During the Monday, Oct 9 board meeting, superintendent Dori Leyko and the seven members of the East Lansing school board spent the majority of the meeting interviewing six new candidates to fill the vacant trustee position on the board, after the resignation of Monica Fink. In these interviews, Dr. Estrella Torrez was ultimately chosen for the vacant trustee position.
According to East Lansing Info, this is the third (of three) East Lansing trustee position filled in 2023, with Gary Holbrook selected during an Aug 14 meeting following Amanda Cormier’s resignation, and Chris Martin selected following Debbie Walton’s resignation in February.
The six candidates interviewed for Fink’s old position, which was later given to Torrez, include Robert (Bob) Cukier, Rebecca Dean, Dr Scott D Farver, Michael Feldpausch, Tiffany Matthews, and Dr. Torrez. All six of these candidates spoke with the board and seemed like potential fits, but in the end only one could be chosen as the newest trustee.
One interesting fact regarding these candidates is that three of them have ties to the greater East Lansing area, more specifically the academics, with Cukier, Farver, and Torrez all current faculty members at Michigan State University, with Cukier having taught at MSU for many years and Feldpausch having earned his bachelor’s degree from the university.
Unfortunately for Farver, he felt his lack of diversifying experiences were holding him back from a selection as the newest trustee, and a higher level of contribution to the board.
“I don’t know if you need my voice on this board. I am a white cis male who brings limited perspectives from those identity to the seats here”
However, in the eyes of the board, two candidates stood out from the pack; Matthews and Torrez, with Torrez ultimately being selected for the vacant position.
In the case of Tiffany Matthews, her motive behind running for the school board was interesting. At the prior school board meeting, a parent spoke and mentioned that she did not have any representation on East Lansing’s school board, prompting Matthews, as a school of choice parent, to express her interest and throw her hat in the ring for the open seat. Matthews’ own children go to school in the East Lansing school district. Diversity, equity, and inclusion were important to Matthews to focus on if selected for the position.
“I have always been proud of the diversity in East Lansing. An equity audit would help us figure out where we are and what we need to do better”, said Matthews.
Dr. Torrez is the candidate whose interview provided them with the strongest case for the vacant position. Dr. J Estrela Torrez has been in the East Lansing school district for over a decade, and looks to give back. Dr. Torrez is an associate professor in the department of writing at Michigan State University, and has worked in a school of predominantly black students in Detroit, where Dr Torrez built strong relationships with families with diverse backgrounds. A large priority of what Torrez wants to spend time working on in her new position is to ensure that people, especially students, among the community are supported and heard.
“My intent always has been and continues to be to create spaces where students and parents and teachers and community members across the demographics feel supported and heard”, said Torrez.
In her interview with the board, Torrez expressed a desire to prioritize the future of her students, to “define a clear vision of higher expectations for the entire student body.” Like Matthews, Torrez also wanted to see an equity audit be done and express a contribution toward bettering the future of these students.
“We need to be aware and empathetic towards these students in a difficult time in their lives, Students are the No. 1 priority, but we need a healthy work environment for the staff”, said Dr Torrez.
Torrez had a rough experience in Michigan growing up, which ties into her motivation to better the circumstances for the current generation of students.
“I found that my education in Michigan Public Schools was not welcoming. I grew up in the thumb area and that school was very rough and not very welcoming. I want to ensure that my children’s positive experiences in East Lansing Public Schools are available to all students”, said Torrez.
In the end, there were six qualified candidates to replace Fink. Ultimately, Torrez was the one chosen and she aspires to fit into the foundation the board has been building over time. It was strongly encouraging to see the passion Dr. Torrez has for her work and her community, but her true impact on the board is yet to be determined.