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Our Kids Deserve Better

Candidate and Forum Reviews

Review of the Forum

  • Approximately 100 people attended the one-hour event.
  • Jeanne Glowicki, Asst. Superintendent of Instruction for EGR Schools moderated the Forum.
  • At the start, the Assistant Superintendent stated that, in addition some initial questions, there was the opportunity to submit written questions, and, time permitting, there would be opportunity for questions directly from the audience.
  • Attendees had to write their questions down and pass them down the aisles for pick-up.
  • The Assistant Superintendent started with questions previously solicited by the PTA. It’s not clear who selected which of the submitted questions would be posed to the candidates.
  • Submitted written questions from the audience were reviewed at the back of the hall and subsequently forwarded to the Assistant Superintendent at the podium.
  • The Assistant Superintendent then chose which of the questions forwarded to her would actually be asked and to which candidates they would be posed.
  • Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to most questions. In addition, each candidate had a 90-second opening statement and a 2-minute closing statement.
  • Time expired before the audience could ask any direct questions. The audience was completely silent for an hour.

In general, it was very difficult to learn much from 30-second responses. Candidates needed to work hard to highlight any unique and meaningful differences in that 30-second window. Also, not every candidate got to answer every question.

Perhaps the issue of most concern had nothing to do with the candidates. It had to do with the administration. Board members are elected to be the people’s representatives in governing the administration. Yet, astonishingly, we have the administration moderating the Forum and filtering the questions submitted by the public; and conveniently, time expired before any audience members could ask any direct questions.

As a result, the vast majority of questions were safe, underhand softball pitches—and because the time for candidates’ responses was so short, most of the candidates’ response time was spent delivering the obvious, appropriate answers. There was little time for them to get into details or get into trouble.

The amount of control yielded to the administration was astounding. It made the forum about as impartial as it would be to have Harry Ried or Mitch McConnell moderate a presidential debate—having them decide the questions to be asked of candidates and to whom the questions would be posed. Talk about controlling the message. The parents of this district are trying to find out who we should vote for as our representatives to govern the administration, and we’re letting that very administration filter and decide which questions get asked of the candidates and what issues get addressed? This was a disservice to both the parents in the room and the candidates. Next time, let’s do it better, okay?


Candidate Reviews

Below, we tried to summarize the major things we heard from the candidates. Unfortunately, because of the format of the Forum, there was often little on which to compare and contrast the candidates.


Mark Hessler

  • Challenger
  • Deputy US Marshall
  • Seems focused on bringing people together to discuss all aspects of an issue.
  • Wants to represent the parents of the district.
  • When asked his perspective of legislation in the recent years, Mr. Hessler did not answer the question in his response. Perhaps this is not his strong point. When asked what he would focus on re Lansing and the legislature, he said he would focus on deepening existing relationships and building new ones—pretty safe and standard answer.
  • In general, Mr. Hessler had a lack of specific ideas on improvements, except he did mention wanting to revisit the foundation allowance the district receives to pursue equity in this regard.

Michelle Rabideau

  • Incumbent
  • Executive Director, Saint Mary’s Foundation
  • Currently board treasurer
  • Heavy focus on the budget and fundraising. Makes sense this would be her strength, give her professional position.
  • Spoke about her involvement with the successful EGR Now! Campaign
  • Wants to do everything possible to ensure budget cuts don’t impact the classroom. Was glad the EGR Now! Campaign allowed them to avoid classroom cuts.
  • Specifically praised the administration at a couple different points
  • Was excited about new revenue opportunities, but the only one she shared was selling ads on the school website.
  • Wants people to rely on her experience as a board member as a reason to re-elect her

Update 11/3/12: Ms. Rabideau has added an answer regarding special education to the Q&A section of her candidacy site. You can read about it in the full Summary for EGR School Board Candidate Michelle Rabideau.


Peter Ruppert

  • Incumbent
  • President & Founder, American Education Group
  • Very articulate.
  • Seems his deep experience in school management give him a broad (not just local) perspective.
  • Sees biggest challenge as continuing to improve even under changing financial constraints.
  • Stated he spends significant time benchmarking East. Clearly passionate about International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation. Sees that as a way to benchmark East against the best schools, as means of raising standards and identifying necessary improvements.
  • Said many might be prone to dismiss the recently received Focus School designations. Said we shouldn’t do that and that we need to look deeper.
  • Many times during the Forum, he mentioned the need to challenge the administration when appropriate. He seemed to see that as an important role.

Update 11/3/12: See an updated, full Summary for EGR School Board Candidate Peter Ruppert.


Elizabeth Welch-Lykins

  • Challenger
  • Attorney, Welch Law Firm
  • Seems to be heavily focused on Lansing & legislation
  • Referred to strong past involvement with legislators as a member of the EGR PTSA Legislative Committee. Wants to be able to advocate at the state level as a board member, not just a parent representative.
  • Visibly passionate
  • In her closing statement, Ms. Lykins told her own story of being an East student who was identified as needing special help. She said that helped her eventually become an honors student and earn a law degree. Immediately following this statement, Ms. Lykins said she is presently concerned about the district.

Update 11/3/12: See an updated, full Summary for EGR School Board Candidate Elizabeth Lykins.


Summary

We wish we had more to go on to discern who might be the best candidates to address some of the issues and concerns on this blog. If the questions posed to the candidates hadn’t been so controlled and filtered by the administration, if the candidates were given more than 30-45 seconds to answer a question, and if the audience were allowed to directly ask questions, we would have learned so much more.

Nonetheless, occasionally the candidates’ brief responses offered insight into their passions, how they view their roles, and some personal stories.

Based solely on what we heard at the Forum, if we had to identify two candidates who might best advocate for the kids, parents, and teachers with respect to the issues on this blog, it would Ruppert and Lykins. These people might be the best choices if the issues on this blog are important to you.


Ruppert mentioned several times the need for board members to challenge the administration when appropriate. He said we should not quickly dismiss the Focus Schools designations. He seems to be a data-driven guy, concerned with benchmarking East and raising standards. He also has deep experience managing schools.


Lykins, although heavily focused on legislative aspects, took valuable time out of her 2-minute closing to highlight how East identified her as a young student needing special help, and she shared how those services allowed her to flourish as a student and, later, as a professional. She immediately followed this story by stating she has concerns about the district.


The other candidates might be good choices, too. We simply don’t know; we didn’t hear any clues. Again, there was so little time allotted for any one of them to respond, and the questions were so controlled by the administration, one had to listen very closely to discern relevant differences.

None of the parents who contribute content to this blog have any personal or professional relationships with any of the candidates.

Thank you to all the candidates for putting yourselves out there for the Forum. It’s tough to have public questions and have only 30-45 seconds to respond, let alone distinguish yourselves from other candidates. If any of the candidates want to, they are more than welcome to provide additional insights via the comments to this post.

Note: We did not provide our impressions of Ms. Levine because she is running unopposed for a short-term seat on the board.

19 Comments

  1. I appreciate the feedback. I am impressed with Ms. Welch-Lykins, and she seems very eager to be accessible as a board member. Since I received nothing but form letters and canned responses from every board member during the debate over the 1:1 program, this is very important to me. I know one current board member told a friend of mine that she had already made up her mind about the program and didn’t want to hear any arguments against it. Seems she doesn’t realize what being a board member is about. When I reached out to Ms. Welch-Lykins, she responded in a sincere way. I appreciated that.

    • Good to know. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  2. Hat’s off to whomever created this forum. As a graduate of EGR with three kids who attended EGR –two who have graduated–I am very depressed about the decline of EGRPS I witnessed over the past 10 yrs.

    Test scores have declined & the GPA’s of students has improved yet fewer kids are able to be admitted to the #1 choice of college they attend.

    Administration is inexperienced & in many cases immature. If you have a viewpoint or concern that they do not agree with you are running the risk of having your kids pay the price. Your example of the recent forum for the school board is another example of attempting to control the message & not let the taxpayer’s be heard.

    Your message board needs to be seen by the entire community so that people can become aware of what is really happening within our district. More mailers & flyers are needed

  3. I certainly agree that there were fundamental flaws in the format of the candidate forum. Allowing the administration to screen and pose questions undermined the value and validity of the entire event. For example, the more controversial initiatives, such as one-to-one in the middle and elementary schools, was presented by the moderator (who is one of the moving forces behind the program) as a single question posed only to the three incumbent school board members. Talk about stifling any potential for dissent!

    I appreciate your analysis of the candidate forum, but you need to look at it from a broader perspective. You speak highly of Peter Ruppert as if he is an outsider with great new ideas. The truth is that he has been on the school board for the past five years, and in that capacity he has walked in lock-step with the administration. He championed one-to-one, even in the early grades where it makes no sense. His full-throated support at the candidate forum for the IB program is another classic example of supporting an initiative that is expensive, misguided, and will drain resources from the very programs you advocate. If you think you will have an ally in Peter Ruppert, you are sorely mistaken. In his tenure on the Board, he has openly advocated cutting funding for special education. He sounds smooth, but look what he does for a living. He sets up and operates charter and private schools – a clear conflict of interest for a public school board member.

    There is a reason that, although school board candidates have rarely been challenged in the past, there are two challengers this year. Many of us – including the two of them – are fed up with the way the district is being run these days. The problem isn’t just the administration. The problem is also a complicit school board that has worked hand-in-hand with the administration, providing unquestioning support for all administration initiatives. For example, a survey revealed that nearly 70% of parents indicated that they wanted to achieve savings by cutting administrators in our top-heavy district – a recommendation completely ignored by this Board. If you want to get the attention of the administration, you have to change the school board. It’s that simple.

    We all recognize that there are big problems in the district that the administration can’t or won’t address. Until the administration changes its attitude and approach, there will be more challengers in school board elections because many of us understand that it will take a new Board to accomplish the changes in policy that are essential for the success of our district.

    • Great comments. Thanks for contributing them!

    • In response to your comments about Peter Ruppert, I would like to respectfully disagree. He has not “walked in lock-step with the administration”, and in fact, if you asked other board members and administrators, they would tell you that Pete is a board member who frequently questions and challenges district decisions. He is not afraid to voice his opinion for the benefit of the district. Furthermore, Pete did not “champion” 1:1 in the early grades; rather he emphasized the importance of school & classroom execution and proper vetting so this program would not be just another technology line item with no value added. His stance is cautious about the district-wide rollout, preferring to validate its effectiveness and give time for the administrators and teachers at each level to be ready to implement the program. Finally, Pete does not operate charter schools. He runs private schools, that happen to be extremely successful for special education students, and they are not a threat to the traditional K-12 model. Pete has 4 children in EGR public schools, so I am not sure how he could be perceived to have a conflict of interest. Pete brings a wealth of knowledge on all areas of education to our board and we are lucky he can serve his community by sharing his time and talents.

      • Thanks for the comments. Appreciate you sharing them and joining the discussion. I hope more people will add their insights as well. This is an important election.

  4. So much complaining!

    The schools offered to host a forum (note, it was not promoted as a debate, correct?), so I don’t have a problem that they decided the format and filtered the questions. Perhaps that was a curtousy to the broader audience or even the candidates more then anything else.

    The candidates are our elected officials. If there is such a ground swell among the public (and the board challengers) for “change” perhaps another entity, say PTA, this blog, or another group should host and moderate a candidate forum!

    Aren’t school board meetings public forums? Isn’t the public allowed to ask questions at each meeting? Let’s take our questions to one of these meetings (granted, it would only reach the current board, but I bet all the challengers are present).

    Why doesn’t this blog invite each candidate to post a statement?

    Look how easy it is to suggest positive ideas instead of just complaining…

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      The PTA Council sponsored the event. It’s unclear why they chose to cede control of the Forum to the administration.

      The candidates (and other current board members) are more than welcome to post comments. Nothing stopping them. It would be great if they did.

  5. “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
    ― Fred Rogers

    “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”
    ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

  6. Thanks for doing this. I don’t see this as complaining but giving many parents a voice that have prior gone unheard, ignored, and swept under the rug of “tradition” and “excellence” while our children struggle.

  7. Elected officials often know little about the legal expendatures to fight families seeking services. Let this needed change be heard.

    • I think you’re right. Most people would likely be shocked to know how much is spent in this regard. If only that money were going to hire people and provide services instead of to attorneys. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the amount might pay for at least a couple salaries. The district receives more than $500,000 in voluntary contributions from the community. I wonder how the amount spent on legal fees over the last three years compares to the $500,000.

      • Hello – why not let everyone know who you are? Do you really believe that by exposing your names you or your children will be punished? This sounds like bullying. I implore you as a group to come forward. What is being accomplished by being anonymous? What is the goal of this blog? Why not state what it is this blogs wants to accomplish. Do you want a new board, new administration, new principals, new teachers? Is is the responsibility of all EGR families to research the info on this blot? Do you speak up at board meetings? Several statements can be made on this site, but what outcome do you want from making these statements?

        • Dear Who Are You:

          Thanks for your comment and for joining the discussion.

          “Why not let everyone know who you are? I implore you as a group to come forward. What is being accomplished by being anonymous?”

          We have explained who we are. We are group of concerned parents.

          Would the State’s data change based on who we are? What streets we live on? Our professions? Our incomes? Whether our kids are geeks or jocks? Our religions? No, this would not change the data. It would, however, provide opportunity to focus on the people delivering the data, rather than focusing on the data itself. It would open the door to all sorts of ad hominem arguments, rather than wresting with the data and what it means.

          To date, this blog has had more than 2000 visitors. While several readers have been interested in personal identities, not one comment nor one contact form submission has ever been received challenging the data or proving it wrong. Why not address the data from the State and what you think it means? If you don’t believe the data presented, don’t believe us. Go verify it. We actually encourage you to do that.

          “Do you really believe that by exposing your names you or your children will be punished?”

          We’ve explained this here and here.

          Also, several people commenting understand and support that position.
          In addition, you have to ask yourself why more than two-thirds of the reader comments on the blog are also anonymous. If it weren’t perceived as a hostile environment, those commenting would likely have no problem identifying themselves.

          “This sounds like bullying.”

          Hmmm.

          “What is the goal of this blog? Why not state what it is this blogs wants to accomplish. Do you want a new board, new administration, new principals, new teachers? Several statements can be made on this site, but what outcome do you want from making these statements?”

          See our comments here.

          “Is it the responsibility of all EGR families to research the info on this blog?”

          Why not? It’s not hard to validate the data presented. We cite and link to the State of Michigan data sources used. A child could spend as many as 13 years in the schools. Spending a few hours or even a few days validating the data is nothing compared to years our kids will spend in the schools. Alternatively, the board could engage an independent party to validate the information for the benefit of everyone.

          “Do you speak up at board meetings?”

          Many parents have spoken at board meetings about special education-related services and staff being cut. That doesn’t seem to have had much effect over the years. Also, a public comment at a school board meeting reaches only maybe 25 people. Why not let more people know the data regarding our district? People can validate the data and make their own conclusions. What’s wrong with that? Should we only highlight the good things and sweep the rest under the rug?

  8. The message is the most important part of this forum not who says it & what their background/profession/income etc. might be. I have seen several kids who have been punished by school administrators because their parents chose to speak out–sad but true!
    Don’t believe it? Ask the parents or students who have been on the other end of a temper tantrum of our high school principal.

  9. In regards to our identity, I think beyond there being a fear for blatant reciprocity to our children for our outspokenness, there is concern that the parents are then labeled and disregarded in the district by administration and perhaps even other parents (it is not exactly part of the culture of East to talk bad about East). In addition, some of our children’s peers and parents may not be aware of the child’s special education status. My child knows, and our close friends and classmates know, the diagnosis. But it is not something we share with everyone or feel everyone in the class needs to know. Not that we are embarrassed or hiding it, we feel that a label will just stick with the peers and change how peers perceive the student. Who and when we share that information with and trust to perceive it positively is our concern and choice, not yours. I want to advocate for my child, but not make the child an object of district-wide conversation because of my opinion and experience.

    • Well said.

  10. I support this blog as a virtual gathering of people who have had no other prior way of communicating amongst themselves and sharing our experiences and frustrations.

    Instead of single voices trying to be heard, we can be louder together and are thus being acknowledged.

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