Read more about Christine Stead at: reelectchristinestead.com.
Changes that were made this year included addressing leadership at the building level, infusing our schools with new programs and reducing class size by hiring 43 new teachers - thanks to the direction of the current BOE and Dr. Swift's work in implementing these changes. In several buildings, these changes have improved staff morale significantly in just one year. Professional development is another area that has been evolving and the current PD allows better collaboration and acknowledgement of the expertise of our current teachers. This kind of PD should continue and expand. Teachers are incredibly important in delivering education - our primary purpose. Most of our operating funds are committed to teachers, which is what makes the magnitude of budget reductions over the past 4 years so difficult - it impacts our teachers the most. Teachers should be treated as professionals. Teachers should be respected, encouraged to continue to grow and we should find ways to reward those teachers in the AAPS that are truly going above and beyond on behalf of our students. All employees of the AAPS should be treated with respect and have means to voice concerns, work through issues and generally improve their working conditions to the extent possible. We should be committed to constantly improving the AAPS environment on all fronts - as a team.
What is your position on the amount of standardized testing currently conducted by AAPS (Too much, just right, too little)? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are not state-mandated? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are state-mandated?
Our MEAP testing, mandated by the state and required by the US to receive federal grant funds, is not serving our students well. It is issued once/year and the results take ~6 months to process, meaning they cannot be used to develop differentiated instruction for the students during that academic year. Further, they generally do not test the current teacher's effectiveness when issued in the Fall and, even with this year's new timing, having them only once does not provide an opportunity to show progress on the same test. With each state having their own test, our student's relative performance is not comparable to other states - meaning we need to issue yet another test to understand how our students are doing relative to other states. If we moved toward one test that was a national standard, that would help school districts satisfy federal requirements, state requirements, and provide relevant comparisons across states.
You will notice that providing personalized learning is a strategic objective of the AAPS (strategic objective #2). Having a means to assess a child's understanding of a topic, and how that might change throughout the year, is an important enabler of achieving personalized learning - allowing teachers to construct differentiated instruction in their classrooms. A few years ago, AAPS started the NWEA test across our elementary schools; as do many of the districts in our county. Several buildings used this tool in an incredibly well to develop differentiated instruction, by subject area, in their classrooms and presented great progress in student performance as a result.
I believe that testing can be a tool which is important in achieving our mission: to ensure that each student realizes his or her aspirations while advancing the common good, by creating a world-class system of teaching and learning.
I have come to understand that our approach to achieving personalized learning plans requires tools to develop those plans and continue to monitor growth over the year. I also think that we need tools to help children that are struggling improve on an area so that they can achieve mastery, as so many subjects increase in complexity over their 13 years with us. A poor foundational understanding of a concept can create performance challenges that only increase. If we can address them as they come up, our children will build confidence and knowledge.
Families make choices on behalf of their children all of the time. I do hope that families take some time to understand the consequences of those choices so that they can stand by them with the full confidence that they are making the best choice for their child - as we would want our parents to do in all things related to their child.
Aside from the budget, what are your two top priorities for the Ann Arbor schools?
I appreciate that the budget is an important topic. What I don't want folks to lose site of is how important adequate funding is, since it drives the resources we have to apply to achieving our education mission. While you will see a #1 and #2 in response to this question, my top priority is to continue to work hard on providing adequate resources so that we can continue our work in providing a high quality education that serves all students. Every family in Ann Arbor should have every confidence that their child will leave the AAPS adequately prepared to be successful in their next phase in life.
1) High quality programs that provide a relevant foundation for lifelong learning for all of our children. High quality means doing an amazing job for all students: bringing in more supports in a timely way for those that need it; creating access and opportunity so that children are not limited in their curiosity and capability, but continue to grow.
2) Sustainability and collaboration: as a community, I believe that we can partner together to ensure the viability and success of the AAPS over the long term. There is truly something in it for everyone when we have an educated youth: quality of life, community living, economic future, and robust opportunities for a wide variety of interests. Partnering more purposefully for long term success will be part of the way we ensure sustainability for the AAPS.
What is your opinion regarding the annexation by AAPS of the Whitmore Lake school system? If you had to vote today, how would you vote? What's good about the annexation and what challenges do you anticipate if the annexation is approved?
If I had to vote today, I would vote yes. Here's why:
- The annexation aligns with our growth strategy, which has been important in creating opportunities this year to invest in children in our district. Growing gives us much better choices when we have to address our budget challenges each year, which always include a gap in expected revenue from the state relative to our projected expenses (some of which are from the state and are increasing at >10x faster than revenues, like MPSERS - this means cuts every year if you're not growing).
- I do believe that the increases in funding will be closer to $2.7M in annual recurring revenue when the state passes an increase in our foundation allowance as it relates to this annexation. While a significant portion of this will go toward salaries, there will be a portion each and every year that we can apply toward improvements in programming, sustainability and reduced class sizes across the district.
- There are economies of scale in the annexation that make good sense from a taxpayer's perspective.
- There will be access to new buildings, allowing further growth, that we would acquire through annexation in an economically efficient manner.
- Timing is essential: I do not believe that we have years before WLPS is having to entertain dissolution. They agree - or they would not have approached us for this opportunity when they did. While I would love to wait this out and construct something over years, I do believe that the opportunity we have today will change - and perhaps not for the better.
- Should dissolution occur, we will likely have to accommodate some, or all, of the WLPS students. This will not come with the $1.4M grant or the $2.7M in recurring revenue. If it is like Inkster or Buena Vista, we would have to apply for any additional funds to help with the additional costs, and I am not confident that this would cover these costs.
- I believe that we can create attractive programs in Whitmore Lake that can attract residents back in to those schools, as well as offering increased opportunity for students throughout the larger district. This is good for everyone in our community.
- I also believe that we can work to bring up test scores and academic performance - something also good for our entire community.
Hindsight is perfect, but whether you are an incumbent, or not: Name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you think was a very good decision; and name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you wish had been decided differently. (Incumbents may wish to say how they voted on that issue. It's ok if you changed your mind after the fact...) [Ed. Note: Christine Stead is an incumbent.]
I think our new programs are exciting and needed! All of the work we did all year long to get these programs identified and implemented will benefit AAPS for many years to come.
I still believe that we need to maintain enough fund equity to be able to absorb cuts from Lansing and make payroll. Our fund equity balance was 2.4% of our operating budget as we ended the year last year - the lowest ever. As a Board, we passed a change in policy to give ourselves a range for fund equity of 5% - 15% (vs. our past policy of 15%). I voted against this and think it sends the wrong message. I think we have learned a lot these past 4 years of just how damaging state-run funding can be. We have limited means to address that with current laws, which is why I have been fighting so hard to change them. I would like to see our district be strong - something that our community can shape and something that invests in children so that all can succeed. We need to do more here to ensure a viable, sustainable future.
Assuming that you are elected, name one or two other board candidates that you would like to see serve beside you, and explain why.
Donna Lasinski has been very involved in the AAPS; more importantly, I think she understands the governance role and would be able to serve well as a trustee. A trustee's role is about governance and service leadership - which also means listening, representing our community and making leadership decisions when needed. Donna has demonstrated that kind of service leadership in her past involvement with the AAPS, through the PTOC and other means. This is the kind of skill set that can be successful in the role of a trustee. In addition to service leadership, I think Donna will do what she needs to do in order to understand the laws and policies that we operate within and be available to people to help them better understand these things as well.
Jack Panitch is a thoughtful advocate for public education as well. Jack will carefully consider information and not be reactionary. In his current role as PTOC President, he is demonstrating an engaged and thoughtful leadership on behalf of all of our schools. His understanding of education law and policy will also be helpful. Jack also understands the service leadership role and has a broader inspiration for serving than any single issue.
Donna and Jack are both current parents in the AAPS. As a parent of two students myself, I think this resonates with our community, as we have to personally live with the policies and votes we cast.
If re-elected, I would be very pleased to serve with Donna and Jack and believe they would be excellent trustees.
Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!