On Nov. 6, Dexter School District voters will decide how to fill two available seats on the school board. There are three candidates, Dick Lundy, Rob Mitzel, and Mara Greatorex, of which we get to pick two.
At a forum held Oct. 15 at Creekside Intermediate School, the candidates had a chance to tell us a little about themselves, what motivates them to run for school board, and answer some questions. The event was hosted by Dexter Forum co-moderators John Hansen and Karl Fink.
In Part 1 of this article, the candidates opening statements were transcribed. In part 2, we’ll look at the questions the candidates were asked by the moderators and their responses.
“Our approach from the (Dexter) Forum is that we’re never here to embarrass people or to put people on the spot,” John Hansen explained, “so we have provided them with questions in advance. We gave them lots of questions. We just didn’t tell them which questions we would ask them.”
In an effort keep responses clear and concise, I’ve edited the answers into bullet points with quotes from each that represent the essence of their stance. The questions are listed in the order they were asked.
Question for Rob Mitzel: “You’ve been on the Board long enough to know the Michigan Legislature has an impact on schools. What do you see as the biggest challenges the school district has in dealing with the legislature?”
Rob described three challenging areas in dealing with the state legislature on education:
- The diversion of funds earmarked for K-12 being diverted to support higher education and used to balance the state budget is going to continue to put pressure on local school district budgets as demand for better education increases. “Hopefully through continued education and outreach through the Michigan Association of School Boards and individual board members of the community, the legislature will understand that is having a big impact.”
- The constantly revolving state metrics to measure education i.e. ACT, SAT, MEAP, or MSTEP, make it difficult to measure the impact of the innovations implemented in the classrooms. “It would be nice if the State would stabilize that environment so we can have some consistency here.”
- Similar to the tests, the legislature has changed some of the requirements of curriculum which makes it difficult to figure out how to implement innovative and new programming while still meeting the new targets for curriculum. “It was kind of an eye opener when I first came on the Board to see the local board doesn’t have as much flexibility as you would hope.”
Question for Dick Lundy: What do you think are primary responsibilities of a school board member?
Dick explained two areas of responsibilities for school board members. The first is fulfilling legal requirements such as:
- Hiring and evaluating the superintendent who is the CEO for our district.
- Approving policies of the district including programming options, budgets, operating policies, and contracts.
- Governing the district by through the majority of the Board. “No individual board member, at least theoretically, should have the ability to direct things as an individual, but only actions taken by the majority of the Board as a whole.”
Other roles for a school board member include:
- Representing the interests of all community stakeholders including students, parents, taxpayers, and staff.
- Review and either approve, modify, or reject recommendations made by the Superintendent.
- Continuing professional development in the world of education, best practices, social concerns, and community interest. “It’s important for us to support the superintendent and allow him or her to do their job without interfering or trying to micromanage.”
Question for Mara Greatorex: “You would be, as you say, ‘a fresh voice,’ on the School Board. You’re going to have to make some decisions that won’t be unanimous. You’re going to have to figure out which way to go. When you’re in one of those situations, what are the guiding principles that will guide you, and how do you decide what’s going to be best?”
Mara described the core beliefs that would guide her in decision making as:
- Providing quality education for all students.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum.
- Maximizing the budget.
- Eliminating prejudiced disinformation while promoting acceptance and a respectful school environment.
- Ensuring a safe and secure learning environment for the students.
“When issues come up, we need to always maintain the principles that are guiding us because school board members are elected officials. We serve the Dexter community.”
Question for Rob Mitzel: What are the biggest challenges facing the Dexter Community Schools regarding the education for the District children?
Rob noted that the challenges we face are also opportunities with budget constraints being one of the biggest of these challenges because of:
- Applying new innovative programs and technology within our existing budget.
- Finding ways to increase budget and resources.
- Being careful not to break what is already working.
“I see one of the challenges is that we want new things and try to invest in new programs and new technology, but how do we do that within the resources we have?”
Other challenges include:
- Meeting the needs of the increasing number of students with special needs.
- Finding ways to help students with their emotional and social stresses in the schools.
- Looking at ways to really keep screen time down for the kids while continuing to take advantage of new innovations.
“In Dexter we have been very fortunate that we have a very blessed District with a lot of opportunities for the students and for the community.”
Question for Dick Lundy: “Expectations are going to continue to rise and the budget is not. Given the fact that people are going to want more but you’re not necessarily going to have more to deal with, how do you financially manage these needs in the School District in a constrained financial environment?”
Dick highlighted three areas:
- Look for resources beyond the State Foundation Grant i.e. looking for partnerships with outside groups, businesses, colleges, and universities.
- Continue to pursue revenue possibilities by doing online programming, which looks promising.
- Continue to focus on our operational efficiencies.
“We’ve always focused on preserving the classroom experience for students and we will certainly continue to do that.”
Question for Mara Greatorex: What things are Dexter Community Schools doing well, what things should be priorities, and what if anything should be eliminated?
Mara described the things Dexter is doing well as:
- How teachers take the time to work with students to individualize their instruction according to learning style. Speaking from her own experience with a teacher working with her daughter’s ADHD, Mara said “Dexter schools saved my daughter’s educational experience.”
- We are hiring the best of the best.
- We have nationally recognized principals.
- We have educational professionals that know how to reach our students
- Dexter schools do a great job of being innovative and reaching out to all the students
- Placed Based Learning. “They are incorporating the community into learning.”
“Dexter students and teachers work together to go beyond the classroom requirements and I love that about our schools.”
As for priorities, Mara listed:
- Making sure kids are supported for their mental health needs.
- We need to provide for our support staff. “Our teachers have been wearing many hats for many years due to budget cuts.”
- We need to reach out and communicate with all our families.
- Support all our athletes.
Time ran out for Mara to answer the third part of the question as to what, if anything, should be eliminated.
And with that, the moderators finished their questions. In Part 3, we’ll hear questions from the audience and the candidates’ responses.