ELi Asks: Why Are School Board Candidates Running?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 9:49 am
Rebecca J. McAndrews

In the November 4 election, a total of eight candidates will vie for four four-year seats on the East Lansing School Board. An open forum with all eight candidates will be held tonight, October 21, in the East Lansing High School (ELHS) Cafeteria/Student Union from 5:00pm-6:30pm, and will offer the East Lansing community an opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues of concern with School Board candidates.

In an effort to provide all of the East Lansing community a closer look at candidates, ELi has asked every candidate to answer a list of questions we think voters may have. Candidates were given a strict 200-word limit for answers, and ELi’s publisher selected the order in which their answers would appear through a random drawing of candidates' names. Here we publish responses to our first question. (Jeffrey C. Wray did not respond to ELi’s invitation.)

What issue/moment moved you to run for election to East Lansing School Board?

Response from Kate Powers: I had been thinking about running for East Lansing School Board for quite a while, but was really inspired to run sometime over the course of the last 2-3 years as I saw discussion being focused on a singular issue, and the educational opportunities for ALL of our students were being ignored.

Response from Yasmina Bouraoui: I have lived in East Lansing’s Pinecrest neighborhood for 20 years, where I raised my family, a daughter, and four refugee foster children, all graduates of ELHS. While East Lansing is known for its academic excellence, we do not do well for all of our students. I have experienced low expectations for some of my children within the district, which makes my commitment to the growth and development of all students, including those who have traditionally underperformed, significant and personal. I am passionately committed to closing the achievement gap in East Lansing Public Schools. I have demonstrated that in my personal life and through my involvement in the Achievement Gap Task Force, where I lent my voice and resourcefulness as we work, as a district, toward eliminating the achievement gap. I envision a school district where all students, administrators, and teachers are held to high standards. By setting high expectations, every individual in the district knows what to aim for.  When administrators, teachers, families, and students collaborate for the highest quality education for each student, the results are dramatic. All students can succeed in reaching high levels of achievement. I recognize that East Lansing is indeed a village in the [200 word limit reached]

Response from Karen Hoene: I grew up in East Lansing in the 70's and 80's, attending Pinecrest, MacDonald Middle School, and ELHS. As an adult I realize how lucky and privileged I was to grow up in a community that valued education as much as we did. I am running for school board because I want to do my part to assure that current and future students have access to the same educational opportunities that I had as a child. Our community has become divided because of the way school reconfiguration decisions were made and implemented and I would like to help repair the damage that has been done and regain the trust of the community so that we can move forward together and face the challenges that public schools across the country are facing.

Response from Joe Borgstrom: There were a few issues that compelled me to run for school board. But by far, the biggest problem is the communication process between the schools (including the board) and families in the district. This communication issue can be linked to everything from communicating the reasons for closing Red Cedar Elementary (and plan for what to do with the building next), to crisis communication (lockdown situations), to the recent elementary/middle school realignment to the status of contract negotiations with the teachers. Couple this communication issue with limited resources and you have a recipe for continued frustration over changes and decisions to be made well into the future. I, like many people, have heard rumblings about those who want to reverse the decisions the board has made the last few years. In addition, I’ve been appalled to learn of Political Action Committee (PAC) money now being spent to influence our local school board election. This “dark money” is ugly, unaccountable politics and has no place in a local school board election. I believe it is time to move the district forward with positivity and put our children’s education first.

Response from David Gott: [1] The Board and Community are divided. With the closing of an elementary and negotiations with the staff, the Board needs to come together and move forward in focusing on ALL kids and making a cohesive educational team. [2] There is transition with administration. The need for the Board to hear the needs of the community and make sure that it is reflected in the policies and decisions made by the District. I believe that my skills as both a listener and communicator can help the EL Board become more responsive to the community as well as to its students, staff and families. [3] The ever changing target within education is always a concern. Whether it’s school funding, educational policy…the one thing that is constant is change. Navigating this change is difficult, and it takes an alert team to do it.  Since my experience in education is in a high functioning school district and buildings, I am in-tune with this change and believe I can be instrumental in helping the ELPS navigate this toward the excellence that we are capable of.

Response from Kyle Guerrant: As a East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) alum, I am eager to serve as a ELPS board member, working to foster high quality educational opportunities for all students. That is my main motivation for running for school board. I was fortunate to amazing educational and extracurricular opportunities while I was an ELPS student, and I want to be part of an ELPS board that provides those opportunities for all present and future students. I have worked as a school social worker, coached varsity boys basketball, and volunteered in the district, and currently have 3 children attending ELPS schools.

Response from Nell Kuhnmuench: I am running for *reelection* to the School Board primarily for the students. While we have made progress during the time I have served, there is more work to be done. We need to ensure every student in our schools feels welcome, safe, cared for and challenged to be all that their individual potential allows them to be.The assets each child brings to the classroom must be permitted to flourish and grow. Our schools need to encourage critical thinking, preparing students to learn, cooperate, create and serve our world. We need to establish greater equity in our schools for every student in our diverse population. East Lansing students are fortunate to be educated in a city where learning is the centerpiece of community life. We should continue to create partnerships with the University, allowing our students the benefit of MSU's international academic resources and the commensurate opportunities that grow from that. We also need to engage our community more openly, giving community members adequate notice of issues upon which the Board will be deliberating and affording the opportunity to make meaningful comment and to watch the Board deliberations. Our finances need to continue to be carefully monitored and managed.

Stay tuned to ELi for more candidate answers to our questions, including:

  • If elected, what would you pursue to change in our school district through the ELSB?
  • When it comes to fiscal responsibility of the ELSB, what do you believe is the greatest priority for spending in our school district?
  • Our district has recently undergone a large reconfiguration and school closing. What is your position on maintaining or reversing these decisions made by the current school board?

And more!

Photo courtesy City of East Lansing.

Disclosure: Rebecca J. McAndrews has two children who attend East Lansing Public Schools and is a substitute teacher for the district.

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