East Lansing School Board Candidates on Why They're Running

Monday, September 24, 2018, 7:53 am
Karessa Wheeler

ELi asked the seven people who registered as candidates for the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education why they are running. Here are their full answers, in alphabetical order:

Terah Chambers – “My reasons for wanting to serve on the school board haven’t changed since I was appointed to the Board in November. At that time, I noted that education has been a passion of mine for decades. As a student myself growing up in a St. Paul, MN suburb much like East Lansing, I struggled to make sense of my identity as a high-achieving, African American woman. In college, a mentor saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue graduate school. I had never considered becoming a professor until I made a connection to my earlier personal struggles and realized that I could be that person I wish I would have seen in high school and college – someone who looked like me, who modeled academic success, and who could encourage me to pursue my dreams. That realization has propelled every decision I’ve made since then, from my research agenda focused on supporting the needs of students of color, to my volunteer work in the East Lansing community. I see my research not just as what I do, but who I am. From research, to teaching, to service, everything I do is in support of advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion locally and in the broader education community.

Stemming from this background, three parallel experiences fuel my interest in serving on the Board at this time. First, the professional expertise I have amassed over the last 10+ years working in K-12 educational leadership will bring an important perspective to the Board. Second, I have been deeply engaged in a number of ELPS initiatives, both before my appointment in November and since, that have helped familiarize me with the district. Finally, to return to the narrative that started my answer here, I believe it is important for ELPS students to have diverse role models. I did not experience this for myself until I went to graduate school. I want students in East Lansing to see representation in district leadership that is as diverse as they are. I want to be an example of what they can achieve, and I would strive to be a model for all of our students in the district. “

Kath Edsall – “I believe deeply that free and accessible public education is the backbone of a true democracy. I feel every child who attends school in East Lansing, along with every educator in our district, must be given the tools to be successful. As a progressive, I feel it is necessary that our school board reflects our predominately liberal community; this has not always been the case in East Lansing. I previously served on this board from 2013-2017. In 2015, as a trustee, I pushed for and we negotiated, the first three-year contract in many years and I will continue to work in the best interest of the teachers. When my first son started school in 1997, our teaching staff included more than a dozen Black teachers but fewer than 5 when I was first elected (2012), with Mr. Watson (still) being the last hold out at the middle school and NO teachers of color at the high school. As a district with 40% students of color, these facts are unacceptable. I am thrilled that our new superintendent has promoted one Black administrator and hired another, as well as a Black basketball coach, but we must do more. For the benefit of all students, our teaching staff must reflect the diversity of our students. Understand, I am not questioning the abilities and excellence of our current staff, but as we make new hires, we must make an effort to reach out to a diverse pool of applicants and make great effort to retain those teachers of color that we hire. Prior to my first time on the school board, our discipline rates for Black and Hispanic boys was significantly higher than other students and it was routine for a Black or Hispanic student to be expelled if referred to the board. Thankfully, expulsions dropped as administrators were encouraged to use restorative justice practices, but there is still work to be done. As a lesbian, I will continue to be the voice for an often-silent minority. Prior to serving on the school board, I was a member of our Reproductive Health Committee, so named to specifically exclude any discussion of LGBTQ sexuality. When the national spotlight shown on our sex education curriculum, I worked diligently behind the scenes and suggested two individuals who helped to bring our program into compliance with state law, including the current Sex Ed Director who has done phenomenal work, that includes introducing curriculum specifically for our sexual minority youth and our students with disabilities. Additionally, in my first year on the board, I suggested policy changes that protected our LGBTQ students and later I was instrumental in the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms at the high school and middle school. As a parent of several children with disabilities, I am also focused on policy that affects our special education students. As a parent in the district for over 20 years and with at least 19 years ahead of me(!), I feel I posses a lot of historical background for those new to the school board or new to the district.”

Noel Garcia – “Before answering the question of what I can bring to the East Lansing School Board, it’s important to understand why I am interested in running. I can sum it up in three words…pay it forward. My parents were migrant workers from Texas who made huge sacrifices which included having to leave school at early ages to provide for their families. They always stressed the importance of education with their children as a result of them not having had the opportunity to complete school themselves. They made a better life for us by moving to Lansing shortly after I was born where my dad retired from Oldsmobile and my mother from Michigan State University (MSU). East Lansing has provided the Garcia family with a much better life than my parents struggled with as migrant workers. I worked my way through Lansing Community College to earn an associate’s degree in criminal justice and went to work for the Lansing Police Department in 1989. I got to see the pride in my parent’s eyes when I finished my master’s degree at MSU and when the Governor appointed me to the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan. For nearly a decade I have taught as an adjunct professor at Baker College, Ferris State University and Michigan State University. I am currently the law enforcement instructor at the Wilson Talent Center. I have a passion for education. My amazing wife Kristi and I have worked hard to create educational opportunities for our twin boys who are headed to MacDonald Middle School this fall after amazing experiences at Red Cedar and Whitehills Elementary. We chose East Lansing because it offers our boys the chance to grow up in a diverse, vibrant community and it has exceeded our expectations at every turn. Our boys have had so many great teachers and we have all made so many great friends. I decided to run for school board having experienced the benefits education can have on a person’s life and therefore to pay it forward to our neighbors, our teachers and to East Lansing.“

Chris Martin - “I am a candidate for the East Lansing Board of Education because I believe my experiences as an attorney and former teacher will be valuable to our District in the coming years. Among my top priorities for the Board are challenging and engaging all students, encouraging the values of thoughtfulness, kindness, and empathy, ensuring that our schools are safe, enabling excellent teachers, and keeping the Board’s promises with respect to our new elementary school buildings. One area in which I believe I am uniquely qualified is the construction of new elementary school facilities. The next term of the School Board will be defined largely by our District’s performance in constructing new elementary schools. The Board’s plan for building new schools is ambitious, and relies on construction happening on time and on budget. As an attorney, I have experience in construction litigation. I have seen the challenges that arise in complex construction projects. Delays are common, and cost overruns on one project can shrink budgets for other projects. To avoid these and other outcomes that might undercut our priorities as a district, the School Board needs a strong, experienced advocate to lead in executing our building plan. As a School Board trustee, I will ensure that the Board keeps its promises in connection with the 2017 school bond initiative and school construction in the coming years. With the needs of students and teachers as my first priority, I will work closely with our Bond Committee and building contractors to implement our plans for new facilities. I will ensure that the School Board and Bond Committee use taxpayer money wisely and efficiently. Our success will not only deliver high-quality school buildings on time and on budget, but will also provide improved education and higher quality of life to our entire community.”

Kate Powers - “As an incumbent candidate for the East Lansing Board of Education, I look forward to continuing to be able to share my passion and commitment for serving children to the BOE for another 4 years. In addition to serving as the treasurer and president of the school board, I bring a wealth of board experience as well as a strong understanding of the governance that a school district needs to be successful. I have dedicated my professional life to supporting children at risk through my work as the COO at Ele’s Place, a healing center for grieving children. I know that East Lansing is the very best school district in Mid-Michigan, and I will continue to work hard to ensure that every student has what they need for academic and personal success, and that our district leaders, staff and teachers are given the tools and support to allow this to happen. “

Thasin Sardar – “I have been a resident of East Lansing for over two decades. My wife Huma and I raised two boys, the older one having graduated from East Lansing High School last year and the younger one about to start 10th grade this August. My desire to serve as a member of the Board of Education, is a natural progression of my yearning to serve the community I love very dearly. I wish to contribute by serving to help enhance the quality and experience of education for children and to care for the interests of educators who play a pivotal role in educating and mentoring our children. Thanks to all of you, we will be getting brand new, state of the art buildings for our elementary school students. I am certain our teachers are enthusiastic about it as well. I will strive to facilitate ways and means to capitalize on this momentum. One has every right to their own beliefs. However, when it comes to advocating public policy, particularly ones that affect our children, those beliefs are better left at home so that we can frame policies that are inclusive and caring for all children. For students that are ambitious and aim to reach higher, I want to make sure they are enabled to tread those paths. And for parents, I would like to enhance access to information and resources so they can help their children navigate their academic career paths. When adults quarrel, kids suffer. With some of the most contentious issues now behind us, I will work hard to build consensus and on consolidating our energy and resources towards the betterment of our students' experience in the schools. I will bring to the table my past experience in volunteering in the field of education, years of community building expertise and my professional work experience in the field of Information technology. “

Todd Swales – “While I believe the current and outgoing members of our school board have done a tremendous job leading our district into the future, I believe my experience working at Pinecrest Elementary and my involvement with the Bond Committee to rebuild Pinecrest, combined with my previous governmental and private business endeavors will prepare me well to continue to improve our district and lead us forward into 2020 and beyond. There are many issues that require focus within our district, however as a Board member I will be committed to providing world class safety practices to protect our students and our buildings, providing stewardship for the rebuilding of our elementary schools while providing a sensible approach to the redistribution of our students after the buildings are completed, working to promote cultural diversity, awareness and inclusion; all while continuing to improve our state rankings to be a school system that attracts new families and high quality students.” [UPDATE: Swales has effectively withdrawn from the race. Read more.]


Resident Shari Rose had also filed for candidacy but has since withdrawn her application. Current board members Karen Hoene and Nell Kuhnmuench are not running for re-election. The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.


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