Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 AAPS Board Candidate: Donna Lasinski

Read more about Donna Lasinski here:

Staff morale has been an issue in the school district. How do you think the board should monitor and respond to staff morale issues, if at all? Given that the majority of district staff are teachers, should teachers be treated differently (better OR worse) than other staff people in the district?

The interaction between teachers and students is the heart of a strong public education system. We must prioritize the learning needs of students and build on the strengths of our teachers to meet the goal of every student reaching their highest potential. As a board member, I will be very concerned with teacher morale. I will look to ensure our teachers have the professional development, support services and classroom environments that have demonstrated success both nationally and locally.  The current funding situation pits staff against staff in a system dedicated to the success of students.  I would prioritize small classroom sizes and high quality teaching professionals against other priorities.

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?

State mandated standardized testing has demonstrated little to no ability to positively impact instruction at the school and student level. To achieve the state's goal of measuring progress and ranking, a full testing of every student is not required, a sample set would suffice. However, the reality is that funding is directly tied to participation in mandated state testing. As a community, we can advocate together for changes, however, risking the limited, essential funding for our schools with opt-out decisions may be counter productive. The state needs demonstrated, better solutions advocated for by informed, passionate parents.

Parents opting out non-state mandated testing is a personal prerogative. Referencing the NWEA, it has shown the ability to improve instruction at the classroom and individual student level. For example, in one elementary, one of three teachers had her students score lower in fraction understanding across the board. With immediate results from the testing, a team of teachers was able to offer sample lessons, model the instruction of fraction teaching and work as a professional learning community to grow the teaching skills of the teacher. The teacher's students, after the additional support, were able to reach proficiency.

Aside from the budget, what are your two top priorities for the Ann Arbor schools?

I firmly believe that we need to fulfill the mission of AAPS schools of ensuring each student realizes his or her aspirations while advancing the common good, through the creation of a world class system of innovative teaching and learning. And to do this we need adequate funding at the state level. But to your specific question...

First, I would continue the growth of programs and offerings so that each student is inspired by relevant, rigorous curriculum. Relevancy is student dependent, and is necessary to inspire students and close the achievement gap. Offerings will need to include attention to meeting the socio-emotional needs of our students as well as extending our offerings outside of school time.

Second, I will laser focus on spreading the innovations and successes we have already established in pockets of our district to the entire district.  Many of these successes are not wholly dependent on funding but instead require increased professional idea sharing, updating of processes and methods, and cultural shifts.

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?

After careful consideration, I am in favor of the annexation of Whitmore Lake schools. However, the decision will be made before I am elected and I am committed to implementing the will of the community. The initial potential of the annexation is a small but significant net positive increase in funding across the district, after Whitmore Lake Schools have transitioned into the AAPS system. The medium to long range positive potential of the annexation is the opportunity to add an additional small high school opportunity to all AAPS students, with the potential to add other creative programming; the opportunity to grow our student base with anticipated new population growth in Whitmore Lake due to economic investment in home building; and the opportunity to stabilize our funding forecasts allowing time to continue to advocate at the state level for meaningful changes in public school financing.

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...)

A very positive decision over the last six months are the efforts to add new programming - world languages through out elementary schools, IB programming across K-12, and STEAM@Northside.

Transportation over the last six months has been a struggle for many students and families. As we moved to common stops and increased walking zones, there are elements of the policy that directly hinder students arriving to school in a timely fashion, ready to learn. I would advocate for full busses. To me, this means that if you are at the 1 and 1/4 mile marker and there are empty bus seats at the 1 1/2 mile common bus stop, you should be allowed to walk to the common stop instead of walking directly to school. I have asked for attendance data from our schools and common stops to understand how our current policies are impacting student attendance in total, as well as on harsh weather days.

Assuming that you are elected, name one or two other board candidates that you would like to see serve beside you, and explain why.

Christine Stead's board experience and leadership, attention to student achievement, and state level advocacy are a model to me.  Jack Panitch's ability to dive into the details and his depth of understanding of complex government financing and regulation are necessary at this juncture in school financing.  I would be proud and honored to serve alongside these two candidates.

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