School board candidates make their cases

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By Katie Krall and Tiago Zielske
The Williamston Post

Vacant seats on the school board in Williamston will be filled Nov. 4. Three of the six candidates will win 6-year terms. One candidate has dropped out of the race for a 6-year term seat, so there will be seven names on the ballot. Jeffrey S. West is running uncontested for a 4-year term.

Each of the six active candidates for 6-year seats talks about their qualifications and aspirations as a school board member. Answers have been edited for length.

Nancy Deal

Q: Why do you feel qualified?
A: I know education. I understand and can speak about the requirements the federal and state government place on districts. I know specifically what Williamston is doing to meet those guidelines and ensure that ALL students receive an appropriate education. I know the issues and can address them specifically, not talk around them.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Williamston Community Schools?
A: Williamston Community Schools’ challenge will be to keep the integrity of our high-achieving programs while staying within our budget. As long as we continue to produce high-achieving students, we will continue to grow as a district and community.

Q: How will you make a positive impact if you are elected?
A: I have been in education for over 20 years and had the privilege of teaching in this district for over 10 years. This gives me a greater appreciation of what the responsibilities, needs, challenges and requirements are that the Williamston Community School District faces. I have positive relationships with parents, students, staff and community members. I not only have a passion for education, but a solid understanding of what makes a highly effective school system. It is these experiences that will give me a better foundation when making decisions.

Q: What do you want the community to know about you?
A: As a parent of two Williamston students, I understand the importance of giving our children access to a quality education. As a past teacher for the Williamston School District and a member of several educational committees, I also understand what it takes to get there. I want to share my passion for education by becoming a board member.

Timothy Grant

Q: Why do you feel qualified?
A: I feel just as qualified as anyone else. I have a daughter that will be in preschool next year in Williamston schools and everything that I do now will impact her future at Williamston schools. I also have an education in trade with accounting, which will help with working together with the school board and will help with budgets and funding. I think there’s great value to not having a high education or a doctorate. It gives you an ability to understand the kids who might not make it to college. We still need people to become firefighters; we need people on the line at GM.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Williamston Community Schools?
A: Funding and enrollment. I am a supporter of school of choice. It allows families to bring kids to Williamston schools. Williamston is a school that families want to come to. With each kid, it brings around $7,000 per kid. If we can bring in more kids, that will really go a long way in helping funding for the school. We need to attract school-of-choice students. Also, our textbooks are out of date and it would be easier if we went electronic.

Q: How will you make a positive impact if you are elected?
A: In Williamston everyone knows you, so having a special bond with the community helps. I’ve been in Williamston schools since sixth grade. The board is not just one person. They have to be able to work together and I feel that I can help bring them together.

Q: What do you want the community to know about you?
A: I am a Williamston firefighter, I have actively volunteered around the community, and I am on two city boards that are very active. I helped sell the police building that is now a brewery, which will bring in new jobs to Williamston.

Christopher Lewis

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified for a seat on the board?
A: I am passionate about the education that our kids are getting in the district. As a past co-leader of a Girl Scouts troop; a co-chair of two citizen committees to pass the past two millage elections; and being an active attendee at school board meetings for the past year and a half, I have had some great opportunities to engage with students and parents about their concerns and I want to be able to provide a voice for others, too.

I have a doctorate in educational leadership and have a solid background in K-12 and higher education issues. I also have been working in higher education for the past 16 years and have worked with students at all levels of post-secondary education. Another issue that is important for me in being a board member would be to always place the kids of the district at the forefront when making decisions for the district. I have worked in K-12 education and have seen how tirelessly teachers and administrators work and how passionate they are in working with their students. As a board member, I will bring this past experience, as well as my own personal and professional educational knowledge to the board. I believe that this background will help me to understand and provide insight to the school districts’ needs.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Williamston Community Schools?
A: I believe that one of the biggest challenges that the Williamston Community Schools are dealing with is that they will have to continue to make sure that the kids in our schools continue to receive a top-quality education that prepares them for the future while continuing to be innovative while supporting teachers’ creativity and allowing teachers to not be constrained by assessments or state/federal mandates. In the end, the district has to create opportunities for students to make their learning “real” and tangible so that kids remain to be engaged and excited about their overall learning experience, which will help them in being prepared for an ever-changing world, which means making them aware and astute to technology as well as to the academic and life skills needed to make their way in life.

Q: How will you make a positive impact if elected?
A: I am the type of person that stays in touch by staying connected in the community. I would definitely make myself accessible to any and all, listening to concerns as well as sharing successes with those that I speak with. I do whatever I can to support constituents and work to assist them as we work through relevant issues. I have been building teams for many years and work to create cohesion among members so that the team can be even more effective. I also bring with me the ability to analyze and understand data, as well as a background in working with complex educational budgets. Finally, it is important to be an effective communicator and working to ensure that people are able to have their voices heard and that the decisions of the board are clear and shared in ways that the whole community can access.

Q: What do you want the community to know about you?
A: I am a good listener and I know that if I am elected one of my goals would be to be visible and available in the community to take in everything that comes before the board. I know that not all of the decisions that the board makes will please everyone, but that being said, I want to know what everyone is thinking about the issues and hear concerns or issues as they arise. I would try very hard to make as many people as possible know who I am and that I value receiving input from community members. I am the type of person that is passionate, energetic and committed and anyone you will ask will tell you that I finish what I start and always give 110 percent.

Tyrone Sanders, Jr.

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified for a seat on the board?
A: I am a passionate advocate for children and public education. I believe that providing a quality education for all students is one of the government’s most important obligations. I am excited about the opportunity to use my knowledge and experience on matters of education, finance and policy to help the Williamston Board of Education continue providing the district’s students with a quality education and implementing its vision for the future. I have unique experience and expertise on education-related policy and finance issues accumulated from 20-plus years of working with the Michigan State Legislature in various capacities. Through my work representing various school districts and other K-12 school-related interests, I have attained a working knowledge of Michigan’s School Code and School Aid Act.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Williamston Community Schools?
A: Declining enrollment. Williamston Community Schools is allocated $7,251 by the State of Michigan for each student attending the district. Over the last decade, that student count has been steadily declining and the district’s financial resources have declined along with it. In order to deal with the ramifications of declining enrollment, the district has adopted a comprehensive school-of-Choice program which brings students into the school system from outside the district’s boundaries. Additionally, district leadership was proactive in offering programs like full-day kindergarten in order to draw more students to WCS at an early age. However, these are not sustainable solutions. In order for the board to pursue long-term strategic planning for the district, the student count has to be more stable. Most importantly, this stability will allow the district to ensure that teachers and administrators have the resources necessary to help educate and challenge students.

Q: How will you make a positive impact if elected?
A: If elected, I will pursue the following priorities:
* Ensure a safe, secure and drug-free learning environment for students, teachers and administrators. Violence, bullying, intolerance and substance abuse all work to undermine a positive learning environment and should never be tolerated in our schools.
* Support enrichment and extracurricular programs, such as foreign language, sports, the arts and music It is important that our students are well-rounded.
* Secure equal opportunities for all students, as well as providing teachers with the tools and resources necessary to prepare them for the jobs of the 21st century.
* Ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent primarily in the classroom and areas that directly impact student achievement.

Q: What do you want the community to know about you?
A: If elected, I promise to represent the members of the Williamston community with openness, honesty and integrity. I will always put the interests of our district’s students and their parent, above my own. Further, I promise to use my skills, experience, and relationships to ensure that students receive a first-class education which adequately prepares them for the challenges that they will be confronted with when they graduate.

Candidate Jill Story did not respond to email messages.

Greg Talberg

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Williamston Community Schools?
A: Williamston is challenged to adjust to change. Curriculum is changing, funding is changing, the teacher evaluation process is changing, and technology continues to change the way we deliver educational services. I also believe it is a challenge to address the needs of all our kids, especially the students who don’t readily see themselves as part of the school community.

Q: How will you make a positive impact if you are elected?
A: I will listen carefully and consider all viewpoints. Because I am a classroom teacher, I will be able to provide valuable input regarding how any policy changes will impact the classroom.

Q: Why do you feel qualified?
A: I have nearly two decades of teaching experience. I have worked directly on negotiating a teacher contract and fully understand issues involved with budgets and bargaining. I have two kids in Williamston schools, so any decisions I make will impact my family directly.

Q: What do you want the community to know about you?
A: I care about kids and schools and I love living in Williamston.

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