ELi Asks the Candidates: Improving Performance and Outcomes at Donley and Pinecrest

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Monday, October 17, 2016, 7:00 am
Ann Nichols

Image: courtesy East Lansing Public Schools

We asked ELi readers to submit questions for the seven candidates for the East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Education. We selected five (some questions were duplicated) and will run candidate responses to those questions this week. The answers have not been edited.

Question 1: What would you suggest the Board do to work to improve the performance and long term outcomes of students in the two elementary schools (Donley and Pinecrest) where M-STEP tests scores continue to be below par?

Robert Clark: Donley and Pinecrest are both Title 1 focus schools, which mean we have significant numbers of economically disadvantaged students. These students have various and additional needs inside and outside of the classroom, from basic supplies, like pencils and paper, to tutoring, to clothing and transportation. We have worked to get our other schools out of focus status, improving their overall student success. We can take what we have learned at those schools and apply it to Donely and Pinecrest. An extra focus on elementary schools pays educational dividends throughout a student’s lifetime. Making more teaching assistants, parapros, and teachers available and reducing overall class sizes are surefire ways of making sure these students’ needs are met.  Further, we can do more to reach out to community groups to see that these students’ needs are being met in and out of the classroom. This effort will require some coordination of resources; we don’t have the luxury of being wasteful.  A level of discretion should be used, as these students should not have a stigma around their necks because of whatever tax bracket their parents happen to fall into. This isn’t about making the schools numbers look good. It’s about making sure that these students are academically prepared for life. Additionally, we must break the stigma that needing extra help represents some kind of personal failure. We all have different interests and learn at different speeds. There is nothing wrong with needing extra help in math or reading. There is something wrong, however in the idea that these students must face these problems alone.


Nichole Martin: One thing I would suggest, in an effort to improve the performance and long term academic outcomes of students, is for the board to understand and support the importance of stabilizing academic curriculum long enough for students to develop an educational baseline.  Donley and Pinecrest have a wide array of supports and barriers within their student population. With that brings varying household demographics and levels of support within and outside of the home. Performance and long term outcomes will never improve if the curriculum is not consistent and repetitive in its delivery.  State standards are every changing and should be expected but the basic fundamentals of taking tests like M-Step are the same; comprehension, analytical thinking, deductive reasoning and problem solving.  I would suggest that the board figure out a way to provide specialized instruction during the school day to support children throughout their academic day.  While the Donley administration and teachers worked very hard to become a Title-I Building, which aided in the support of smaller class sizes, Pinecrest has fallen victim to overcrowding with little support to accommodate the number of students, classes and programs within that building.  In order to improve performance and long term outcomes, at Pinecrest, the board needs to address classroom sizes, increase resources and stabilize teaching strategies to reflect the best practices for teaching in the 21st century.    


Kyle Guerrant: The Board focus should be on supporting the administrators and teaching staff in those buildings and reduce barriers to teaching and learning. The Board should garner a full understanding of the M-STEP data for those buildings, and have a better understanding of the students who are not proficient across M-STEP assessed content areas. The Board should continue to support Donley's building wide Title I implementation efforts to support the schools neediest students and help foster student academic growth. The Board should consider a building level assessment for Pinecrest and have a better understanding of the types of programs in the building, and whether those programs are successful. As Pinecrest's building capacity has become a concern this year, school of choice numbers should be considered in an effort to lower class sizes and number of grade sections. The Board should also review the attendance patterns in those buildings to understand how much instruction time is being missed due to student absences. Approximately 27 percent of Michigan students missed 10 or more days of school last year. That is a significant amount of time missed, and if students are not with our skilled ELPS teaching staff consistently, that effects their academic outcomes. The Board should also explore a partnership with the state/local Department Health and Human Service (DHHS) agency to bring Pathway's to Potential to those school buildings. Pathway's to Potential places a DHHS "success coach" staff in schools to work closely with school staff and families to eliminate non-academic barriers to learning by addressing student/family needs.


Erin Graham: To improve Donley and Pinecrest students’ long-term outcomes, the Board must set priorities for our administration that: 1) support our teachers and draw upon their knowledge as the individuals who work most closely with the students in these buildings 2) allocate resources in ways that provide intellectually rigorous and equitable learning opportunities to all students and 3) have a vision about what counts as good teaching and learning that goes beyond high-stakes standardized tests.

We have made progress in working towards these goals. I helped to change board policy to more fully incorporate teachers’ voices when making curricular decisions, which will lead to better student outcomes. We have also signed a three-year contract with our teachers, the first in over a decade. This has allowed our educators to devote more time and attention to the students in their classrooms. 

Last year, we directed our administration to support Donley staff in undertaking the process of becoming a Title One school. Donley has Title One status this year, allowing it to access additional resources to help meet students’ learning needs. At both schools, we must allocate resources in ways that incorporate educators’ and parents’ understandings of how to best meet students’ needs. We must keep class sizes low enough so that teachers can provide individual attention to students. 

Finally, we cannot rely only on high-stakes standardized tests to tell us if all students are learning. When looking at long-term outcomes, we must set priorities for our administration to use multiple measures of learning that go beyond these tests. We should be striving to achieve the kind of teaching and learning that prepares all of our students to be critical, thoughtful, and informed participants in society. 


Mike Conlin: To improve performance and long term outcomes at Donley and Pinecrest, ELPS must increase classroom resources to reduce class sizes and increase individual student attention.  This applies to these two schools along with the rest of ELPS.  There are straightforward steps ELPS should take to bring more resources into the classrooms.

1.     Use alternative tax policies, like a recreational millage, to free up funds for the salaries of teachers, para-professionals, counselors and specialists. This can be accompanied by a decrease in the sinking fund millage, which must be used for capital expenditures.

2.     Invest in school buildings in a way that allows maximum resources to be directed to the classrooms. This means renovating or building spaces that are the appropriate sizes for our student body. The first step is to determine the optimal size of the student body based on informed predictions in resident student population and a thorough analysis of how school of choice students can most beneficially augment the student body.  I would ensure a fiscally responsible bond that accounts for building size, based on accurate student enrollment projections and educational needs. 

Increasing classroom resources and building improvements must be part of a comprehensive long run strategic plan.  My financial expertise and engineering/construction background will be beneficial when formulating and implementing a plan that provides necessary academic resources for the long run.  This will improve the outcomes for students at Donley, Pinecrest and the other ELPS schools.


Hillary Henderson: The district has worked diligently to achieve Title I status for Donley Elementary which provides additional funding for specific educational needs in the building.  The preparations for securing Title I have been happening for two years including increasing paraprofessionals, maintaining “Good Fit” groups, adding a behavior interventionist, and ensuring smaller class sizes. The goal is increase scores and decrease the gaps between groups of learners.

At Pinecrest we need to implement similar supports to those we have at Donley.  The district needs to be attentive to managing class sizes at Pinecrest by evaluating resident student increases and Schools of Choice placement.  Also, the district needs to re-evaluate special program placement to make sure the resources within Pinecrest are best utilized.  Pinecrest will benefit from more interventions as well.


Kath Edsall: If you look closely at the data, the issue isn’t confined to two buildings but to several demographics. District wide, our lowest performing students are significantly over represented by African American and Hispanic students as well as children living in poverty, children in special education and English Language Learner students. Donley and Pinecrest are the two buildings in the district that currently have the largest numbers of students from these demographics. As a school board member, it is not my job to create programming, instead, as a board we need to (and have) direct the superintendent and her staff to stay focused on the educational and emotional needs of these students throughout our district.   As such, I have supported the implementation of programming to identify, address and monitor these discrepancies: Multi-tiered Systems of Support, Culturally Responsive PBIS, Restorative Justice, School wide Title 1 programming at Donley, Trauma informed teaching at Pinecrest, and the hiring of principals Barton and Webster at Donley and Pinecrest respectively. As we move forward, we must expand out preschool offerings for several reasons. We have a mandate from the State to provide fully inclusive opportunities to our preschool special education students and for students living in poverty, students whose primary language is not English and our lowest performing African American and Hispanic students, this has been shown to be one of only a few things we can do to significantly impact the opportunity gap which leads to significantly different outcomes for our lowest and highest performing students. 


For more information on the election and candidates, please click here.


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