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BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION


LORY DOLAN

Dolan, a senior manager of member services and communications in the risk management industry, earned her JD from Wayne State University and her BA from the University of Michigan.

STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS

Michigan has fallen in nationwide rankings educationally to 45th out of 50 states, with only 29 percent of fourth grade students at or above reading proficiency levels in 2015. More alarming, for affluent white students, who had ranked 17th in the nation for fourth grade reading levels in 2003, they came in dead last in 2015 – one of only five states that had actual reading performance level declines. What do you believe has attributed to this stark deterioration in reading and education levels, and how would you work to turn around your district? What can be done to best prepare students to compete in a global world economy?

I believe that the deterioration in reading levels in Michigan can be attributed to the state’s allocation of available funds intended for K-12 education to other areas, primarily to higher education. Since 2009, the state has been diverting money that should be going to K-12 education to community colleges and universities; our K-12 students are suffering as a result. Without the necessary funding, school districts often must eliminate programming, which clearly affects student learning. Moreover, teacher salaries are also impacted by this diversion of funds. It is difficult to attract and retain talent absent funding to compensate teachers appropriately. Electing officials that prioritize K-12 education and the funding of K-12 education would be a step in the right direction and would help Birmingham Public Schools, as well as other districts, improve elementary reading skills.

CONTROL OF REFORMS

Should educational reforms spring from local boards of education or from the state department of education and the state school board? If this is a local determination, why should it be made at this level? What immediate educational reforms do you support, and which will you seek for the district if you are elected in order to maintain the district's high performance level?

Educational reforms should spring from local boards of education. Local boards know their constituency, as well as the needs and wants of the local community, more than the state does. Educational issues often require a local touch; not a one-size-fits-all approach. When the state implements broad reforms and requires all districts to adopt those reforms, the state prevents, in certain cases, the local boards from doing what is best for their respective local communities. Local board control of reforms would allow more tailored and rigorous design of those reforms.

DETERMINING CURRICULUM

State lawmakers have long had the ability to pass legislation dictating changes to curriculum, such as the 2016 law requiring a set number hour for teaching about genocide (including the Holocaust) or specific teachings in sex education. Most recently, conservative members the House and Senate have forced a review of social studies standards and proposed rules are now pending that would make changes such as stripping from the expectations the teaching of climate change in sixth grade geography and reducing the number of times the Ku Klux Klan and NAACP are mention when teaching about the civil rights movement, as just two examples. Are you aware of the effort by lawmakers, and what is your position on the proposed changes to be decided by the state board of education?

I am aware of the effort of state lawmakers to affect the curriculum taught in the public schools. As I mentioned in my answer above, I believe first, that the state should refrain from making such changes, as local boards should determine reforms. Second, I believe the legislature should avoid censorship as a general proposition. Local boards, administrators and teachers should have the autonomy to determine curriculum and teachers should be able to instruct students without political constraints. It is important that we teach our children to think critically about issues, including controversial issues, from an objective point of view free from political influences.

DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN

The district will be undertaking a new strategic plan, with goal setting metrics. What do you perceive as the categories the district should be focused on in the next three to five years, and why?

Over the next three to five years, the district will need to address a number of issues. The deficit should be a focus in the upcoming years, in conjunction with school funding (see above). Another issue that has arisen this past year is the district’s philosophy regarding honors level classes. That philosophy, along with an initiative to increase the number of students from under-represented student populations in honors and AP level classes should also be addressed. Thus, as a district we need a clear instructional plan across all subject matter areas on how to best educate all children.

SAFEGUARDING STUDENTS

With the rise in school shootings in the last few years, has the district done enough to safeguard students and staff? Should there be more security guards and liaison police officers at schools? What can and should the district do to better prepare teachers and staff for the possibility of a rogue individual with a weapon? Should more attention and dollars be spent on mental health awareness and help?

From an infrastructure standpoint, the district has done an excellent job of making our schools safer. The district implemented safety upgrades to the entranceways of all school buildings, installed cameras, and, in the case of the high schools, placed security guards at building entrances. I would like to see a liaison police officer at each high school full time as a liaison police officer provides a sense of security as well as a trained officer inside the building in the event of a problem in the school. The issue now is to address the social/emotional piece, which ties into the second part of this question. We absolutely need to spend more money on mental health resources for our students, bringing more community resources into the schools.

WHY YOU

Why are you the right person at this time to be a member of your local school board?

I believe I have the requisite experience to be a trustee of the Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education; I also believe I share the same vision as the great families of this district for the future of Birmingham Public Schools.

AMY HOCHKAMMER

Hochkammer is a graduate of Lawrence University. She is retired, having worked for Morgan Stanley, and was on the BPS Educational Council and BPS Strategic Plan Implementation Group.

STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS

Michigan’s method of funding K-12 education is flawed, which contributes to the deterioration in reading and education levels. Proposal A was designed to provide more equalized education funding but, unfortunately, not all districts are funded at the same rate. Districts such as Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills that receive the maximum foundation allowance from the state have more funds available to provide comprehensive, specialized instruction. Districts that receive the basic foundation funding are less able to provide appropriate early intervention and reading readiness programs. The new 3rd Grade Reading Law aims to address Michigan’s reading deficiency by providing mandated testing beginning in kindergarten. This requirement is designed to ensure that children who read below grade level receive the extra help needed prior to the end of third grade. The spirit of the law is admirable but without extra funding to provide additional teacher training and literacy coaches, many districts will struggle to provide intervention and ultimately will end up holding children back. Birmingham Public Schools should continue to prioritize specialized instruction, parental awareness around the need for reading at home, and allow for additional teacher training in multiple reading intervention strategies so that learners have access to the program that best suits them. In order for students to be truly prepared to compete in a global economy, there needs to be a comprehensive curriculum that infuses reading, writing and deductive reasoning across all subject matter and throughout all levels of K-12 education.

CONTROL OF REFORMS

Educational reforms should spring from local boards of education, as they are responsible for meeting the needs of their constituents. The Michigan Department of Education should supply broad based requirements for all districts but local school boards should have the freedom to design their curriculum based on what is best for the community they serve. The needs of students in Birmingham are not the same as the needs of students in other districts and the board has the ability to connect with all stakeholders to structure curriculum that is appropriate relative to content and rigor. I support efforts to change high school start times so that teenagers have the opportunity to get more sleep. Research has shown time and again that later school start times in high school are better for students’ academic performance, mental health and physical health. In addition, I support comprehensive, annual reviews of those segments of the student population who are in the bottom 30 percent of learners. This data needs to be analyzed and addressed at the individual school level so that as a district we can work to eliminate the achievement gap.

DETERMINING CURRICULUM

I am aware of the proposed changes to the social studies curriculum that limit or omit references to controversial subjects, such as Roe vs. Wade, climate change and the LGBTQ community. I am not in support of these changes, or any state mandated changes, that restrict subject matter. I believe that limiting awareness to broad, factual historical and current events only creates a disadvantage for students in the global world economy.

DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN

Birmingham Public Schools’ current strategic plan states that the district’s mission is “By ensuring educational excellence, we challenge and inspire all learners to positively impact their world.” I believe this is an admirable mission and in order to achieve it on a continual basis, a new strategic plan should use goal setting metrics to quantify and address the achievement gap on an annual basis, ensure the district is held accountable to meeting a balanced budget and limiting deficits, and increase the district’s college and career counseling services to provide every senior the opportunity to attend college or become employed after graduation. These goals can all be achieved by developing a culture of trust and transparency that begins and ends with data and communications that are delivered early, often, and with clarity.

SAFEGUARDING STUDENTS

Birmingham Public Schools has done a lot in the last three years to provide our buildings with additional safety and security features, including separate, secure entrances for visitors, developing relationships with several local police forces, and providing crisis training to teachers and staff. I would welcome the addition of more security guards or liaison officers in our schools, particularly the high schools where an open campus environment poses additional safety threats. I would like the district to continue to explore building and age-specific safety plans that are tailored to the needs of each school. In addition, I recommend that the middle schools and high schools have trained medical professionals on staff who are able to identify early warning signs of mental illness in teens and can take the appropriate steps to help students and families access treatment plans.

WHY YOU?

I believe my extensive experience working as a community and school volunteer provides me the knowledge and skills necessary to be an effective board member who would be able to work with a new superintendent and address the issues the district is facing with honesty and transparency. I am a graduate of Groves High School, my children have always attended Birmingham Public Schools and I am a strong advocate for public education. As I have recently retired after 25 years in the financial services industry, it is my desire to utilize the knowledge that I’ve gained as an active volunteer to serve as a trustee for the Birmingham Board of Education.

MIKE LEWIS

Lewis is general counsel for the Community Link Foundation. He has his undergraduate degree from Wayne State University and his JD from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS

I think someone who is well-rounded is the type of person best equipped to compete in a global economy. It seems that you need to know a little bit about everything to compete these days. Reading is the key to life. I firmly believe that. Reading is the key to competing in today’s world and it is the secret to a meaningful life. Is it any wonder our literacy numbers have slipped? We communicate 140 characters at a time and no one cares about grammar, punctuation, spelling, diction and style – literally the attributes that make us literate. If we want to improve our reading scores I think we need to get back to celebrating language – reading and writing as a means for self-improvement, not simply as a means for responding to texts. The problem is phones. The answer is books.

CONTROL OF REFORMS

I support incremental reform at any level assuming the ideas are good. On balance, though, I think local reform makes more sense because local school boards are more in tune with the needs and wants of their communities. Education is a complex challenge and one size rarely fits all. That is why I think local reform is the better way to go. The state sets minimum standards through the Michigan Merit Curriculum but it’s the local school districts that design programs to meet those standards. I think that’s the right balance: more bottom up than top down when it comes to in-the-classroom substance. We have a high-performing district that I don’t think needs a lot of tinkering, quite frankly. However, I would like to see greater focus on language arts given the unfortunate numbers we are seeing in reading proficiency.

DETERMINING CURRICULUM

Changing Michigan’s social studies standards would be an enormous mistake. I encourage all voters to examine the proposed changes by googling “Michigan Department of Education Social Studies Standards 2007 to 2018 Side by Side Comparison.” There voters will see the extent to which certain interests in this state hope to erase the existing standards for social studies and replace them with guidelines that give teachers little or no guidance and, worse, encourage the suppression of knowledge. Kids deserve a balanced view of the world they live in. Then they can decide for themselves what they choose to believe and how best to activate their citizenship. I believe the proposed changes deny kids a balanced view. That is why I strongly oppose them.

DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN

The current strategic plan doesn’t really focus on categories. It sets broad goals like inclusion, empathy, diversity and innovation. I think that is a good approach and I would like to see many of the goals in the current plan extended. However, if I must implement categories, reading proficiency would be number one with teacher empowerment finishing a close second. The retention of teachers and other professionals is critical. As the husband of a public-school teacher, I know how important teacher retention is to the continuity of a school district. Let’s empower our teachers as much as we can and show real commitment by baking this ideal right into the new plan. Teachers are a great resource. We should listen to them.

SAFEGUARDING STUDENTS