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EL school board candidates seek to restore learning loss, advocate for inclusion and mental health

East Lansing High School photo
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East Lansing Public Schools
Ten candidates are running for four open seats on the East Lansing Board of Education.

This year, 10 candidates are running for four seats on the East Lansing Board of Education. Two are incumbents.

WKAR asked each of the candidates why voters should elect them as board members. We received replies from seven of the 10 candidates.

Here’s what they said:

Linden Brown-Wren

(no photo submitted)

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?
(No reply submitted)

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

We need to prioritize reaching underserved students who may not have the same access to community enrichment programs as their peers. ELPS has a responsibility to be an oasis of safety to these communities.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

As a school board member, I would work to hear the voices of folks who are often not centered in discussions. It would be my job to integrate feedback from educators, students, and parents alike about the topics that move them, the systems of education, and the health and safety concerns that keep them awake at night. Despite having different ways of approaching it, we all want our children to be safe, prepared, and informed so that they can find their way in the world. My tendency is to try and find similar ground as a jumping off point, and then re-center the humanity of groups that we may have forgotten to consider or include.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

I have heard time and again that it is difficult to locate the programs and services offered by this district or that there are not accessible or appropriate services being offered. We need to continue to provide mental health support, and expand after school and summer programs, and technology access for students in all grade levels. Extended School Year (ESY) programs should be expanded to reach more students who would benefit from extra school engagement. Middle School students should have access to more extracurricular activities than what they are currently offered. Every elementary school should have access to the same enrichment activities across the district.

Terah Chambers

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Terah Chambers
Terah Chambers
Terah Chambers Pitch

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?

I am running to be reelected to the East Lansing school board because I believe in public education. Both of my parents were teachers. My dad was a tech ed teacher until he retired. My mom started her career as a special ed teacher.

As a professor in the MSU College of Education working with practicing and aspiring school leaders, I advocate for public education and seek to use my platform to support students and teachers. As a black mom of a black son, serving on the school board is deeply personal for me. Part of the reason I sought this office back in 2016 was to ensure that all students in our community are well-supported, and this obviously requires our teachers to be well-supported, too. That’s why I was so honored to receive the endorsement of the MEA (Michigan Education Association), our teachers’ union. We have an absolutely amazing community and I will do everything in my power to support that team moving forward should I be reelected in November.

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge I have faced as a school board member has been for our amazing students, teachers, and administrators to get the credit they deserve for the amazing job they are doing. Are there challenges? Of course, and I’ll mention a few later in this response. However, I think there is a tendency to focus on the negative when there is so much good. Our teachers are working extremely hard, under challenging circumstances, to do the very best for our students they can. When we focus solely on what needs to be improved instead of what is going well, it can feel demoralizing. That said, as we continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic, I am deeply concerned about supporting student and staff well-being. Relatedly, I am interested in investing in the learning needs of all students (particularly those from minoritized backgrounds). Serving on the school board for the last five years, I know first hand how hard our staff has been working to ensure all of these issues are on our radar. There has rarely been an issue that I’ve learned about or experienced myself that has not already been on our administration’s radar. They know what our community needs and we need board members who are ready to support our amazing team. This does not mean supporting every decision or not asking critical questions - to me, that is an essential part of what it means to be an effective school board member. However, we cannot achieve anything alone and working collaboratively with other board members and district administration is the only way we will be able to solve our most pressing issues.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

I got into this work on the school board because I believe in public education and I believe in East Lansing Public Schools. Every chance I get, I tell people how amazing our students and staff are. Everyone is working incredibly hard to make sure our students have what they need in order to be successful - and I mean successful in the broadest possible way. Yes, academically, but more than that, prepared to take on the variety of challenges and opportunities that will come their way when they graduate from our district. That does not mean that everything is perfect; I know they are not. And so my mission has been to work in partnership with our district administration and teachers to foster change. Being a school board member is not a symbolic position. To do it well means showing up and putting in the work. It requires fostering relationships with students, staff, and community members. It requires putting in the work to understand various policies and procedures. It requires asking tough questions and staying involved to get the answers. Most of all, though, it requires setting up the expert teachers and administrators in our district to do their job to support student success. East Lansing Public Schools is a wonderful district and it has been my honor to serve for the last five years. If re-elected in November, it will be my honor to serve for another term.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

Listening to our community members is among my top priorities, and I’ve worked hard to listen to our stakeholders during my time on the Board. I respond to every email I receive and attend various district events to understand the issues going on beyond what is happening in my son’s school. What I hear, overwhelmingly, is that people are happy with the overall direction we’ve taken and the decisions that have been made: investing in mental health resources, prioritizing safety during the pandemic, and supporting our teachers and staff. However, we all know that we have improvements to make. Students in particular are a voice I want to ensure is represented at the table and I’ve taken steps to ensure that happens. For example, we added two student representatives to the Academic and Technology Committee, which I chair. It is important to me that they have an authentic voice and so we rotate the times that the committee meets so that they do not miss the same class every month. And, we always meet during the school day so that they are able to attend more easily. To say this more directly: to know what people want we have to listen to them. If we say we want to involve stakeholders in our decision-making then we need to make structural decisions, like the one I mentioned about involving students in committee meetings, that make this possible. If we don’t, we run the risk of hearing from only the most vocal minority in our district. While I firmly believe that every person’s voice matters, I also want to ensure that we are not just listening to those that are the loudest. We will not always make decisions that make everyone happy - I’ve learned in the last five years that this is just not possible. However, we can ensure that everyone is heard and valued. That will continue to be a priority for me if re-elected.

Kath Edsall

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Kath Edsall
Kath Edsall

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?
(No reply submitted)

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

The biggest issue is the continued recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic. Our children suffered academic losses as well as social emotional stressors. All of which had an even greater impact on our students already marginalized due to race and social/economic status. Remediating learning loss and supporting our students mental health has to continue to be a top priority.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

I would continue to do the work that I have been doing for more than a decade; making sure all students receive a rigorous, high quality education with our focus on those students for whom this has historically been denied, Primarily our Black and Brown students, our students with disabilities, our LGBTQIA+ students and our students surviving in poverty.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

I hear positive feedback on the initiatives we have put in place for mental health supports, academic remediation/supports and the work we are doing on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. Those families with younger children express their appreciation for the new elementary buildings and sports minded families are enjoying the football stadium and tennis court improvements. I have also heard from a few people a concern that our district could be targeted like others from across the country for book bans, anti CRT or anti transgender policies, etc.

Tali Faris-Hylen

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Tali Faris-Hylen
Tali Faris-Hylen
Tali Faris-Hylen Pitch

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?

I’m the mother of three students within the East Lansing public schools. As an active volunteer within the public schools and the city of East Lansing for more than a decade, I feel as if running for the school board is a natural progression of my service to the community.

Our national education system is in crisis and I felt the pull to dive deeper to advocate for our students, teachers and staff. While ELPS is on a positive trajectory, I want us to continue to build upon our momentum and reflect our thoughtful community. A quality education drives our success and prosperity, individually and as a society. I believe all kids deserve an accessible, equitable and inclusive public education with ample opportunities to succeed, and as a board member I will work hard to ensure this happens. I believe all children deserve representation and to be given a voice with their teachers and caregivers as educational partners.

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

I believe it’s the opportunity gap that has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is multi-faceted in relation to mental health and academic achievement as well as heightened expectations put on our teachers and staff to address both. I will advocate for continued mental health support and additional academic supports (such as increased reading intervention) for students. I will also continue to advocate for teachers and how the board and community can reinforce their good work and retain them.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

We must continue to create and nurture space where our students feel supported, validated and safe, and we can do this by placing equity initiatives top of mind. Constantly re-examining how we frame things to be all inclusive is a necessary ongoing conversation when it comes to students with disabilities, students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, and other marginalized student groups. Additionally, I know ELPS is working hard to do this, but we need to continue to push to hire more staff of color as representation matters.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

I’ve heard from caregivers wanting more challenging curriculum for their high achieving students and I’ve heard from those not feeling as if their struggling students are getting adequate support. I also take into consideration those voices I haven’t heard and want to actively seek them out if elected. I know vocal caregivers often get what they need for their children as they know how to advocate. There are A LOT of folks out there that don’t know where to begin.

Michael Feldpausch

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Michael Feldpausch
Michael Feldpausch
Michael Feldpausch Pitch

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?

I’m running for a seat on the East Lansing Board of Education to represent my elementary school students and be a voice for parents in the schools. East Lansing has passionate teachers as well as the additional resources my wife and I need to maximize our children’s learning. The schools have been excellent for decades, even nationally award-winning.

I fear that they are straying from their mission of education and focusing more and more on cultural issues. They are putting teachings which have not been tested over time into the curriculum. Many of these concepts have little or nothing to do with critical analysis, and in fact teach a prescribed way of thinking. My goal is to return the schools to teaching reading, writing, science, math and history and leave cultural issues to the parents. The board needs to be transparent with their goals and listen to and engage with parents and caregivers. Serving on the board is not about what any member wants, it’s about nonpartisan service to the community.

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

The biggest issue facing ELPS is ensuring their continued excellence. The board is currently following the national trend of bringing into the curriculum theories that have not been proven with longitudinal studies. These theories are centered on cultural rather than academic issues. They call for students to evaluate their peers and people in society at large according to immutable characteristics. This reconstituted way of viewing their peers can cause confusion and division where they didn't exist before. Furthermore, historical circumstances which no longer have significant influence in American life are brought to the present to relitigate matters long settled, rather than give proper perspective of history to the most recent generation. We can have EL students study unsung people and events in history and acknowledge where our country has made mistakes, without having some current students pay a price and not understand why they are doing so.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

I would work to improve the ELSD by refocusing on academic achievement in mathematics, English, writing, science and history. The ELSD needs to get test scores at least back to pre-pandemic levels. Focusing on cultural trends distracts from the education mission of the district. I would make sure all students have the help they need to succeed academically and socially in the schools. Every child needs to be respected as well as feel safe during the school day.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

What I have been hearing from parents and residents as to what they want out of their school district is that they want all cultures celebrated equally, all traditions respected and all students made to feel safe. They express concern that concepts being brought in for teaching may create division between student peers, as well as confusion and guilt. Parents don't understand the new teachings. They would rather deal with cultural matters at home and teach their child to simply be kind and respectful to classmates and staff.

Jim McEvoy

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Jim McEvoy
Jim McEvoy
Jim McEvoy Pitch

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?

My family and I moved to the district in the spring of 2018. I have three kids in the district: one at Marble, one at McDonald and one at the high school. My wife Carin is also the music teacher at Donley Elementary School. I’m running for school board to work on closing mental health and achievement gaps that widened during COVID.

I want to continue being an ally to all of the fantastic diversity work that East Lansing has done over the years. Finally, I want to focus on maintaining a learning environment that works for students, teachers and families.

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

Today, the challenges in recovery from COVID, closing education gaps and repairing the mental health of our students is a significant challenge to our teachers. Similarly, the teachers I know are exhausted from having to put in workaround after workaround during COVID. We need to make sure that teachers are receiving the same kind of mental health supports we’re working to put into place for our students. Long term, I am concerned about the fiscal prospects of being a teacher. The average teacher has $59,000 in student debt and the average first year teacher makes approximately $42,000 dollars. That math doesn’t work for people to continue entering the field. It is unacceptable to expect teachers to barely make more money than starting positions that do not require a four year degree and commensurate student debt.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

There are three things I would work on. First, I'll focus on continuing to close gaps in achievement and mental health that widened during COVID. I want to make sure that people of all backgrounds feel safe and included in our schools. Finally, I will work to support teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrative staff. Always.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

Parents are mostly happy with academic achievement, continuing to support students through mental health supports, social-emotional learning, and the maintenance of a safe learning environment. Parents are concerned about bullying, safety in the schools, and a surprise concern has been about the food.

Rob Sumbler

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Rob Sumbler
Rob Sumbler
Rob Sumbler Pitch

Editor's Note: Rob Sumbler is a WKAR staff member, but does not work in the news department.

How do you pitch yourself as a candidate to voters?

I’m an East Lansing graduate and a father now running for the East Lansing Board of Education. I’m running to ensure 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 so they can be as successful as they can be in whatever piques their core interest. I bring to this race my empathy, my ability to problem solve under budgetary constraints, and my desire to better the community and help children have a better school experience than those who came before them.

What are the biggest issues facing the East Lansing Public Schools?

Similar to many districts, some of the biggest issues facing East Lansing Public Schools are teacher retention, concerns over school safety, and the mental health of students as well as teachers and staff. The East Lansing Schools are already doing great work addressing these issues, but more could always be done. We need to make sure that our students are constantly challenged to learn and expand their knowledge and wisdom. Not just learning facts, but application of knowledge. Not being taught what to think but HOW to think. How to problem solve, and how to find answers to the world's toughest questions.

How would you work to improve the East Lansing School District?

The East Lansing Public Schools are already a world class district, but of course there is always room for improvement. One area I would like to work on is to encourage and support the creation of programs to bolster the mental and physical health of students, staff, and teachers. Ensuring that the walls standing between kids and an education are torn down. I’d like to give both kiddos and their families the tools to be able to grow their emotional intelligence, which will help put them in a head space where they are ready to learn, and grow into exemplary community members and global citizens.

During your campaign, what have you been hearing from parents and students about what they want out of their school district?

Parents and students are in East Lansing, because it is an exceptional public school system which gives young people countless opportunities for growth, and a multitude of ways to find and define success. East Lansing’s teachers are among the best in education, and we all want to do whatever we can to keep consistency in our staff by giving them all the support they need to be as effective as possible in the classroom.

Amanda Cormier

(no reply submitted)

Steven J. Davis

(no reply submitted)

Tyler Allen Smith

(no reply submitted)

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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