Where do East Lansing School Board Candidates Stand on Proposed Redistricting?

Monday, November 5, 2018, 7:16 am
Karessa Wheeler

Pictured: Top row l-r Terah Chambers, Noel Garcia, Chris Martin. Bottom row l-r Kate Powers, Thasin Sardar, Kath Edsall

A reader asked us “What are the East Lansing Board of Education candidate’s positions on the newly proposed boundaries for the district’s elementary schools?” Below, in randomly selected order, are their answers.

Thasin Sardar: I am supportive of the proposed school boundaries as it is aimed at right-sizing all the elementary schools close to the ideal student population. Besides, it keeps the students in the schools which are in proximity to their residence. Glencairn is pretty close to 299 which is within the desired ideal population limit.

There are about 70 students in Flower Pot/ Spartan Village/ Ivanhoe/ 1855 Place neighborhoods. Moving them to Glencairn would have a cascading effect on moving some students out of Glencairn which will not be possible in Fall 2019 anyway while Pinecrest is being rebuilt. Admitting them to Glencairn would breach the ideal school population size by 20 to 25% in both Glencairn and Pinecrest. Furthermore, the proposed plans also aim to keep some of the moves for Pinecrest students to a one-off occurrence while Pinecrest is rebuilt in 2019.

Families who have a strong preference for a specific school have the choice of availing the District’s permeable boundaries option. I recognize this is not guaranteed or can come at an inconvenience of using own transportation.

Whatever staffing stability or mission concerns that Flower Pot families and their immediate surrounding neighborhoods have needs to be looked into and given due attention to ensure the quality of education of their children is enhanced and not compromised. 

Kate Powers: While I understand the potential need to shift boundaries as new elementary buildings come online, I am concerned about the timing of these shifts, specifically the plan to have students who live closest to Red Cedar school remain in that facility through a number of transitions. While I understand the desire to minimize physical transitions for all students, it doesn't seem to me that a plan to have a specific population of students remain in a building actually minimizes all transitions. I believe it is a greater transition to have the people around you- peers, teachers and other staff- continue to change as a new school enters the temporary space of Red Cedar school while construction occurs. I believe that a student's relationship with school goes beyond the building in which they attend school-it is also about the community formed within those walls. Also, I don't think we can make decisions which affect families in a vacuum, which is why I really want those who have strong feelings about these proposed shifts, and their timeline, to share that information with the Board of Education. I want to listen to the needs and desires of those families who will be directly affected by these shifts, and seriously and thoughtfully take their needs into account before I make a final decision on my support or opposition of these shifts and the timeline.

Chris Martin: I appreciate how the proposed boundary adjustment plan before the School Board reduces current overcrowding at Pinecrest Elementary and keeps neighborhoods together, which I believe are very important considerations. I support efforts to “right-size” our elementary campuses, especially in light of the overcrowding at many of our schools. My hope is that our discussions of “right-sizing” will also become part of a larger strategic discussion of reducing class sizes throughout the District.

It is important to me that any decisions made in the coming weeks not adversely impact our ongoing discussions about expanding early childhood programs in our District and getting the best return on our community’s investment in the six school buildings included in the 2017 bond.

I am aware of a few concerns about current elementary students residing in the neighborhoods south of Michigan Avenue. As a former teacher, I know that consistency is extremely important to student comfort, well-being, and achievement in school. Between school closures, construction, and boundary adjustments, the students and families in neighborhoods south of Michigan Avenue have experienced significant upheaval over the past five years. The additional upheaval that would result from rotating unfamiliar students and teachers through their school building for another two years puts more pressure on these children and their families, which I believe is avoidable. I would support efforts to allow students living in the affected neighborhoods south of Michigan Avenue who have already begun elementary school in ELPS to choose to remain with their current peers, teachers, and school administrators throughout the transition/construction period if families believe that is in their child’s best interest.

Terah Chambers: At the October 22 school board meeting, Superintendent Leyko presented a proposal regarding boundary shifts that would impact students attending Red Cedar, Glencairn, and Pinecrest elementary schools. She released this proposal with the intention of gathering community input, which we will hear at the board meetings on Nov 12 and Nov 26, or anytime via e-mail, phone, or direct communication. After receiving that input, Ms. Leyko will bring a recommendation regarding boundary shifts to the board to vote on at the Dec 10 meeting. While the current proposal does include shifting attendance boundaries, Ms. Leyko has also recommended that rising 5th graders be allowed to stay at their current school, with transportation provided. In addition, any family may make an application via the district's Permeable Boundary program to request enrollment at the school of their choice. I understand that any potential boundary shift will impact our families in ways we cannot imagine. Accordingly, I fully support the opportunity for families to make decisions about what will work best for them through this process and, if I remain on the board, will fight for the district to honor as many permeable boundary requests as possible through the transition process. I have made similar statements publicly since we initiated conversations about potential boundary shifts last spring.

I appreciate the thought that has gone into the recommendation from Ms. Leyko. The recommendation is thorough, impacts the smallest number of students possible, and ensures numbers of students at the classroom levels remain balanced from school to school. To respond directly to the reader's question, I think it makes logical sense to draw the boundaries as recommended. However, it would be disingenuous to say that I have taken a position on this issue before fully hearing community input. I intend to take full advantage of the public comment period so that I can hear what the community thinks about this plan, including alternative ideas about how this shifting can occur that would further minimize the impact on our community. I strongly support the long-term plan for the district resulting from the elementary bond. We are headed in the right direction. The question is, how can we minimize the impact on our students in the process? Most important to me in making this decision (or any other) is listening to community input and making decisions based on facts and what I believe is best for our district. I will always be transparent in my decision-making. In this last year on the board I've learned that I will never make everyone happy but I will always listen to various perspectives and take them into consideration in my decision-making process. I am always happy to talk whether it is via my ELPS e-mail, during school pick-ups, or in line at the grocery store - to me, this is an important part of my job and I'm happy to do it.

Kath Edsall: I support the administration’s recommendations that establish the Northern Glencairn/Southern Pinecrest boundary as Woodingham Road extended as well as keeping Chesterfield Hills as part of Glencairn.

I also support the grandfathering of 5th graders and the option for others to utilize permeable boundary opportunities, when possible, to meet individual family desires.

Change is always hard, but the eventual outcome of five equitably sized, new, K-5 neighborhood embedded elementary schools (Glencairn, Whitehills, Donley, Marble and Pinecrest) and one smaller pre-K - elementary at Red Cedar, accomplishes many goals including: parity, maintaining our enrollment to best utilize our high school and middle school and centralize and expand our preschool opportunities. This recommendation also maintains our neighborhood schools that make each neighborhood more desirable and education more accessible.

Noel Garcia: I was present at the October 22nd school board meeting where Superintendent Dori Leyko proposed the elementary boundary shifts to begin in Fall 2019. I found the superintendent’s presentation to be clear and concise, data driven and showed due diligence on her part with her thoughtful insight. I support Superintendent Leyko’s proposed boundary changes based on these four points:

  1. The proposal has the best interest of students in mind. Superintendent Leyko’s plan considers “grandfathering in” [fourth grade] students to remain with their cohort of students with transportation as evidence that her plans have the best interest of students in mind. Furthermore, students are allowed to apply through permeable boundary to stay with their cohort student body.
  2. The proposal reflects accurate analysis of data. Current board members will have an opportunity to study the data and ask further questions as they consider this proposal.
  3. The proposal was ethical and transparent. The proposal does not negatively affect any specific segment of the student body and is fair to all involved students. Transparency in the plan is evident as the proposal is available on the district’s board of education website. Further evidence of transparency can be seen with Superintendent Leyko’s interest in receiving public comment at the next board meetings (November 12th and November 26th) as well as her request that the public provide her with feedback by e-mail and or through the district website.
  4. Lastly, my final thought is that I asked myself, does the decision improve the overall health of the district. In the positive yet trying time of maneuvering through new building construction, challenges are certain to impact families; however, this plan does keep in mind the overall health of the district.


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