Monthly Archives: October 2016

Steve Gray – YCS Board Candidate Question Responses

Below are the answers Steve sent to us. Please know, we copied and pasted his words as we received them.

1. In what ways would you seek to increase minority and low-income parent voice in decision-making?

 One way to increase participation is for Board members to engage all parts of our community. I have done this as a part of my campaign. I think that is reflected in the broad support from not only community leaders, but from the very students who attend YCS schools. I will build on that support if elected. I think board members should be regulars at community and neighborhood group meetings. Open board meetings are not enough to engage the community. We need to get out there and actually do some listening.

2. In what ways would you seek to increase minority and low-income youth voice in decision-making? 

Have you ever seen a school board actually sit down with students? How come that’s a rarity? If we are chosen as leaders to represent them, shouldn’t they have a voice? We should be meeting with students to ask them what their concerns are, and how we can make things better for the very folks we have been blessed enough to represent. You know, there’s this amazing program in Ypsi called DTMAC. Wow. You gotta meet these kids. The wisdom and insight that comes from partnering with the youth is invaluable. 

I also think we two YCS students YCS students serve as liaisons to the Board of Education and participate in board meetings.

3. What is your vision of a positive school climate and how would you like to see your district promote that vision? Would you promote Restorative Justice and/or Communities in Schools programs?

 I go to church with a young lady who graduated in 2002 from Ypsi high. She was there when there were all out brawls. Fights all the time. Just the environment alone of that time still haunts her. So much so that she said she never wanted her son to go to an Ypsilanti School Her son now is at WIHI. Positive school climate is a huge deal, and I think we are still living with the aftermath of what used to be. But that has changed. And while it’s not perfect, I’ve walked those halls and from what I observed there is a very positive school climate. 

I also heard from school counselors about the Restorative Justice approach to student conflict and discipline. As part of their long range planning process the district has targeted school culture and climate as an area of focus this year. I fully support this approach and the importance of a positive school culture and climate as essential groundwork for student success.

4. What is your school district’s approach to school discipline and do you think it’s working? If not, what would you like to change?

 The Board has been on top of this issue. Dr. Celeste Hawkins has been a fierce advocate of restorative justice. I do not want to just throw kids away. So much of society has done that, and perhaps thats a huge reason why some kids end up in the program. I want the record of YCS to always to reflect that we did everything we could. 

I have visited most of the schools this fall and been in the MS And HS for class change. I’ve heard from school counselors about the Restorative Justice approach to student conflict and discipline. They think it is effective. Their beliefs are supported by the numbers as well. If you look at current students with discipline referrals the numbers decrease significantly the higher the grade. I fully support this approach.

5. As a school board member, you may be asked to make decisions about non-mandatory student expulsions and long-term suspensions. What will be your guiding principles in making those difficult decisions? Are there situations you would absolutely expel? Are there situations you would not expel? 

The absolute litmus test is that are all our kids safe. Kids have to be safe. If we have an issue that threatens that, then by all means, we have to make the tough call. And in those less egregious cases, we must try everything we can to keep our kids in school. 

From my perspective an expulsion is the educational equivalent of the death penalty. It would have to be a very serious crime to warrant it and as a practical matter if a student commits a serious crime they will likely be in the custody of the juvenile justice system so that expulsion is moot. Suspensions should be very rare, limited to MS And HS, warranted by the Restorative Justice discipline policy and recommended by both principal and teachers. I strongly favor keeping students in school even if in a temporary alternative setting.

6. Nationally, there is a disturbing trend of suspending preschool and early elementary school students and some communities are responding with a strict moratorium on such suspensions. What is your position on suspensions in the early grades?

 It’s hard to imagine a time that we should be suspending young children. It’s very hard to improve school achievement when a child isn’t in school and the early years are crucial there. I’d like to hear from our early school principals and teachers on this but I’m open to a moratorium if that became a problem in YCS.

7. How will you promote transparency and regular review of expulsion, suspension and school arrest data? 

I understand the challenges of meaningful transparency in the age of school competition. However, school PR can’t be our guiding principle here. We’ve got to put everything on the table. We’ve got to be keepers and believers of trust. You can’t do that by limiting and hushing data. There is power in knowing. There is power in saying, “this is what happened, this is our thought process, and this was the result”. People have a right to know what’s going on in their schools. Transparency is important and I would work with the Student Advocacy Center to require and review meaningful monthly discipline data.

8. School dropout is a problem with enormous social costs. What do you feel your district could do differently do address school dropout?

 To address dropout in HS you have to focus on early education. Improving student achievement at the younger grades will help decrease dropout rates. To that end elementary teachers and principals are key. We have to support and retain great teachers.

9. What role, if any, do you feel law enforcement should have in schools? 

I am not a big fan of the police car sitting in front of our school. I think it sends the wrong message to students and community. Having said that I’d like to hear from our HS and MS students about how they feel about having a police officer in school with them. If they are generally in favor of it then I would support it. In the past I have seen too many times an overzealous officer escalate what would be a normal disciplinary incident into a crime. So we definitely have to have the right officer with the right temperament in place.

10. In your position as Board member or Trustee, you will be in a unique position to be a powerful advocate for children from marginalized groups. How do you see yourself exercising that power?
As a legal aid lawyer I have dedicated my career to advocating for marginalized groups. I take those who feel, and in some cases are, powerless, and give them a voice. I have their back, and I fight for them. And they never have to go it alone. It is that calling that bids me run for YCS Board. Those students will be the focus of my board votes and efforts to engage our community in building a thriving public school district.

Night to Learn about YCS School Board Candidates

Night to Learn about YCS School Board Candidates-4-page-001

UPDATE 10/25/16: We have received Steve Gray’s responses to some of the questions. See them here.
UPDATE 10/21/16: Scroll down for the audio of the event!
UPDATE 10/14/16: All questions have been posted for community members to read and for candidates to respond if desired. Scroll down to see them.

October 13 from 7-9pm, incumbents Meredith Schindler and Sharon Lee met with Mark Wilde and Steve Gray to answer questions and to inform voters.
The goal of the evening was for voters to be confident they are voting for the best candidate for School Board.

View the Facebook event.

We realize people might not be able to attend October 13 so we will be posting questions after the event.

 

 

Questions to date:

What is the role of the school board, and what would you bring to the board if elected?

What can the school board do differently to make sure voters are informed about the school board or candidates?

In your position as board member, you will be in a unique position to be a powerful advocate for children from marginalized groups. What is a marginalized group? How do you see yourself exercising that power?

How can the schools get more money for classroom supplies like textbooks, pencils, and pens? The special needs classrooms need supplies like chewies and fidgets.

What is your vision of a positive school climate and how would you like to see your district promote that vision?

School dropout is a problem with enormous social costs. What do you feel your district could do differently to address school dropout?

How can you relate to the issues children have, but still enforce power as a part of the board?

As a school board member, you may be asked to make decisions about non-mandatory student expulsions and long-term suspensions. What will be your guiding principles in making those difficult decisions? Are there situations you would absolutely expel? Are there situations you would not expel?

Nationally, there has been a disturbing trend of suspending preschool and early elementary school students. Some communities are banning such suspensions. What is your position on suspensions in the early grades?

How will you promote transparency and regular review of expulsion, suspension, and school arrest data?

What role, if any, do you feel law enforcement should have in schools?

What is your school district’s approach to school discipline and do you think it’s working? If not, what would you like to change?

South of Michigan Avenue and the Willow Run areas house the majority of the students in Ypsilanti Community Schools, but voices from these areas are minimally heard. In what ways would you seek to increase voices from parents from these areas in decision-making? What about youth voices?

Are there any discussions or consideration for merging with Ann Arbor Public Schools?

Would you promote Restorative Justice and/or Communities in Schools Programs?

Do you think being more active education-wise will make a student want to learn more?

What are the greatest successes of YCS in the past 2 years? Where did you expect the district to be by this point in its short life? What are the fastest, most significant changes YCS can implement in the next 2 years? What changes would you advocate for?

What is the current climate at YCS for LGBT students, and what policies/support/training is in place of should be in place to ensure support for these students?

LGBT youth, especially transgender youth and LGBT youth of color are even more at risk for becoming part of the school-to-prison pipeline and for mental health problems, including suicide. What are concrete things you will do as board members to reduce these numbers in YCS students? An example is allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

How will you evaluate [school] start times? Research supports even later start times. Right now, elementary students are getting picked up before 7 am!

Many of us have concluded that a majority in state government are actively working to damage and eventually destroy public education, in favor of privatization of schools. Is there a point where there is a role of school boards to join with other boards and community allies, as well as teachers and students, to say “no” to damaging policies and defunding from Lansing?

As a member of the board, has the topic of flexible schedules come up, in order to make it easier for students to come to school if they have jobs so they can support their family?

If you could do 1 thing to attract back some of the 50% of students in the YCS district who don’t currently attend YCS, what would you do?

How do you plan to use students at Concordia [University], Washtenaw [Community College], EMU and the U of M as resources for low test scores and the achievement gap for students at YCS, as well as Ypsilanti’s non-profit and self-help organizations?

Do you think the policies enforced in the schools are fair, such as behavior-wise? If not, how would you change them so that students won’t miss too much school?

Running for school board for each of you represents either bumping up to or maintaining a high level of investment in YCS. This district could use that level of investment from all four of you. If you are not elected to the board, what is something you see yourself doing to add to or to replace your current investment in YCS?

We need more help in the schools. Erickson is a wreck.

What are the short-term and long-term solutions for Ypsi schools?

Why shouldn’t we consolidate with other schools in the county?

How do you plan to deal with the naturally rising costs and the fact that it is unlikely that the state will come up with more money?

To Mark Wilde: How have the processes of an extra-curricular robotics program informed or prepared our schools for a successful and engaging STEM curriculum?

What do you believe are the root causes affecting the school district and how do you see the board addressing these issues?

What should the district do with vacant school buildings? If you’re in favor of renting/selling them, so you have any preference on the types of groups to sell to?

The state of Michigan just enacted a law to return 3rd graders who are not reading at grade level. 60% of YCS third graders were “not proficient” on the 2016 M-STEP. How should YCS respond/prepare for mass retention?