BLOOMFIELD HILLS SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION
Baron, who retired from the financial industry, has served on the Bloomfield Hills School Board since 2013. He received his undergrad degree from MIT and his MBA from University of Chicago.
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?
Since 1994, the state of Michigan’s K-12 education strategy has been disjointed at best and counter-productive at worst. In 2016, though, state Superintendent Brian Whiston created a visionary strategic plan to make Michigan a "Top 10 Education State in the Next 10 Years." He integrated this plan with recommendations of numerous other studies, including the ones from the Governor's 21st Century Education Commission and the School Finance Research Collaborative (SFRC). Recently, Launch Michigan, a coalition of business, education, and philanthropic leaders, was created to develop a legislative roadmap to make Supt. Whiston’s plan a reality. Having been a BHS school board member for the past six years, I have been very actively involved in education policy in Lansing and Washington DC. I look forward to being re-elected so I can continue to advocate for what is best for the children of Bloomfield Hills Schools and the state of Michigan.
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?
The answer is not either/or but both. Michigan, using Top 10 in 10, now has a statewide strategy on how education should look in the classroom, how to provide an effective educator workforce, how to leverage strategic partnerships, and how to have a systemic infrastructure. Using the state-provided research, resources, and support services, it is the local boards’ responsibility to customize and implement this strategy. They are able to tailor the state’s vision for their community so that it is successfully implemented. Since 2012, I have become an authority in Michigan’s current one-size-fits-all school funding model. 1994’s Proposal A removed local school boards’ ability to determine their own revenue and placed this responsibility 100 percent in the hands of Lansing. Using the SFRC’s study, I have been working with the Lansing elected officials and candidates to implement significant changes to increase the money available for Bloomfield Hills’ classrooms.
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?
Periodically, Michigan Department of Education updates the standards that all school districts use to develop their K-12 curricula. Over three years ago, MDE joined 27 other states to create the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. For the past 16 months, the state social studies community has reviewed and updated the Michigan Social Studies Standards through the lens of the C3 Framework. During that review process, a focus group that included several prominent Michigan conservatives, made some significant adjustments to the social studies community’s recommendations. So, yes, I am aware of the effort, and no, I am not in favor of the adjustments that have been recently made. The work of the social studies community should be honored and their recommendations restored.
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?
Bloomfield Hills Schools developed its last strategic plan in 2008. Much has changed since then: The Great Recession and its impact on school funding; the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act; the 3rd Grade Reading Law; a heightened district focus on diversity, academic equity, and race relations; the rightsizing of Bloomfield Hills school buildings; the building and opening of Bloomfield Hills High School. So, what should the district be working on between now and 2023? Here are some things that our community might consider: Unleashing excellence through equity and inclusion which will result in the closing of achievement gaps; competency based education; project based learning; moving to a balanced school calendar; later high school start times; future utilization of the Lahser campus; Long term investment in our preschool-8th grade buildings.
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?
Safety is the number one priority in Bloomfield Hills Schools. Over the last few years, BHS has: installed “The Boot” device to secure all of the interior doors in the district; installed the BluePoint system at Bloomfield Hills High School. This system is like a fire alarm for the police; locked all doors during the school day and controlled access; employed a School Security Officer for the district and a School Liaison Office at the high school, both of which are Bloomfield Township police officers; passed a Sinking Fund millage in May 2018 which now permits spending for district security; adopted Board Policy 5400, which prohibited firearms and other weapons on district premises. At this time, there are no plans to add additional police officers to our buildings. All staff have received active shooter training. Mental health assistance is provided through our staff of counselors, social workers, and psychologists.
Why are you the right person at this time to be a member of your local school board?
Having served on the Bloomfield Hills School Board for the past six years, I’ve worked hard to keep BHS one of the leading school districts in Michigan. Staffed by exceptional administration and world-class teachers, BHS provides a top-notch education, including the visual and performing arts, to the district’s students. But there’s still much that needs to be done. We must continue to help all of our children to be successful, especially those who aren’t achieving to their highest potential. We also must support the School Finance Research Collaborative and Launch Michigan, a partnership of Michigan business, education, labor, and philanthropy leaders who want Michigan to provide a high-quality, equitable, and student centered education system. Maintaining my philosophy of "Educational Excellence and Fiscal Responsibility," I want to continue to build on the past successes of our district as we take on the challenges of the future.
Cook, a veterinary pathologist, has degrees from Yale, Texas A&M and her DVM from Cornell.
STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS
Lack of a centralized, coordinated, empowered infrastructure for collective learning and continuous improvement. As a result, reforms have been incompletely/ inconsistently applied. Other problems include outmoded funding systems, failing privatization model, poor support of low performing schools, and insufficient educator support. Our district needs to close achievement gaps via a strategic plan for universal early literacy, which is aligned with K-12, and which also broadly identifies general developmental and reading disabilities. Other measures include increased student engagement/ accountability with agreements, visible progress tools (e.g. logs with different genres), and inexpensive tangible rewards for levels of achievement (e.g. movie night for best-read class, lunch with principal, etc.). Preparation should keep every larger strategy focused on the classroom; foster positive environment that engages student self-awareness/accountability for their learning and IB character tenets; expand teacher development (team approach, teacher-leader model, evaluations, etc.); stress deep/critical thinking and community connectivity; research/adopt programs of consistently high performing/improving states.
CONTROL OF REFORMS
Based on the downward trajectory of Michigan performance, reforms should be implemented/evaluated by a properly mandated and funded DOE that provides support (top-down initiatives are working in high-performing states), while districts provide data/other feedback in a loop of evidence-based improvements. I support reforms for aiding struggling schools/ districts, broader early literacy/ intervention, better mechanisms of data reporting of quality indicators of student and teacher achievement, competitive teacher salaries, and use of coordinated, researched initiatives. To these ends, I support collection of kindergarten readiness and teacher effectiveness data, enhanced internships/work-study summer programs, continuing inclusion and restorative practice efforts (maximizing attendance/engagement), increasing inter-student tutoring (inexpensive opportunities for ownership/achievement gap closure), and fully empowering teachers as models of excellence. Board members need to write commitments to initiatives proven effective for continuous improvement/allocation of resources therein, listen to the ongoing needs of students and administration, enhance community/local business/teacher college relationships, and support the superintendent’s operational lead.
Yes, and my position is that information (historical, scientific, artistic/cultural, or informed criticism) is not political nor optional, given that the task of education is to instill a deep, critical, rationale, dispassionate, ethos of comprehension and problem solving among our future citizens/voters/professionals/educators/policy makers. Because the proposal is restrictive, I do not support it; removing information is a slippery slope toward rewriting history and turning away from universal physical laws, which to their logical conclusions move toward the demise of free society and reversal of technological progress. Two spins of a great quote: “Know from whence you came [and] there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” (J.Baldwin). “If you don’t know where you come from, then you don't know where you are; if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going; if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.” (T.Pratchett)
DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN
Close achievement gaps and raise cultural competency – raises quality and positivity of academic experiences and creates mindfulness toward partnerships in a global marketplace. Enhance critical thinking and community alliances – exposure to expertise improves college, career, and life preparedness, and raises district visibility/collaboration with non-parental stakeholders. When more community members obtain value from excellent education/positive local impact, the community’s political capital can be better utilized for common goals. Ensure all district objectives/budgeting laser to superior classroom experiences/empowering teachers therein – attract the best talent and recognize/leverage outstanding teaching with commitment to improving instructional resources/support, team models, mentorship, professional development/evaluation, and efficient delivery. Support a stronger MDE and work with other Michigan districts for shared mission of improving statewide performance, and research select districts/ states of excellence for modeling/ mentorship. Hold ourselves accountable for positive change; work with ISD/state to inform and implement evidence-based reforms with firm timelines for evaluation.
Our district has worked extensively in this area, with a HS guard and dedicated district officer liaison to coordinate all security. The security budget should be scrutinized for cost/benefit vs. other options regarding ideally having a guard in each building. Preparations: research of best practices; revising the comprehensive safety plan annually with input from partners (fire, EMT, police, red cross, etc.); physical modifications (e.g. bluepoint, line of sight); safety partner drills at schools after hours; staff/student drills on threat assessment and emergency procedures; model/table top exercises with staff and public safety officials; threat assessment training with strict chain of command; and, consideration of non-commissioned personnel (ala community watchdog). It would be ideal for the BHHS to have a drop-in counseling center (proven effective in other areas). We can intervene early in mental health by training all students, from Pre-K, in equity/inclusion to help mitigate isolation that can lead to violence.
I owe everything to public education and want to service this for others, as all five year olds are smart, and superior education is the straightest line to lifelong fulfillment and to maintenance of a free and prosperous society. In my career (DVM pathologist and chair of our national quality/standards committee), I am ensconced in total quality management systems that are cross-disciplinary and would come to the board with a tireless work ethic applied to researching and helping to solve the challenges of our district and those of the larger educational landscape. I have no political or personal motivation other than promoting a safe, fun, stimulating learning environment. My experience in the processes of planning, methodology, performance indicators, and scheduling evaluation, action steps, and re-evaluation of implemented changes (i.e. evidence-based cycles of continuous quality improvement) provides a comprehensive, objective, and long-term perspective for making crucial monetary and strategic planning decisions.
Efros, an attorney, has served on the Bloomfield Youth Assistance Board of Directors; the Diversity, Academic Equity and Race Relations, the Bloomfield Hills School District Global Champions, and is a gradute of University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS
Most BHS students exceed national and state averages on standardized measures but we have more work to do. In our district’s admirable quest to close the gap (examples include diversity awareness training for teachers and staff, and adding more paraprofessionals in early elementary classrooms), we must be mindful of failing to provide relevant curriculum for all students. For example, the district eliminated academic enrichment for grades K-8 (except for 8th grade algebra). Our district must support high achieving learners even as it continues to close the achievement gap for others. When we address the needs of all learners, we best prepare everyone for the global market. On a state-wide level, we cannot continue to compromise funds for public schools and expect to remain competitive on a national or international stage. Top ranked states for public schools spend, on average, over twice as much per pupil as Michigan does.
CONTROL OF REFORMS
Government responsibility for reform depends upon the issue and the goal. Big picture issues such as per pupil spending must be state initiated because of the way we fund our schools from a single state aid fund, split equally among all students regardless of district (with some flexibility for districts to raise funds for limited purposes by passing property based millages and bonds). Other reforms, like later start times for high schoolers (which I support because it is scientifically proven to benefit student health and academic performance) should come from local districts as transportation and other needs of districts will always vary. Some reforms must come from the federal government, such as providing guidelines that clearly define a public school’s obligation to comply with the special needs of all students and educate them in a way that is equal to their peers.
Most of our legislators are not qualified to design, reform or implement education curriculum. I am familiar with state Senator Colbeck’s suggested changes to the K-12 social studies curriculum and submitted written opposition to the Michigan Department of Education last June. Over 10 years ago, I helped edit the Oakland Schools elementary social studies curriculum. The goal was to create a useful resource for teachers with links to additional resources for a range of learners, create ways to expand certain lessons and to offer alternatives so that teachers could tailor their lessons as needed. The process took time and involved the research, analysis, and grade appropriate curriculum of teachers, professors, and educators from all over the country. No state or local legislator should be allowed to substitute that intimate process with his or her own personal, religious or political agenda.
DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN
Our strategic plan must include: Effective Communication: We must rebuild the community’s eroding trust in the administration with honest, proactive and timely communication. Communication must include easy-to-find links to relevant information. Administrators should encourage community dialogue and commit to meaningful follow-up. All written communication should meet a drafting skill consistent with the excellence we expect from our students;
Assessment: We need concrete measurement of the progress of administrators throughout the year to ensure they are meeting goals and expectations. We also need a more collaborative process for setting goals for our administrators to achieve; Action: Practical problems must have timely and transparent solutions. There is a disconnect between what we claim is happening in our initiatives and what is actually happening in practice; Support and resources: Teachers and staff must have the support and resources they need to be able to do the job we expect.
We cannot guarantee student safety when guns are involved, short of eliminating incomprehensibly easy access to guns. We have witnessed the vulnerability of even those schools that do limit entrances, and that employ armed guards, security cameras and metal detectors. We cannot spend limited financial resources on expensive measures that provide only a false sense of security. However, having a plan like we do for fire and tornados costs nothing and will relieve some of the fear of gun violence that our students feel. We should have building appropriate plans unique to each school. We should post “no guns allowed anywhere on the premises” signs that signal zero tolerance to every person who enters our schools – even those who legally carry a gun. Money earmarked for safety must be spent on mental health counselors to address the epidemic level of anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns of our kids.
I am a lawyer, experienced parent of four, and a 16 year volunteer in this district. I am always prepared, do my homework, read voraciously and have a genuine interest in education on the local, state, national and international level. I understand the district’s challenges because of my experience as a PTO president (seven times), an appointed member of many district committees, a room parent, sports coach and a regular attendee at school board meetings and even at school board study sessions and retreats. I will eagerly and responsibly add the perspective of parents, students and teachers to board discussions and decisions. My background as a tax attorney will help the board understand legal obligations that often guide decision making and policy. I am not afraid to ask questions and state my opinions and I will always collaborate to achieve what is best for our students and broader community.
Kolin, a CPA and vice president of the Bloomfield Hills School Board, has served on Bloomfield Youth Assistance's Executive Committee; the Bloomfield Birmingham Community Coalition; and SEMCOG's Education Commission. He is a graduate of Binghamton University and Baruch College.
STUDENT EDUCATIONL LEVELS
Based on state data, Bloomfield Hills School District is performing above the state average and beating the trends described above. The reason for our success is based on the additional funding and support provided by our community in conjunction with our strong teachers. In Bloomfield Hills, we have recently and will continually focus on literacy which focuses on reading comprehension, writing and public speaking. Our district has made it a priority not just to focus on literacy, but this year, with the hire of a specialist in the area of cultural competency, to be certain that our curriculum is relevant and engaging for all students. This will assist in preparing our students with the skills to be prepared to live and work globally.
CONTROL OF REFORMS
I’m a believer in local control. I believe that the best people to determine what is in the best interest of a particular school district is the local boards of education who were elected by the local community. It’s difficult for someone not engaged locally to understand what is in the best interest of a particular district. The state should focus on providing the resources for local districts to succeed rather than writing punitive legislation. I will continue to support our students and community members who have been advocating for resources such as more social workers, nurses, counselors, and lower class sizes.
I am well aware of the proposed changes and have to question the motives regarding these changes. Again, I am a believer of local control and also believe that these proposed changes have weakened the local curriculum threads. I think it is important that policy is informed by those who hold the expertise. These changes came forward when a politician was added to the curriculum team of educational experts. Our children should not be political pawns; they should be learning what the best research has to offer that is not based on political propaganda from either party.
DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN
Academic Achievement – Provide a premium educational experience for ALL students that challenges all of them to achieve at his/her highest level. This includes our highest achievers, as well as those counting on their educator to build and implement the supports of an IEP or 504. Financial Sustainability – Continue to look at ways to increase revenue and/or streamline costs as long as they do not negatively impact our students. Maintain a balanced budget that will continue to fund the district’s short and long term goals. Trust and Communication – The education of our students is a joint mission between the district and the families we serve. It is important that we develop our relationship with the community and tap the expertise of our residents. In order to work collaboratively as a team for the success of our children, we need good communication and trust.
The feedback from both the students and the community is that we as a district need to spend more professional development and obtain more resources in the area of mental health, not more security guards in schools. As described above, we need more funding for social workers and counselors. I do not believe having more security in the schools is necessary but making everyone in the district aware of the protocols in the case of an emergency is crucial. We need a properly rolled out communication.
I bring both the professional and personal skills necessary to help lead the district toward the three main goals I laid out: academic achievement, financial sustainability, and trust and communication. I have a recent graduate, and a daughter still in the high school. I also volunteer on the radio station and attend numerous sporting and academic events. This involvement allows me to keep a pulse on what is happening in our classrooms and extracurricular activities. I then share what I learn with the rest of my board team to make sure the policies and budget we pass are supporting student needs. As a CPA, I have particular expertise to offer the district in the area of financial sustainability. In many ways my biggest strength is in the third goal, trust and communication. I feel I have the right combination to make a significant impact.
Paulateer, is a Bloomfield Hills School Board Trustee and vice president of PNC Bank. He received both his BBA and MBA from Grand Valley State University.
STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS
Major emphasis has been placed on standardized tests and statewide assessments to the detriment of basic skills. I believe that a heavy focus should be placed on teaching our kids to master the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in order to bring our rankings back up to the stellar performance levels that we know they are capable of accomplishing. When our children have mastery of the basics, the possibilities become endless and they can truly become “architects of their future," which is in the mission statement for our school district. In addition to mastering the basics, our ability to provide our students with access to the technology of today and tomorrow enhances their level of preparedness for success in life.
CONTROL OF REFORMS
Proximity to any major issue creates the potential for effective solutions that can resolve the issue. The closer you are to the issue, the more clarity you have on the root cause and therefore the more clarity you can provide to potential solutions. Additionally, the ability to see the issue from a more global or statewide perspective in this case, provides visibility to see the severity of the issue or how widespread it might be. That said, I believe that a true partnership between local and state boards of education has the potential to create the most effective solutions to our most pressing needs. If I am fortunate enough to serve again, I will work to support the administration in their pursuit of excellence in reading, literacy and helping our kids in their mastery of the basics.
Unfortunately, I was not aware of these provisions, and equally unfortunate is the potential that these proposals have on sheltering our students from the truth. While it is important that we protect our student’s innocence by providing instruction, that is age appropriate on all topics but educators are under the impression that they do not have a voice in these decisions. We should insure that the educators we hire to educate our students have a voice in the material and pedagogy used in their classroom and if it is indeed the case that educator are making recommendations for these decisions, the legislature should insure that it is well known by those who will be held accountable to the laws.
DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN
First, the district must insure that our students remain safe, so safety is our number one priority. Second, the district needs to do its part to improve Michigan’s literacy ratings/rankings through a continued increased focus on literacy, which began last school year. Third, the district embarked on a process of making diversity and inclusion second nature and part of its core competencies several years ago and should go deeper in that work developing excellence in this area of focus. Fourth, if we are to enable students to be architects of their future, we must understand each learner’s individual strengths and areas of improvement by growing into the district wide profile of a learner. Finally, the district must maintain sustainability while accomplishing these top priorities for our students by operating on a balance budget.
The school district has done a good job in protecting our students and staff. They have installed security measures that are best in class. As with anything, its not perfect and it continues to look for ways to improve. The district works closely with the local police department to stay abreast on updated processes, adjustments to facilities and new technologies. The district should maintain a regular cadence to get and keep all staff trained in active shooter scenarios. Studies show that training for what to do in such situations ahead of and in spite of a live threat increases that chances of more appropriate responses and ultimately survival in case of such an emergency. It would help if every school could have a security guard or police liaison but absent the ability to do that ensuring staff and community member follows the proper protocols to the letter through continuous enhanced training creates a culture where safety is top priority.
As a parent with eight children in the district, I have a vested interest in the current and long-term success of the district and all of its students. Having been appointed to the board last July and even having had a long history of board service in the community, I immediately began taking courses through the Michigan Association of School Boards in order to become a certified school board member. As of this writing, I am one class shy of that certification. I am committed to community service and continue to believe as Shirley Chisolm that “service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” Finally, I am a product of public education and believer in public education as a basic right of all children.
Prasad is the owner of a law firm and is a former Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She received her BA from University of Michigan, her MA from College of William and Mary, and JD from Emory Law School.
STUDENT EDUCATIONAL LEVELS
I would attribute at least part of this decline to a general malaise over academia. Our balance of priorities has shifted from academics to activities and athletics, and we now live in a culture where B’s and C’s have become acceptable. Being well-rounded is important, but the pendulum has swung too far. As our students read less, they read less well. The outcome of poor literacy reaches beyond books. The result is our students won’t be able to grasp problem-solving subjects like math and science, and they will be less able to connect to the liberal arts. I would like to see our district collaborate with our community to drill down on the fundamentals of reading for reading’s sake. The more our students read, not just at school but also at home, the better they get at it.
CONTROL OF REFORMS
The true learning laboratory is in the classroom, not the boardroom, which is why reform should emanate locally. We live in a boots on the ground community that is more than able to identify when and where change should happen. But, there needs to be a collaborative effort with the state, because we should be striving to create a learned community in Michigan. In order to accomplish this, there needs to be commonality in what we are teaching students across our school districts, which serve over one million students. If we splinter what we teach across the state, we are never going to produce the educated citizenry that we need to compete in a global economy. In terms of specific reform, elevating public awareness and inspiring action about the current state of education in Michigan would be a huge step in the right direction.
We cannot escape the truth of our nation’s history, and I have faith that teachers in our classrooms will make sure that does not happen. We should not restrict the art of teaching in the classroom, nor should we censor teachers by eliminating their ability to select examples to illustrate core concepts. I have concerns about politicians dictating academic standards and I am wondering when and why did education become a partisan issue? In the end, no single board person’s opinion is going to rule the day because the mission of the board is to arrive at a unified position. This is why we should strive for a board of education that is plugged in and engaged at all levels, so that diverse perspectives are represented in the single vision we are tasked with communicating.
DISTRICT STRATEGIC PLAN
Strategic planning is the best opportunity we have for community stakeholders to come together and chart our course. In thinking about the next three to five years, I would loosely set our primary categories as follows: safe and caring environment; curriculum and professional development; student achievement and growth; finance and facilities; community coordination; transformative culture.
We can never do enough to safeguard our students because we cannot envision where or how the next threat may occur. I say that having practiced my entire career in criminal law, first as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney. We have to take a community perspective to school safety, and need an integrated effort amongst educators, parents, local government, and our students, in order to stay one step ahead of the next threat. Collaborating with the community on, for example, mental health awareness and illegal drug use, should be part of an evolving plan of action to combat the next threat. What we need right now is thoughtful analysis in how to safeguard our students, and not knee-jerk reaction.
We want an able and engaged advocate on our school board. We want an individual who can advocate her position amongst the board, consensus build within the board, and ultimately represent the board and its single vision before the legislature. I have built my legal career on advocating a position, often unpopular, and have devoted my professional life to being the voice of the person who is not in the room. I grew up in Bloomfield Hills and returned to our school district when it was time for my boys to start elementary school. I am completely invested in the community and am grateful to be considered for this opportunity serve our district.