Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AAPS Board Candidate: Simone Lightfoot

Many thanks to Simone Lightfoot for responding to the questionnaire. If you have further questions for her, you can put them in the comments and perhaps she will answer them. I believe all of the candidates are also willing to answer questions independently if you send them an email or make a phone call to them.
1.    To parents who are wavering between sending their child to the Ann Arbor Public Schools and a charter or private school, what would you say to convince them to try the Ann Arbor Public Schools (besides that they would save money if they are considering private school)?

I would assure wavering parents that their concerns first begin with us as a district.  Just as our students are required to grow their skills, self assess areas in which help is needed and extend toward continued improvement, our district has an obligation to do the same.

Secondly, I would assure parents that I have urged and worked closely with my colleagues to place student achievement front and center of our focus.  Also, we have consistently kept student recruitment and retention at the forefront of board discussions, committee and staff planning efforts.

I would encourage wavering parents to consider that education - not financial profit - is the primary mission of the Ann Arbor Public School System (AAPS). Our facilities, infrastructure, teaching talent and reputation rank among the top.  We have a solid track record of producing world-renowned talent while consistently providing outstanding services for children with special needs.

I would share that unlike most charter and private schools, our district provides a highly diverse student body, innovative opportunities in science and technology and a nationally recognized arts and athletics program.  Our curriculum is aligned with state, national and international academic standards and our relevant district data is made public annually, if not more often.  AAPS has long-term experience in the field of education and as a result, we have multiple accountability measures in place to self identify concerns and solutions.

Lastly, I would share that as resources dwindle for state oversight and compliance in the area of academic achievement, finances, instruction and teacher qualifications, parents have an opportunity to place their children in a world recognized public school system that overall, rivals any charter or private school and continues to achieve.

2. What specific ideas do you have for engaging parents and taxpayers in AAPS decision-making and governance beyond the individual child/school level?

Our district must first ensure we are covering the basics: 
  • Training and working closely with the districts point of contact personnel.  Ensure they understand the key role they play in parental comfort and interest in engagement
  • Respond to all inquiries in a timely, sensitive, professional and consistent manner
  • Continued collective board efforts while expanding individual trustees community, parental and organizational engagement
  • Put into place accountability measures that ensure children who lack parental engagement are provided the necessary support and guidance required for academic achievement
  • Work with community organizations both school based and other points of entry into the family
  • Expand and lock in communication partnerships with other entities (grocery stores, sports and athletic depts. and facilities, AATA, cable programming, housing offices, etc.)
  • Ongoing, deliberate and targeted efforts to mitigate language, cultural and socio-economic barriers while exhibiting cultural, language and historic sensitivity reflecting our diverse district
  • Ensure two-way communication that includes "going to" parents, students and the community 
  • Consistently demonstrate and communicate to taxpayers how AAPS decisions and governance reflects strategic, well thought out and sound practices that uphold community standards and keep transparency at the center
  • Guided by the districts strategic plan and our most pressing challenges, enlist community expertise in the form of task forces, work groups, etc. for a ninety-day time period to find at least two years of sustainable solutions to seven key challenges (one per trustee) facing the district.  While two subjects remain up for discussion, five of the seven top challenges include: 1) budget   2) achievement  3) transportation  4) public policy & state financing   5) technology

3. What ideas do you have for making the AAPS web site more user friendly for parents, staff, students, and taxpayers?

A.  Expand and establish web space for suggestions
B.  Ensure the headings we use to label tabs are easily navigated and make common sense
C.  Enlist the creative and production talent of our students and faculty for media & technical skills, innovative ideas and portfolio experience (for students)
D.  Provide regularly updated, very detailed financial information that goes above and beyond state requirements and is presented in a financial format that is universally accepted
E. Include a regularly updated FAQ's sheet for frequently asked questions, perceptions and district efforts i
F.  Regularly update how tax-payers without children in the district can become involved, are impacted by and benefit from AAPS decisions

4. Describe your personal approach to district-union negotiations, not just for teachers but also for administrators, custodial staff, etc.. What is your primary goal?

Having served as legislative assistant in the MI House of Representatives to the powerful chairman of the Labor committee, I personally support collective bargaining and have a proud work record of voting and working against privatization.  Also as a sitting trustee, I have met with union members and leadership at every request.  I have listened to concerns, encouraged their direction in ideas for cost savings in the work place and stood against privatizing our maintenance and custodial staff.

That said, I also firmly shared with the Superintendent at the time, that some concessions needed to be made by all unions.  I was equally as firm if not more, that our district must protect our employees, do everything we can to ensure we are selecting health care options that include family coverage and not just worker coverage.  I also provided a constant chorus of caution against our lowest paid workers disproportionately baring the brunt of cuts.

However, although I have an established working relationship with many union members and their leadership, union negotiations are handled by the administration and not trustees. I therefore have limited to no direct role in collective bargaining or union negotiations.

5. Do you generally support Rick Snyder's approach to education and education reform? (This is a yes/no question.)


5A.  Do you support any of the listed reforms that he and the legislature have made/have proposed?

I have spoken out, signed petitions, given speeches and advocated against these measures not only across the district and the state of Michigan, but also other states that are facing these same "anti-public education" attacks.  Overall, I do not view these measures or Governor Snyder’s policies as providing mass beneficial education reform.

a. Emergency Manager legislation........NO
b. Changes to the School Aid Fund, including funding colleges as well as K-12 education from the SAF...........NO
c. Changes to the rules around charter schools, including removal of caps on number of charter schools.........NO
d. State-driven teacher evaluation system that relies on standardized testing......NO

6. At this point, would you call the privatization of transportation services a success or a failure? [NOTE: This refers to the decision to give transportation services to the WISD, not to the level of service chosen last spring.] If faced with the same question today (should transportation be privatized, and if so to whom), what kind of a decision would you make, and based on what information?

We failed in the area of transportation this year.  No doubt, no question in my mind.  Not only was transportation this year not planned for properly, it was poorly executed, poorly communicated and continues to present challenges to this day that hinder the time and staff capacity required to put an annual review in place.  I along with other trustee have been very clear with both our administration and WISD representatives that we expect an urgent priority to be placed on getting a review underway.

That said, based on my years of public policy experience and review of multiple data sources, I am not convinced by any stretch of the imagination that privatization - particularly in the area of education - works.  I do however view district efforts to consolidate services among buildings, other districts and other governmental entities as a "must consider."  The baseline requirements for me to consider consolidation of services would be:
a.  The projected level of cost savings
b.  That we honor our commitments to pensions (as we did with transportation consolidation), ensuring health care for our workers (as we insisted on with transportation consolidation) and extracting as much commitment as possible that AAPS current employees - who know our standards, recognize our children and know the routes - are maintained (as we did with transportation consolidation)

7. What was your most influential K-12 school experience (good or bad)? How does it influence your approach to the school board? (Please choose only one experience!)

One of the most influential K-12 school experiences that influences my approach to the board is illustrated in a two-sided letter I share with students whenever I have the opportunity to engage.  On one side is a note on school district letterhead to my mother from an administrator during my 9th grade year at Tappan.  On the reverse side is my resume.

In essence the letter informed my mother that the school had done all that they were willing to do for me and that they were giving up.  Mom was assured that in time things may change for me, but as far as the system was concerned.....well good luck....

My board service is influenced by my commitment to model and remind students and administrators two things. First, I want students to understand that irrespective of what anyone may have said, implied or pre-determined about their academic and social success, they themselves determine their future.  Where they are today is not necessarily where they have to remain.

Secondly, I want to influence administrators and fellow trustees with my unwavering belief that no child is expendable.  We as a district and as adults have absolutely no right to give up on them!.........One day we may look up and have to rely on those very students to shape district budgets, craft district policy, educate our grandchildren, protect our pensions and wage an unwavering fight to protect public education at every level.  That is the Simone Lightfoot story that greatly influences my board service.


  1. to the muse / Ruth: I really appreciate this questionnaire that you sent to the candidates. It provides a lot more detail than I've seen in the Observer or the dot-com.

    However, as I've been reading these I was just struck by the "privatization of busing" topic. I don't really think that ceding bus services to the WISD - another state education entity - is really privatization. The food contract was, but the busing? That's more a consolidation. It's unfortunate that the western county districts - where people were so anti-millage because they believed "cuts should be made and services consolidated first" - never joined in. Then again, maybe a wider consolidation wouldn't affect the service to AA, I dunno.

  2. I think I need to address the privatization of busing separately from the election--you actually raise very similar points to Andy Thomas (see his questionnaire) but I don't think I agree.