diminish.

There are other reasons, of course, and these are broad descriptions. I think that it is important to remember that the educational community and the business community both benefit from working together – and both benefit from working as partners to meet these common goals. And in the process, hopefully, we build trust, good communication strategies, and a partnership approach when we come to areas where we don’t always have such strong overlapping goals, or where we may be competing for the same resources.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
In business, one of the keys to successful governance boards is to put together a board that has within its members the necessary and relevant knowledge to contribute to the success of the organization. For public education organizations – as this questionnaire illustrates, the only requirement to being a member of the governance board is to be elected. The organization cannot itself actively work to produce a well-rounded, diverse governance board that could perform optimally.

In Michigan, we evaluate school staff (up through the superintendent), using a series of qualifiers: Ineffective, Minimally Effective, Effective, and Highly Effective. And as a Board, we are asked from time to time to evaluate ourselves. I can only speak here to my own impressions, but I would label the relationship between the Board and the staff and the community as effective. This means that the Board has at the present time a reasonably good working relationship with staff. As with any large organization, disagreements exist. And certainly, in the current COVID impacted environment, these differences are often magnified. There are staff members who have a great deal of trust in the current Board of Education, and there are staff members who have a poor view of the Board of Education. Overall, I think that the Board of Education currently does a good job of staying within the arena of governance – and so far we have a good relationship with the one employee that we hire: the superintendent. We have staff contracts. Negotiations with the collective bargaining units are efficient. And we ask for (and receive) as a board, input regarding decisions that we are tasked with making.

In terms of the community relationship, my experience is limited. COVID has been a significant interruption (and that interruption has been in place for much of my time on the board). And this has made community engagement a little more difficult on an individual basis. But we can see the partnerships in place that make for a good relationship. The District has excellent partners offering services (especially to those families with the most risk). We have opportunities that have impacted our curriculum (especially in those courses linked to technology). We have a long history of support for non-academic endeavors. And I have appreciated community feedback on the range of issues we currently face (sometimes it is almost too much to process). And we have (at least recently) strong support for bond proposals, and larger changes.

Are there issues? Certainly. I think that many issues come from misunderstandings about the role of a governance board (it is our job as the Board of Education to teach the community and staff what our role and function is). Some issues are created when the Board of Education does not communicate the rationale for our decisions effectively. Some issues are driven by difficult decisions that of necessity have to be made: closings schools or making program and staff cuts. It is quite possible, once the financial implications of COVID are finally understood, that we will face a new round of these difficult decisions.

We have a thoughtful detailed plan for the district. Do we, as an educational organization, contribute to a detailed and thoughtful plan for the community? In my brief time, I have had the collective bargaining units discuss their concerns with the Board, but have we tried to engage them in terms of their goals to move the district and the community forward? Do we bring our community partners in when we are making decisions to understand how our options impact our stakeholders outside of our immediate stewardship of TCAPS? Could we set aside Board retreat time to meet with Traverse Connect and the Traverse City Young Professionals to build a ‘blueprint’ for our engagement together? These are the differences, I think, between effective and highly effective.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
I think that this is a difficult question. In part, it is difficult because I think that the notion of ‘transparency’ is defined very differently by so many different stakeholders. It is also in part difficult because of the distinction that should be made between TCAPS (which is the educational organization) and the Board of Education, which is a public governance board. The Board of Education creates policy and sets goals for the district. The District implements them. The Board of Education’s process for oversight of the District is managed in two ways – in approval of the district finances and the contracts established by the district, and in the annual review process of the Superintendent. The Board of Education is not a governance board set up to micromanage the District. And it is worth noting that when the Board of Education formally reviews the Superintendent, the Superintendent can request that the review occur in closed session (where the discussion, but not the results, are protected information).

Most of our interactions as a Board of Education are well established by Michigan Law. I have not, in my time serving on the Board of Education, encountered an inappropriate discussion or interaction with regard to the Open Meetings legislation. And everything that I have discussed has been made available to the public in one way or another. I want to explicitly note that I was not on the Board of Education during the time period that Ann Cardon was hired and released by the Board of Education, and that I have neither asked for, nor received details that the Board of Education claimed were exempt from public release under the Open Meetings Act.

Despite the pages and pages of material that are already made public, there are concerns raised within the community about a lack of transparency. This suggests that we need to work on communicating better with our stakeholders. As an individual member of the Board of Education, I can only support efforts to change or increase communication – the Board still has to function as a single entity in implementing change. This comes only through consensus building. But, there are two areas that I think can be addressed relatively quickly that will create more trust and foster better understanding.

First, I think we need to work to create more two-way communication opportunities. Working to create these opportunities will require efforts both from the members of the Board and from community groups. This isn’t simply inviting members of the Board of Education to come and sit in on meetings with community groups. Instead it means asking them to become active participant – for example including a Board member in a focus group, or inviting questions from them to invite discussion. In reciprocal fashion, it could be helpful for the Board of Education to have representatives of community and business groups come present to the Board of Education (when appropriate) to create that dialogue with the full Board in a public meeting. I believe this will come more naturally as we build stronger partnerships in the community.

Second, I think that at times in our effort to streamline some of the decision-making process (through our use of committees and consent agendas), we make some information less accessible to the public. I am hopeful that we can use some of our new Learning Management System technology on behalf of the Board of Education to bring more of this information together in a convenient fashion to help inform the public. In particular, I am hopeful that we can provide a greater historical context when appropriate as part of the decision-making process. I also believe that it will help TCAPS and the Board of Education provide better communication by looking for ways to improve how our committees report decisions back to the full board (and the public), how the Board committees decide what should be recommended to be included in the consent agenda, and where the Board would better serve the community by moving discussions from committee meetings to a full discussion from the Board of Education.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
Asking if classroom performance is the primary indicator of the health of a school district is something like asking if gross sales is the primary indicator of the health of a community business. There is no question that both statistics play a significant role in determining that health. But there is also no question that a single statistic of this sort, on its own, is completely unable to answer the question being asked.

One of the patterns we have when we try to evaluate the quality of education is to find a way to produce a single, easy to understand metric, by which to gauge success. This is, in a sense, the philosophy behind performance testing. It gets us a one-size-fits-all approach to accountability, that I think can only result in failure.

Classroom performance provides with a snapshot of date at any particular moment. We know that there are lots of factors that influence class performance for individuals. The measure of a healthy district is that it improves the performance of its students over time, and successfully manages to decrease the gap between its best performers and its worst performers by moving its worst performers upward. And it does this while maintaining a fiscally responsible spending approach.

This doesn’t mean that classroom performance isn’t an essential metric that we use to help measure how well a school district is doing – and consequently how healthy it is. It just means that we cannot take any specific single indicator and label it as the ‘primary’ indicator of the health of a district. We are more successful in evaluating the health of a school district when we have well defined baseline data, well defined improvement plans, and can show data that indicates that we are successfully meeting those goals.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
The role of public education is to educate. This may seem a little redundant in response to the question, but I think that it speaks to how we can answer the question. There are things that professional educators can do to give students exceptional foundations. They can use projects in classes to help teach collaborative learning and team-work. They can try to teach students critical thinking and encourage innovation. But public education is given a mandate in terms of curriculum and student achievement. They are evaluated on these metrics, and not on the way in which they are solving a regional talent gap. And often, progress towards this goal comes as benefit to strong efforts to provide the mandated education and not as an intentional outcome. As an example, it is interesting to me that COVID has accelerated some long standing programs in the district that will move us towards this goal. But this movement is to some extent secondary. We aren’t finally getting to the point of having a computing device for every student out of concern for the talent gap, but out of necessity to deal with remote learning.

So what is the role of public education in solving our region’s talent gap? The role of public education is to become as much as possible a willing and responsive partner to the rest of the community. If our community identifies coding as an important skill, then we can deliberately incorporate coding into the curriculum – as its own course for older students and as a problem solving tool for younger students. Student engagement becomes much stronger if we have community partners that support these efforts – both by helping provide real world opportunities and experiences, and by supporting our extra-curricular related programs (like our robotics teams). If, on the other hand, our community recognizes a need for more health care workers, we can look for partnerships for healthcare training and certification, as well as job experience. The more community support that is provided in these partnerships, the more successful they will be.
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How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
One of the ways that partnerships succeed is when they allow their participants to focus on their strengths. TCAPS has a lot of strengths. They have excellent educators. They understand the regulatory requirements that come with working with young children. They can provide food services, transportation, and space that is distributed throughout the community. Perhaps its greatest challenge in providing childcare is in the financial burden created by providing these services. I believe that if TCAPS participates in a community partnership it will happen when TCAPS finds complementary organizations that together form a partnership capable of covering all of the needs required to provide exceptional childcare for the community.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
I would say three things. First, there is nothing wrong with being concerned about the risks of COVID-19. It is clear that there is risk from the disease to everyone in our community, even if that risk is spread unevenly. TCAPS has chosen to provide virtual learning opportunities this year for those families and individuals who determine that the risks are too great. I encourage those families to take advantage of that virtual environment. For those who want in-person learning, the risks are reduced when we follow the guidelines as closely as possible published by our health care agencies.

Second, the members of the Board of Education are working with the best information we can get. We are taking advice from our state and local officials. We are working to provide as much safety for our students and staff as possible within the limitations we are given. We are going to make decisions based on these recommendations and as much data as we can acquire. This is a healthcare crisis, not an educational crisis. And because the circumstances are different from community to community, it has been given to local school boards to make these decisions. Our board members share the same concerns as the rest of the community.

Third, I would like to remind parents that our children are resilient. They want to be a part of the solution (as opposed to being a part of the problem). Whether or not you agree with the mandates that come from the CDC, the State of Michigan, or even the local health department, it is important that you are supportive of the district in its efforts. Our students will have far less difficulty adjusting to some of these requirements if you encourage them and help them understand that this isn’t just about them, but about the safety of our entire community.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
I grew up in a poor home. We benefited from the free lunch program. We ate government cheese and drank the government powdered milk. Education is one of the great potential forces of equity in our society. As the father of a gay child, I have come to understand in a very personal way, the struggle for diversity and inclusion. These issues are important to me. And I hope that my beliefs are visible enough that I can become an influence by example.

When it comes to my role as a Board member, my role is much more direct. On the one hand, I have an obligation to make sure that the district policies meet the requirements established in our federal and state laws. And it is my obligation (along with the rest of the Board of Education) to make sure that these policies are followed. This is true of the staff that are hired and true for the students and families that we serve. This also means that the district needs to have a timely response to complaints from the community.

Further, and especially as this issue has come to more of a focus in the events of the last few months, there is a sense of urgency in making sure that we are doing what we can as a school district to embrace diversity and inclusion. It is a pervasive challenge. We need to make sure that we really are making efforts to be inclusive rather than simply working to make sure that we are not exclusive. And to this end, I have been a supporter in recent months of adding more training for school staff and the development of a timeline to identify and implement a first round of changes moving us in a more positive direction. In this regard, I see my role in the narrower education community as one of supporting and encouraging a more proactive response to diversity and inclusion.

As for equity, my commitment as a member of the Board of Education is that every student is given the same chance for educational success – and that we, as a Board, give every student the greatest chance at success that we can give them. Our responsibility as a school board is to both to provide the resources that the school district needs to provide that education, and to ensure that there is a safe environment conducive to learning.

Why is it important for education to partner with the business community?
Education and business are intertwined and partnership between the two is critical for long term success of the region. Beyond the obvious need for educated workers we have to realize that our ability to attract companies and employees is based on having a respected school system.

In addition to business needs the school system also needs reciprocal support. Whether it be sponsorship of programs, resources provided or the need to support investment in our schools through bonds and millage proposals. As a business owner I understand that the principal concern of the community is being a good steward of funds provided whilst striving for exemplary standards.

Young Professionals: Describe the current relationship between the board, the staff, and the community. If there are issues, what role does the board play in resolving them?
I am disheartened to hear that the existing board believes that trust issues are minor and only are an issue with a very limited number of community members. It is clear from talking to hundreds of stakeholders that the board, administration, teachers, staff, business community, unions and parents have differing, but significant, trust issues. I strongly believe that distrust is going to negatively impact the district and working on improvements is the only way to reach our potential. The board plays a critical role in this healing and should be the driving force behind reconciliation. I would hope the board would embrace humility to admit mistakes, empathy to understand others and the strength to commit to operating in an open fashion. We clearly will not all agree on everything but stakeholders want to know that they are being heard and their concerns understood.

Do you believe there’s a need for greater transparency and communication between TCAPS and the business community and community at large and if so, how would you accomplish that?
There is certainly a need for greater transparency and I have been elected and served on previous boards that faced similar criticism before my arrival. I think the most important part of a public body is the understanding not of what can be withheld but rather what cannot be disclosed. Although it seems like the same statement I believe that the board should always be looking to make available and publicly disclose everything in their power, only not doing when they are explicitly prevented from doing so. OMA and FOIA allow for exemptions but some of these are optional and we should always look to narrowly apply them as much as possible.

Is classroom performance the primary indicator of the health of the district? If not what is?
Classroom performance is like a quarterly earnings report in the fact that it indicates how things have gone in the recent pass. It is a critical measurement and will get a lot of attention but is probably not the primary indicator to the health of a district. There is no one primary indicator but some of the key metrics other than classroom performance will be financial health, building condition, health and safety of students (including mental health), employee satisfaction and community engagement. By combining multiple key metrics you will have a better grip on where you are heading, not just where you are coming from.

What is the role of education in solving our region’s talent gap?
Education is both a short and long term solution to narrowing the talent gap, something especially troubling in Michigan which saw such a brain drain over the past few decades.
Short term a strong education system can help attract workers to move to the region that can instantly fill voids. As an employer of 180 people it is often one the highest priorities when attracting skilled workers to move to the region. Long term we need to make sure that the education system is graduating students with diverse skills. For a long time we discouraged skilled trades where we are now seeing shortages and strong incomes that we are starting to address through State programs like Going Pro. Students also need opportunities to stay or return to Northern Michigan through viable employment opportunities.

How can TCAPS partner with other organizations to solve the significant childcare shortage in our community, especially among infants, toddlers and preschool aged children?
This question is perhaps one of the most complex issues considering Covid. Not only will we see challenges in staffing and providing childcare in a safe manner but the supply and demand equation will shift dramatically. Will people be working from home more allowing child care to be performed at the same time? Will office and commercial spaces be more readily available to establish new daycare operations if they could be staffed? Will higher unemployment reduce the ability for both parents to work reducing the demand for childcare? I believe the questions around covid make it unlikely that TCAPS will be in a significant position to lead in this area for the next few years.

Long term this is one area in particular that lends itself to a business / TCAPS partnership. Business and the community need active workforce participation and this is one area that holds people back. It is also especially restrictive on female workers who are too often the ones opting to limit working opportunities based on inability to find suitable alternatives. Some solutions are collaborating with retired teachers who still want to be active and looking at hospital systems, such as Munson, who have been able to offer child care systems as an extension of their operations.

What would you tell concerned parents about resuming in-person learning?
Firstly we have to acknowledge that EVERYONE will have differing beliefs on the best way to move forward. This is a highly emotional situation that regardless of your beliefs, needs and desires others will disagree with. There is no right answer so the first thing we need to do is not berate others for having opinions. Some children need in person instruction and some children will struggle mentally without structure and social contact. We have to act responsibility to provide safety for not just our students but teachers also, the latter likely being much more at risk than the former. Unfortunately we also have to be realistic and understanding that some may get sick and we have to be ready to adapt as needed. No one has the ability to know what is right and there is conflicting science all around us. I have viewed a large number of reactions to school board decisions on reopening and despite all types of plans a large percentage of people are unhappy. We need understanding and patience.

How would you use your role to influence diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community?
The board needs to set the expectation high that we are a central force to developing the understanding of challenges faced by certain races, genders or beliefs. There should be specific classes dedicated to the issue so to not perpetuate beliefs solely demonstrated in the home. As people grow up they need exposure to understand the challenges faced and historical context of why we have challenges in our society. Most do not understand how hard it is, and how long it takes, to rectify past issues especially those created over generations. We also have to be particularly careful that covid does not widen the equity divide. As we ask parents to take a larger role in their child’s education this really furthers the divide. Those with better education, more money and access to technology will have resources to hopefully keep their children’s education on track. Considering I certainly have many of those privileges and still struggle I can only imagine how impossible it is for some. It would be a travesty to not recognize this and we need to make sure everyone has the chance at a good education.