Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 YCS Board Candidate: Maria Sheler-Edwards (6-Year Term)

Read more about Maria Sheler-Edwards at

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

As a board member and a district parent, I’m very focused on implementing programs that will help all students learn and achieve. In the first year of the consolidated district, the current board approved a number of programs that are supported by research to improve achievement (expanded preschool, balanced calendar, IB program, small learning communities). In addition, I’m committed to continuing our investment in restorative practices and cultural competency. Together these practices are helping create an environment for learning that is safe and supportive for every student.

Also, as a parent of two high school graduates who were heavily involved in fine arts and sports programs, I am committed to providing exemplary co-curricular opportunities for our students. These experiences benefit students by nurturing teamwork, discipline, confidence, creativity—characteristics that help students achieve in the classroom as well.

What ideas do you have for reducing students' out-of-school days (unexcused absences)?

There is no single solution to truancy. It’s also not unique to our district—nor a problem we will solve in isolation. Our staff is reaching out and building relationships with our families and we need to continue to do this. It’s also important to build partnerships with others on the county level who have the same goal of eliminating truancy and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. I am committed continuing to work with the county’s School-Justice Partnership, which includes representatives from all area school districts, the legal system, and non-profits, who are working together on strategies to reduce truancy.

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?  What ideas do you have for reducing staff turnover in the coming year?

We have phenomenal and dedicated staff working with our kids in many capacities every day. It’s my goal that YCS would be the first choice for families and parents, as well as the first choice for our staff. We need to retain our high-quality teachers and attract new teachers who want the reward of teaching in our community. This means listening to our teachers, investing in them with professional development opportunities, and providing competitive salaries. I would like to see processes put into place that would help us collect data, such as regular “pulse surveys” and exit interviews, to help us understand and address issues in a timely manner.

Are you satisfied with the district’s openness and transparency to parents, employees, and community members/taxpayers? If yes, why? If no, what changes would you propose?

As a board member and communications professional, I am personally invested in regular and open communication with our community, and I look for opportunities to hear from people. Along with my fellow trustees, I have met with Parent Advisory Boards, PTOs, and Neighborhood Watch groups, to provide an update on the consolidation and our first year as a combined district, and more importantly, to listen. We need to continue this type of work, as well as implement a strategic plan for regular communications. Replacing the automatic system for calling district families was a small step in the right direction. But we need to do more to reach families, alumni, business owners, retirees, taxpayers, and all of the folks who have a vested interest in the success of YCS.

5.             Hindsight is perfect, but: whether you are an incumbent, or not: Name one decision that the YCS 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.

I am very proud of the work we did with the community and the ISD in planning for the reconfiguration of the elementary schools last spring—the process was thoughtful, robust, and transparent. I came away with an understanding of the many different perspectives that were shared, and together the group created a configuration that makes sense for our kids and our community.

Regarding what we could have done differently:  we used a small part of the consolidation grant to hire a communications professional to help out at the beginning of the consolidation. I think we need to continue to focus resources on communication and community engagement, in order to share the steady stream of news—both the successes and challenges—that have come out of this process. The word-of-mouth network in Ypsilanti is strong, but like a game of telephone, it’s not always entirely correct. We need to do a better job of providing accurate and timely information for our community.

Former board members from Willow Run, Ypsilanti Schools, or Ypsilanti Community Schools: When were you a former board member? Were you appointed or elected? What did you learn from your experience on the WR, YS, or YCS board that you think would be helpful on the board now?

I was appointed to serve on the board in 2012. I had no formal affiliation with either district, outside of being a parent of a YPS graduate. Being a new board member, the learning curve was steep, so I have worked diligently to educate myself and understand issues that pertain to our district, as well as educational issues at the county, state, national level that affect us. I’m grateful that as a new board in an unprecedented situation, both districts and the ISD invested in our success with professional development opportunities, board workshops, and good counsel. These experiences—combined with the hundreds of hours spent meeting and talking with various YCS stakeholders and constituencies on a wide variety of topics—have helped prepare me to serve another term.

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

I respect all of my fellow community members who are willing to step forward as board members and volunteers to serve the children and families of Ypsilanti. I have enjoyed serving with the board members who were appointed with me in 2012, who have each been professional, respectful, and dedicated. To name a single person is difficult, but I will say that in my 6-year race [Ed. Note: There are four candidates for the six-year term, and three open positions], the person I would like to serve with is Greg Myers. He is the father of four young children (three who are students in our district, and a toddler). He has proven himself to be a thoughtful and hard-working trustee who is dedicated to the success of all students. Also, as a resident (and board trustee) of the former Willow Run district, he brings a historical perspective that is very valuable as we continue to build community in our new district.

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