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 c