Elections 2022: Candidates for Lansing School Board in their own words – Lansing State Journal

On this year’s ballot are candidates for the Lansing School Board (three six-year-term seats and one partial term seat that is unopposed). If you are unsure which district you vote in, visit the Ingham County elections website to find more information — including a map of each district.

Whether you choose to vote absentee or in person, get to know the candidates before you vote by reading their responses to key issues facing the Lansing School District.

Here (below) are candidates in their own words. To return to the main election package, click here.

Meet the candidates

Caitlin Cavanagh: I have been a proud Lansing resident since 2016. As your Lansing neighbor, you may have seen me running on the River Trail, cheering for the Lugnuts, or dancing to Starfarm at Nuttyfest. But, coming from a family of teachers and public servants, volunteerism is important to me. I am an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. My Ph.D. is in developmental psychology, specializing in adolescent development and law. My research addresses how to make youth-serving systems (e.g., the juvenile justice system; the child welfare system; the education system) more effective, equitable, and supportive of youths’ developmental needs. I have served on the Lansing Board of Education since I was appointed to fill a vacancy in April 2022. In addition to my direct experience on the Board, I have experience working with government and policy at multiple levels. Through these experiences, I understand well how public policy can shape children’s lives.

Caitlin Cavanagh

Kurt Richardson: I am from Lansing and graduated Lansing Eastern in 1998. Our family has several educators and administrators in the Lansing School District and across the state. I work for 11 NFL teams as well as a national wide franchise brand headquartered in Atlanta, GA. I have worked with two of the most successful student-athlete empowerment programs in the State of Michigan. Working with Sound Mind, Sound Body and the Apex Academy have both contributed significantly towards helping me intimately understand the challenges faced by today’s students. Those programs have helped shape my understanding of why they see success in their members/mentees that the district does no experience with that groups counterparts who do not participate in those organizations. 

Ryan J. Smith: I am from Williamston, Michigan. I currently am the vice president of the Hawknest neighborhood where I live with my wife and 2 children. Former president of the Printer’s Row Condo Association, former president of the Cherry Hill neighborhood. I think the biggest asset of a leader/representative is the ability to listen, something I consider a great strength. I will engage with students, parents, teachers and administrators to search for every avenue to improve the success and safety of the district. I am seeking this office because a successful Lansing School District is essential to the community and to the children that are the future of it.

Anthony J. Strevett: I am originally from Oklahoma and moved to Lansing to complete my masters at Michigan State University. I fell in love with the people here and stayed, working hard to become involved in the Lansing community. I serve on the Special Education Advisory Committee for the Michigan Department of Education, and I hold the position of vice president of School Affairs for the Michigan Speech-Language Hearing Association. I am employed by Ingham Intermediate School District as a speech-language pathologist and have had the privilege to work alongside the outstanding educators at Gier Park Elementary here in Lansing. I have no previous political experience. Our district does not need more politicians or individuals who are simply using the Board of Education as a launching pad into a political career. We need leaders committed to educating our students and supporting the staff in doing so. I am that leader.

Rick Wendorf: No response

Rosalyn Williams: No response

Missy Lilje (candidate for partial term seat): No response

Most pressing issue facing the district

Cavanagh: The Lansing School District’s equity audit revealed the many ways Black, Brown, and multiracial students are systematically disenfranchised. Disproportionate learning: There is a racial achievement gap, resulting from stereotypes and low expectations. Teachers must hold all students to bias-free, high, and achievable standards. Disproportionate discipline: Student of color are more likely to face exclusionary discipline due to vague discretionary discipline policies. These discipline disparities feed the “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” which is reflected in racial disparities in arrest rates of Lansing youth. Disciplinary policy should be reformed, and, when possible, replaced with restorative practices, which evidence concludes are fairer and more effective.

Kurt Richardson

Richardson: The most pressing issue that the district is facing is that right now school is not for everyone. Our system has become a hostage of test taking at worst or an indiscriminate conveyor belt to college (regardless of an individual’s inclination) at best. This hinders educator creativity and fuels student apathy towards curriculum. School right now is only for students who will attend college, and college is not the optimal path to lifelong success for a large percent of the student population. We must reengage that population with trade, vocational, and entrepreneurial learning pathways.

Smith: Creating a better and more efficient learning environment in our classrooms. Stanford University recently released a study that showed Lansing School District had some of the worst test scores in the country. It is imperative to grow and market universal pre-k for Lansing students. Much of education is foundational and we must ensure that students are starting school with a stronger foundation. We must also do a better job in elementary of identifying struggling students and finding the resources to help them.

Strevett: The district faces several issues, many of which can be overcome with diligence and strong leadership. The most pressing issue is staffing shortages. To address this issue, we need to work with the unions to create competitive salary and benefits packages. We also need to bolster support systems within the district, such as the Human Resources and Technology departments. I know these departments are overworked, and it is the Board of Education’s responsibility to assist these departments in supporting our educators.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

On diversity, equity and inclusion

Cavanagh: Following the Lansing School District’s recent equity audit, a new Equity Advisory Committee is being formed as a step toward addressing this issue. My specific priorities are evidence-based means of making sure students of all backgrounds can feel empowered to learn: (1) to decrease disproportionate rates of exclusionary discipline by implementing restorative practices in classrooms, and (2) to institute culturally responsive curriculum, which promotes socioemotional competence among all students. However, any proposed solutions need to attend to the voice and perspective of impacted communities first, including youth, parents, faculty, and staff of color.

Richardson: A tangible action that local schools could take to help address diversity, equity, and inclusion of all students regardless off ability and other statuses is to teach basic social and emotional intelligence skills at all levels. Research shows that students who receive instruction in social and emotional intelligence are better behaved, more positive, and less disruptive than students who don’t receive SEI instruction.

Ryan Smith

Smith: I think we need to do a better job observing important dates and holidays associated with the cultures that encompass Lansing School District. Recognizing these dates helps honor the cultures and beliefs of the student and allows classmates to better understand and to learn about their fellow classmate. The deeper understanding that students have for each other will help them better understand that being different is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Strevett: One brilliant way of reducing implicit bias and promoting the district’s diverse student body is through opportunities for socializing and celebrating each other’s differences. I know of at least one school in the district that hosts a Culture Night, and I would love to see similar initiatives from other schools in hosting such events. I think it would be wise for school board members to attend these as well.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

On COVID-19 and use of ARPA funds

Cavanagh: The pandemic impacts schools in several financially actionable ways: (Re)enrolling students and supporting families toward high attendance; addressing learning loss through supplemental or one-on-one programming for students who have fallen behind; employee burnout is widespread; attending to faculty and staff retention and recruitment through competitive wages and benefits is the only way schools can continue to be staffed safely; proactively protect public health within schools through infrastructure improvements like improved air filtration; use this opportunity to re-evaluate students’ needs and goals in a rapidly changing work environment, and be responsive to input from families about their new challenges and priorities.

Richardson: Learning from home during the pandemic was not the optimal, and sometimes not even the safest, environment for many students to learn in. The school board must create budgetary framework (including the use of ARPA funds) that accommodates for after school resources (including IT, tutoring, and transportation access) that allow students to stay current in their current academic year while simultaneously working to bridge the foundational education gaps that were formed during the remote learning. The building block nature of learning demands a plan be in place to assess and triage the gaps created through the pandemic. 

Smith: This is where communication and collaboration is important, very important. It is important to know and understand what students would like, what teachers need and what priorities that administrators think are essential. These are one-time funds so it is critical these dollars are utilized in the best way possible. Where should wespend it? Let’s start having those discussions…NOW.

Anthony Strevett

Strevett: As always, elected officials should listen first to the voices and concerns of their constituents – in my case, the voters of the Lansing School District. I believe that increasing access to mental health specialists for our students should be our primary focus, based on what I know about our district’s needs. A second priority would be investing in more literacy coaches for the district with Science of Reading training. My first step, though, would be to gain an understanding of what our community wants.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

On gun violence among young people

Cavanagh: Youth violence is a top concern among Lansing residents. As Research Advisor to Ingham County’s juvenile court, I understand this concern through the raw numbers. However, as a nationally-recognized expert in juvenile justice, I have the training to advance proactive and reactive policies to most effectively address these challenges. Evidence-based means of addressing youth violence in schools include: Supporting prosocial after-school activities like sports and clubs; facilitating strong adult bonds with teachers, counselors, coaches, and staff; increasing the role of restorative justice in school conflict resolution and target hardening (i.e., making it more difficult for weapons to enter schools).

Richardson: The school district’s ability to affect violence is twofold. Both potential solutions require the administration to take a long-term outlook on the solutions. First, teaching social and emotional intelligence to our students helps develop young people’s ability to process consequences and value life. We have kids doing life in prison over a 90 second interaction. The home environment for many of these students doesn’t have the capability to teach impulse control, future thinking, and behavior management. The ubiquitous nature of the K-12 system provides ample time to add these critical skills into the curriculum. Second, ensuring that school is for everyone allows students who aren’t best served long-term by a pathway to college, to have the ability to earn a worthwhile living. This aids in them knowing they have something worth preserving and protecting from throwing it away over trivial matters. Scarcity creates conflict. If one doesn’t have the basic tenets of safety, security, and sustainability in their life, it becomes easier to disregard consequences. Poverty is intimately connected with apathy of consequences.

Smith: As a board member, it is my obligation to always be searching for the best ways to protect our students.It will be important to discuss ideas and opportunities with local organizations working on these issues and to work with law enforcement on how we can better protect our children, schools and community.

Strevett: To address this, the Board of Education should lead our district in teaching virtuous behavior. We should establish a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions. We should model a sense of respect for yourself and for others, even if their views differ. We should instill a sense of belonging, even when your views differ. Most importantly, we should give hope, by providing our students an exceptional education, a strong sense of community, and opportunities to excel. I believe that a strong society starts with student success. We must start there.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

On recent updates announced by district leadership

Cavanagh: As a developmental psychologist, I strongly support removing seventh and eighth graders from high schools. Adolescence is a time of enormous cognitive and social development. It is important that tweens (grades 7-8) and teens (grades 9-12) are separated so that they can learn in a developmentally-tailored, safe, and supportive contexts. Regarding CATA passes, the district was creative when facing a difficult situation (severely understaffed bus routes). The superintendent has described the many ways that CATA passes represent an opportunity for families, and I agree with these benefits. However, my priority is to shield students from harm. The district has a detailed safety plan and has worked to address each concern that families have raised. I will add careful data tracking of bus-related incidents-particularly those that result in exposure to law enforcement.

Richardson: I fully support returning to the traditional model of seventh and eighth graders being in middle school. As for the CATA situation, I don’t have enough information to speak intelligently or have a worthwhile opinion on this matter.

Smith: The CATA bussing issue has been in the headlines lately. I think it was a mistake to privatize bussing and I would consider bringing it in-house again. The difference is I would have the bus drivers bring kids to school and then would utilize them inside the buildings as workers/volunteers until they took the kids home in the afternoons. This would create positions with a living wage and hopefully help avoid having vacant positions. It would also put more adult eyes in our schools which would improve support to children and teachers.

Strevett: I do not have the complete picture, so I will not immediately decry the recent decisions. Personally, I do not think seventh and eighth graders should have been in a high school setting, so I am grateful to see the move. However, I do not believe public transportation is appropriate in any way for our students. Although this does solve one problem (bus driver staffing shortages), it poses safety risks to our students, which should be held paramount. Regardless, even if these are the best decisions for the district, they were not communicated appropriately to our educators or our families.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

Other issues of import

Cavanagh: Children (including young children) are facing a mental health crisis that has only grown more acute during the pandemic. Schools can be a backstop to prevent student mental health issues. I suggest the following steps be taken: Hire more mental health professionals in schools of all grade levels; connect parents with mental health resources in the community, particularly those that are culturally sensitive and located near their neighborhoods; provide children with the language and tools to express how they are feeling and the source of their struggles so that they do not suffer in silence.

Richardson: According to a 2022 report by the MEA, 71% of Michigan schools have a shortage of full-time teachers while simultaneously 92% of schools report that they cannot find enough substitute teachers. This combination seems to be a significant contributing factor into a recent finding from Forbes magazine that reports almost 50% teachers have thought about quitting their job/ changing careers in 2022. Any district that does not work tirelessly to hear the voices of its educators and respond expeditiously with tangible actions to reduce friction points in their day, runs the risk of entering a cycle of shortages and educator apathy that will devastate the districts’ ability to recruit and retain talented educators.

Smith: I am very concerned with the state of the district’s athletics and after school activities. It is essential to give students opportunities to participate in a wide variety of activities that could fit their interests. It is important to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to have success and to find the volunteers and dollars to support them.

Strevett: One significant issue is a lack of trust. I think many problems could be solved if we took the time to build trust. As a speech-language pathologist, I cannot provide therapy if my students don’t trust me. Has the superintendent taken the time to build trust with his teachers? Has the Board of Education taken the time to build trust with administrators? Do teachers have the time to build trust with families? We have a rightful sense of urgency, but our best efforts are ineffectual if we do not first slow down and take the time to build trust.

Wendorf: No response

Williams: No response

Lilje: No response

This story was assembled from email questionnaires managed by LSJ news assistants Jayne Higo, Veronica Bolanos and Jack Moreland. Contact them at LSJ-EAs@lsj.com or 517.377.1112.

Original News Source Link