In addition, I agree with a recent anonymous commenter on this blog, who said, "I'm humbled by all the candidates' passion for and committment to and willingness to put in massive time and effort in service to the AAPS. . . To the candidates who don't get elected this cycle, I hope that you keep your voices heard, and stay involved in the conversation, and consider running again in the future."
I mean, people have asked me to run for school board, and I tell them, it's a lot of hours, and a very small amount of pay--therefore, I very much thank those who are willing to run. And it also raises a separate question--a few years ago the school board voted to reduce the number of people representing us (and I honestly don't remember if we got to vote on that or not) but this makes me think we should reconsider that question. For a school district the size of Ann Arbor's, what is the optimal school board size?
Having said all that, I am going to give one anti-endorsement. In other words, there is one person that I'm going to ask you not to vote for, and that person is Albert Howard. No, it's not because he didn't answer my questionnaire. It's because his blogger profile says this:
Albert Howard is the creator of Operation "King of Islam" which seeks to ban the Quran and all mosques in North America, Europe and Canada. (emphasis added)As far as I'm concerned, anti-Muslim sentiment has no place in our public schools (or public discourse, actually. . . neither does any rhetoric that is anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, anti-Shinto...you get the idea).
So, there are five other candidates. Some of the questions that I asked in my questionnaire were designed to help me figure out who to vote for (the summaries of two of their debates can be found in the Ann Arbor Chronicle as well, here and here, and you might find them helpful).
I think that all five of these candidates have some good ideas. They've all been willing to engage with me, and I believe with other people as well.
I like Ahmar's idea of moving school board meetings from school to school (if it is possible to still tape them), and of having some standing committees which involve parents and taxpayers. However--for me, an overwhelming issue is whether or not somebody supports Rick Snyder's educational reforms. At the beginning of the school board election run, I didn't know that Ahmar Iqbal was a strong supporter of Governor Rick Snyder. He was. I didn't know that he doesn't think the school board should have much of a role in 'pushing back' against the governor's education reforms, which I find hugely problematic. He wrote me, "Obviously these are state level issues and as a school board trustee, we have to focus on managing our resources with the programs desired by the community and of course stipulated by law and regulations."
Well, I am looking for school board trustees who are willing to engage at the state level and push back against these reforms, and I will not be voting for Ahmar Iqbal.
Which leaves me with four candidates to choose from.
My favorite, right now, is Patrick Leonard. I like that he has really done a lot of research about the issues facing the schools, and has been able to turn information into analysis (read these comments for a good example of that). I like that he understands technology and social media, and that he is responsive by email. I like that he's a recent (but not too recent) graduate of Ann Arbor schools--I think that perspective will be useful. And, not that you can read everything from my questionnaire, but I really liked that he directly answered my questions, and not the questions that he wanted me to ask. He's pro-union, and I think he understands the nuances of Rick Snyder's approach, when he writes,
"No. I don’t support his [Rick Snyder's] business-model approach, a philosophical belief that competition in the public sector will improve achievement. I have found that this approach has an adverse affect on student achievement, because it creates competition between teachers, teaching to the test, and only focuses on quantifiable measurements for performance evaluations."In the debates and the questionnaire Patrick Leonard has shown that he has an analytic mind. I think that will be helpful on the board. So if you want to know who I'm voting for, I am definitely voting for Patrick Leonard.
Which leaves me with three more candidates, and I'm still not positive which way I'm going with them--but I am leaning in one direction.
Larry Murphy (I think it will show up as Lawrence Murphy on the ballot) is a small-business owner and my sense is that he decided to run because he wants to make sure his kids have good schools. That is a good reason to run for school board. I like the lesson that he took from tutoring his own child, that the teacher/student ratio is extremely important. I have had a few back and forths with him, and from that I've gleaned that he doesn't have the sophisticated understanding of what is happening at the state level, and that's the bad news. On the other hand, in those back and forths I've learned that he is able to listen to someone else's perspective (namely, mine), and change his opinion as he learns new information. And that's a really good thing. I think he's wrong that charter school caps don't matter for districts like Ann Arbor's, and his answers to questions lacked some specificity.
Simone Lightfoot was first appointed to the school board, and based on her past service I know that her heart is in the right place. She cares deeply about student achievement, and at certain school board meetings she has been the only one asking really hard questions about student performance. I like that she puts out the notion that "no child is expendable." Her personal experience with being dismissed as a student (one my sister also had) is an important motivator. She really "gets" the problems with Rick Snyder's changes to state education law.
She also is attentive to constituents. She and Susan Baskett were the only school board trustees to meet with the Arrowwood parents about transportation. Which was important, but then I'm left with the question: why couldn't she recruit another board member, or two, to a meeting so they could have really tried to address the parents' concerns as a school board? Is this a reflection on her lack of standing with the rest of the board, or her organizing ability? [Side note: this transportation problem really blew up, in my opinion, because the school board wouldn't meet with the constituents. And it's not a small problem either, because--for example--there were quite a few students who had chosen to go to Skyline High School as a school of choice, and withdrew because they couldn't get there.]
She also seems to have difficulty managing the high in-flow of emails, but by phone she is responsive. I felt that her answers to my questionnaire were way too non-specific (for instance, on how parents and taxpayers can get involved)--on the other hand, an anonymous commenter said (s)he liked them.
Andy Thomas also was first appointed to the school board, and I believe that his heart is also in the right place. I appreciated that he voted against Patricia Green's salary. He very much understands the state-level issues, and I think he will definitely "push back" against state mandates. He is clearly supportive of the teachers. I don't know why he wouldn't go to a meeting with the Arrowwood parents (I should have asked him that last week!). I sometimes find him a little bit defensive about things that the district has done. Maybe I should read that as pride in the work of the district (which is good), but still--there are a lot of holes in what the district does. I found his answer to my question about parent/taxpayer involvement beyond the individual/school level sorely lacking, and here is why. He wrote,
"There are many opportunities for parents, students and community members to participate in AAPS decision-making. Four community groups – AAPAC, PTO Council, Black Parent-Student Support Group, and Youth Senate –meet regularly with District staff and present reports at all regularly scheduled Board meetings."AAPAC is for parents of special education kids, the PTO Council uses representatives from school PTOs (and both work off of a "school representative" model). So as a parent who doesn't have a child with a special education designation, isn't active in the PTO, and isn't the parent of a black student, it's a little unclear to me how I would have that input that I'm looking for. I don't think there are many opportunities to participate in decision-making above the school level at all.
On the other hand--I am strongly influenced (in a positive way) by the support of the teachers' union, and of the director of Michigan Parents for Schools, for Andy Thomas, and maybe that's why I'm leaning towards him.
So, in summary, I have a day and a half left to think about which of these candidates should get my vote.
I'm still thinking about:
- who will be most effective on the issues I care about
- who will understand that I--as a parent and taxpayer--am an end user, and an intermediate user, of the school system
- who will push back on Rick Snyder's educational agenda
- who will care about the teachers, but also all the other people who work in and for the schools
- who will listen to me when I have a problem