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.

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