Thursday, February 2, 2023

Meet the candidates: East Lansing school board hopefuls address top issues

November 7, 2022
The entrance of East Lansing High School on Nov. 7, 2022.
The entrance of East Lansing High School on Nov. 7, 2022. —
Photo by Drew Goretzka | The State News

As school boards become the battleground where some of America’s most contentious issues are playing out, more people without a background in politics are deciding to run for positions of influence over public schools. 

In East Lansing there are ten candidates for school board on the ballot this November. The State News sent each candidate the same questionnaire and eight candidates responded. Steven J. Davis and Tyler Allan Smith did not respond. Here are their answers to questions on a variety of issues ranging from COVID-19 recovery to LGBTQ representation. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What's your background? Do you have kids in EL public schools? Are you an educator?

Tali Faris-Hylen: I have three kids in East Lansing Public Schools: a freshman at East Lansing High School, a sixth-grader at MacDonald Middle School and a fourth-grader at Marble Elementary School. By trade I am a communications professional and co-own Ripple Public Relations – a full-service marketing agency. I am a fierce advocate for public education and have been volunteering within our schools for over a decade behind the scenes, and on parent and community councils and as a co-founder of Marble Equity Team. 

Mike Feldpausch: I am a parent of elementary students in ELPS, a small business owner and bring a perspective outside of a career in education.

Jim McEvoy: My family and I moved to East Lansing in 2018. We have three kids in the district, one at the elementary, middle and high school. My wife, Carin, is the music teacher at Donley Elementary School. My day job is consulting for state agencies on Medicaid delivery, often in the behavioral health or corrections settings.

Rob Sumbler: I was born and raised in East Lansing, and attended ELPS for my entire school career. I have worked in television and video production for the last 26 years, and the East Lansing schools prepared me for that. My wife, who also graduated from East Lansing and I are now parents in the district, with a second-grader at Marble, and another one who will be in kindergarten in two years. While I do have a background in e-content for the Early Literacy Essentials program through the Michigan Department of Education, to my current work in public television – where our primary focus is education based content. 

Kath Edsall: I am the parent of eight children and have served for eight years on the East Lansing Schools Board of Education. I currently have three children in the district and five graduates including a freshman at Michigan State University. I am also an MSU alumni with a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and a Master's of Business Administration, and played basketball for MSU from 1978 to 1982.

Lind Brown-Wren: My wife and I have three children and live in the city of East Lansing. We have a high schooler, a kindergartener and a preschooler. I graduated from East Lansing High School in 1996 and Michigan State University. This is the community I come from and the community I will be in for many years. I have been a hand-on volunteer within several schools for over a decade. I am a board member of the Red Cedar Family Council at Red Cedar Elementary School. In my work with Red Cedar Family Council, I provide the graphic design and communications for RCFC. If you message RCFC, you’re messaging me. I also help run the Scholastic Book Fair, the clothing closet, the school yearbook, the carnival, the Stock the Staff Lounge event and so on. I am also a District Council Representative for Red Cedar and volunteer to help teachers out with classroom projects as requested 

I helped open the Salus Center, our local LGBTQIA+ community center, back in 2017, I was a board member and it is where I still work as a building manager, group facilitator and community presenter of LGBTQIA+ topics. I am on the Board of Trans-illience with MSU  and helped create Queering Medicine, which works to provide LGBTQIA-safe experiences with doctors offices and make connections between LGBTQIA-affirming doctors and patients. I was a Girl Scout leader for eight years, where I learned how to work with many different families and personality types. 

Terah Chambers: I'm a professor of education at MSU in the College of Education and have a sixth grader at the middle school. I've been serving on the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education for the last five years and am hoping to serve another term if re-elected. In addition, I'm Black and believe strongly in the need for school board members who reflect the demographics of their school district community.

Amanda Cormier: I am a mother, a former special education teacher, I've worked in arts education administration and I have a master's degree in elementary education and special education. I've worked with children kindergarten through 12th grade, in public schools, special day schools and in a museum education setting. I have experience working with community partners to provide unique and equitable opportunities to students. My children aren't in ELPS yet, but they will be in the future.

I am also one of the Nassar survivors, and know firsthand what it looks like when a board puts their own self-interest before the needs of their community. I hope to be an honest and thoughtful board member who puts student needs above all else. 

Why are you seeking a seat on your local school board? What factors motivate you to get involved in your community?

Faris-Hylen: I feel as if running for school board is the natural progression of my service to the community. While I don't currently feel as if our district is at risk, education is under the attack in many ways. I felt as though I should step in and up to run for board as I never want to take for granted the strides East Lansing has made to become an inclusive district. Our educational system is the backbone of our democracy and we have to continue to advocate for more support at every level. We want our future citizens to be educated, open minded and well rounded in all regards, and in order to do so, we must ensure they are all given ample opportunities to succeed.

Feldpausch: To represent parents and get the board to listen and be responsive to parents, to increase transparency in board matters, to get academic results back up to pre-pandemic levels or higher. The board's intransigence toward parents.

McEvoy: I am seeking a seat on the local school board to advocate for kids, support our teachers and represent and engage with our community. Community service is important for helping build the community you want to see. East Lansing is a diverse, unique community because it has people from all over the world, and our public schools are a reflection of that diversity. I want to have a hand in building and protecting this unique community.

Sumbler: I am running for the school board because with public education institutions under threat from those who fear knowledge and understanding, our schools, students, teachers and staff deserve a school board that will help make sure they are safe, welcome, supported and challenged, no matter who they are, where they come from or how they identify. East Lansing is a wonderfully diverse and welcoming community which values a good comprehensive education. It's a community that has a history of producing world changers.

We have an obligation to continue to provide our children with not just that opportunity for academic success, but also with the tools they need to be empathetic and caring global citizens. I want to be involved with the school board to help make sure that all of our students have the ability to achieve success, however they define it. Be that continuing to a four year institution, entering a trade school or directly joining the workforce to pursue their passion. Public schools are the place where any of those options are possible. 

Edsall: I have been actively involved in the district since my oldest started school in1996. I participated in parent councils and district committees. When it became clear to me that we weren’t serving our marginalized – race, LGBTQIA+, low socioeconomic status and students with disabilities – students, I felt I had to get more involved. During my tenure we have worked to address racial inequities and add more support for these children. 

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.

Brown-Wren: My priorities would be to support the intersectional needs of both students and staff. When making decisions, we must take into account the many cultures, races, gender identities, gender orientations, disabilities, economic needs and religious identities of our diverse school community. I was raised by a single mother in a low-income household in this school district. I have firsthand experience with the income inequities here in ELPS.

This is just one lens that I have that has helped me understand the unmet needs of students within our own district. We need to prioritize reaching underserved students who do not have the same access to programs as their peers. This includes making sure all students have equal access to technology, enrichment activities and food security. We need to make sure that we are providing the same opportunities of our wonderful community to all students. 

Chambers: I've been serving on the school board for the last five years. Part of the motivation to continue is wanting to support our students, teachers and administrators in the important work that we have been engaged in to support all students, but particularly students from minoritized identities – students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, etc. However, I'm particularly interested in supporting student needs in school, and have fought to provide opportunities for our ELPS students to have more authentic and comprehensive opportunities to be seen and recognized in our district. Student voice matters!

Cormier: I'm seeking a seat on the school board because it seems that there is a trend nationwide of school boards becoming a political playground that benefits adults more than the students the school district teaches.  I wanted to be a voice as a former educator who has been in the classroom for students and teachers who often are left out of those conversations. After meeting many of the other candidates, I feel hopeful for the future of ELPS. 

School boards are where some of Americans' most heated differences are coming to the surface. If you're elected, what will you do to ensure members of your community are able to have a civil and respectful relationship with their school board?

Faris-Hylen: I think our district already has a respectful protocol in place. Public comment at board meetings is an opportunity for community members to express their thoughts and board members and administration are available to answer questions and address concerns.

Feldpasch: All EL Board meetings I have viewed, attended or spoken at have been civil.  What will the board do to ensure they have a civil and respectful relationship with the people they serve?

McEvoy: In my campaign I have spent a lot of time hanging literature on doors and talking to people in the community. It's important to get outside of my own bubble. If elected, I will continue trying to step outside of my own bubble by meeting with individuals with a variety of opinions and make sure that people are heard even if we disagree. I will continue to work on making sure I make myself available at different times of day and different days of the week so I can connect with people who are not available along traditional schedules.

Sumbler: As a public school, our job is to help children grow into smart, successful, respectful adults. As a board we should set a good example of how to have that respectful discourse, and I invite the parents of our community to join us in that effort.

Edsall: As a board member we communicate with community members all the time. At meetings there is time set aside for public comment. We also engage the community at school events, drop-off and pick-up times, through phone calls, emails, letters and when campaigning. I always try to be respectful of others and at the same time, try to educate individuals regarding any misinformation they may have been given.

Brown-Wren: The energy I will bring with me is that of an active listener and someone who works to de-center myself to be able to hear the concerns of others. I will continue to listen to the needs of this community and step up to help when the need arises. This is a skill I will bring with me to this school board.

Chambers: This is such an important question, and it's true that those heated conversations have happened in East Lansing. In fact, it's one of the reasons I want to continue serving on the school board. I will continue to fight to back our educators to do what is right for kids. Civil disagreement is fine, and I support our community members' rights to share their opinions. It can be very valuable. However, hearing from everyone is not the same as being beholden to make decisions based on those opinions. Our educators need to have board members who will not cave to community pressure, especially when that community pressure is in contrast with our district goals and values.

Cormier: In most things, I tend to lead with empathy first. I try to remember that those that have different viewpoints than me do because of their life experience and their thoughts should be listened to in that way. Anyone in the community should be able to email a board member their concerns to come to a school board meeting and their opinion would be considered. I also think there could be room for educating the public about what is actually happening in classrooms. Much of the concern I hear from people who have criticism of what happening in schools, aren't actually something happening within a K-12 classroom.

What is your stance on recent issues like banning of books from school libraries for depicting LGBTQ+ or racial themes or modifying curriculum to reflect a certain image of the United States? 

Faris-Hylen: All students have a right to see themselves and the issues that impact them in books and classroom teachings. If we aim to suppress the accurate portrayal of human beings and history, we are erasing lived experiences of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ people. Books, open and honest dialogue and shared curriculum unite us. Representation matters.

Feldpausch: I think the banning of Dr. Seuss and other books was unwarranted.  Books that have sexual depictions other than biological teachings do not need to be in school libraries.  Racial themes in a historical perspective are fine.  Parents can get the types of books mentioned here for their children if they so choose, but they are inappropriate for school libraries.  Modifying curriculum to teach things that have not been backed by longitudinal studies is not prudent.

McEvoy: Banning books is bad. Only allowing history to be told from the perspective of the victors is bad. It's ridiculous to have to say this in 2022.

Sumbler: I think that removal of books from public and school libraries and shelves is one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of our children. There has been a troubling trend across our country and across our state to rip books from shelves simply because they feature and validate marginalized people and ideas. Library boards and school boards are being targeted by right-wing extremists who want to take our communities backwards to a time when discrimination was rampant and new ideas were silenced. One of my reasons for running for the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education is to make sure this trend doesn't rear its ugly head in East Lansing. Our students have the right to see themselves represented in print. So no matter what they are facing in life, they can know that they aren't alone. Because everyone deserves to be their authentic self. As far as changing the curriculum to one that paints a rosy picture of our history is concerned, we can’t know where we as a community are, without knowing where we’ve been or what’s happened before us. Including information on our history from the perspective of communities of color is paramount to our students receiving a comprehensive education. For example: learning that the namesake of Robert L. Green Elementary School was the first black homeowner in the city of East Lansing is important, to be sure, but we would be remiss not to talk about why there were no black homeowners here before 1964. Black history is American history. Indigenous history is American history. Just because a community is marginalized does not mean that their contributions, struggles and culture aren’t a core part of what makes up our society.  

Edsall: I do not support banning books nor do I support white supremacy supported curriculum. Our books and curriculum should reflect the entirety of who we are and where we’ve been.

Brown-Wren: As a Queer person, I deeply believe that diverse representation reduces fear and hate, which reduces bullying. Once people know each other, and see the humanity in each other, it is hard to hate them. Representation matters. 

Chambers: We are in dangerous times when we think we know better than educators what should be taught in schools. Should parents have input? Of course. And, our assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment has worked hard to create processes that involve our various stakeholders in curriculum adoption. However, I believe in providing robust training and support for our teachers and administrators and then trusting their expertise to make decisions about curriculum and instruction. Although I am a professor of education, I am not a curriculum specialist in the way our teachers and administrators are and I respect that difference. We need school board members who understand the role of educators in these times and will back them. I vow to continue to do so if re-elected.

Cormier: Strongly against banning books depicting LGBTQIA+ or racial themes. All children deserve to see themselves in books and reading about another's experience is healthy and necessary for other children. I'm also strongly against the modifying of curriculum to make the history of the United States more palatable. 

What do you think is the biggest issue currently facing public schools in East Lansing and Michigan?

Faris-Hylen: The opportunity gap that grew throughout COVID as well as students' needs for increased mental health support. 

Feldpausch: The biggest issue in East Lansing and beyond is that schools are adding teachings based on recent cultural trends while test scores suffer.  Schools need to refocus on reading, writing, math, science and history.

McEvoy: We are still digging out from COVID both in terms of mental health and academic achievement. The school board did a great job navigating the pandemic, but there's still work to be done to navigate into our new normal.

Sumbler: I believe the largest issue facing our schools is safety. All our students, teachers, and staff should feel safe in and around all of our schools. Safe from violence, health issues, bullying, and safe to express themselves and be their truest self, without fear of judgment, ridicule or exclusion. Creating an environment where all students feel recognized, respected and invested in their own success, and the success of the school as a whole is the foundation of school safety. 

Edsall: We need to encourage and support more students to go into K-12 education, support them once they are in the teaching field and pay them well. We need to increase K-12 funding, especially in districts that have been historically under funded, so we can pay teachers and decrease class size. 

Brown-Wren: One of the biggest areas we need to focus on is supporting the intersectional needs of both students and staff. When making decisions, we must take into account the many cultures, races, gender identities, gender orientations, disabilities, economic needs and religious identities of our diverse school community.

Chambers: My biggest concern in East Lansing is something that faces all districts, and that is the underfunding of schools, the devaluing of teachers as professions, and the turn away from supporting students from minoritized identity groups. If we care about our future then we must care about – and work to address – all of these issues. 

Cormier: Learning loss and mental health issues after COVID. 

If you're elected to the school board, what will be your major goals for your term in office?

Faris-Hylen: I will advocate for continuation of mental health services and support. I will advocate for additional academic support for students including increased reading intervention. I want to ensure special education programming is accessible to more students. I support all initiatives when it comes to closing the opportunity gap that only grew throughout the pandemic. I support smaller classroom sizes.

Feldpausch: Having the board engage with the constituents they serve, especially parents and caregivers, to ensure board transparency and raise academic outcomes.

McEvoy: Continue building up equitable support for kids who experienced loss of any kind during the pandemic. Continue support of teachers to make sure they have the resources to do their work. Finally, I want to continue working to make sure we're supporting all of our students to help them be successful, whatever that means for them. 

Sumbler: I am running  to ensure that all students in the district are and feel safe, welcomed and challenged. Safe from violence, health issues, bullying, safe to express themselves and be their truest self, without fear of judgment, ridicule or exclusion. Welcomed as part of the school community no matter their ethnic or financial background, interests, orientation or identification. And challenged with a comprehensive education to be as successful as they can be, in whatever piques their core interest. My goals are to see our graduation rate and our reading and math proficiency numbers increase, and see instances of bullying and fighting decrease. 

Edsall: To continue the work we have been doing around racial equity and social justice. To address the remediation needs of the students most impacted by the pandemic and to support our teachers and staff. 

Brown-Wren: I would prioritize reaching underserved students who do not have the same access to programs as their peers. This includes making sure all students have equal access to technology, enrichment activities and food security. We need to make sure that we are providing the same opportunities of our wonderful community to all students. 

Chambers: Honestly, and I mean this wholeheartedly, my biggest goal is to be a bridge between my colleagues on the school board and our district administration and larger community. We are dealing with a number of critical issues: the ongoing pandemic, attendant mental health issues for students and staff, the anti-CRT and general "book banning" movement. The list goes on.

In times like these, we need people who can work together. That does not mean we have to agree all of the time, but it does mean we have to find common ground and disagree functionally. Beyond that, helping to continue our work to support students and teachers, particularly from an equity and justice perspective, is my major goal should I be re-elected.

Cormier: Focusing on the mental health of students and teachers. Continuing and growing the equitable initiatives the previous board has focused on.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Meet the candidates: East Lansing school board hopefuls address top issues” on social media.