Four Candidates Seek Two Contested HPS Board Seats
October 29, 2020
By Tom Tolen / firstname.lastname@example.org
Four candidates are vying for two, 4-year terms on the Howell Public Schools Board of Education in next Tuesday’s election.
The candidates include two incumbents: Michael Yenshaw and Marcus Wilcox and challengers Adam Doby and Crystal Zurek. In addition, two candidates are running without opposition for two, 6-year terms on the board. They are Stacy Pasini and Courtney Tarara - both of them incumbents. Since Passini and Tarara are running unopposed, WHMI is concentrating on the two 4-year seats that are up for grabs.
We asked the candidates a series of nine questions:
1) Why are you running for the board?
2) What do you think is the biggest need in the district?
3) If elected what are your goals and priorities for the next four years?
4) Niche.com rates the Howell Public Schools as “above average.” Is that sufficient, or do you think Howell Schools should strive for more than that?
5) What special skill set/s do you possess that you believe would make you valuable to the board and district?
6) Howell has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an in-person plan, plus the option of a virtual, online program for families that prefer that to in-school learning. Do you feel the Return to School program has been successful?
7) Are you a district parent with children in the Howell Public Schools?
8) How many children do you have, and what school/s do they attend?
9) How can Howell best retain and build on its good academic reputation?
Their responses have been condensed here for the sake of brevity. The complete answers are available through the download below.
WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?
Yenshaw, the longest-serving member of the board with 13 years of service, says he has “institutional knowledge” he can pass on to the newer board members and that he has taken part in many critical decisions over the years. With two children in district schools, Doby feels “the district’s success is personal and heartfelt,” and that kids should have the maximum number of choices and opportunities. Zurek - an educator in the Dexter Community Schools - feels her son and his classmates deserve “an education where they are taught to think critically about how they can make the world a better place.” Wilcox has been on the board 5 years and wants to continue to contribute to its stability and smooth functioning.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST NEED IN THE DISTRICT?
Wilcox says “COVID has changed everything in the short term and the biggest need is to safely continue having children attend school 5 days a week in person if parents so choose.” Yenshaw says the biggest need is to ensure continued stable financing “to insure that students are receiving the best quality-education possible.” Zurek says, “the biggest need…is to keep students, staff and the community safe by implementing safer COVID-19 protocols.” And Doby says he “would like to see us provide enhanced educational opportunities for gifted students, increased vocational opportunities, and equal access to advanced elementary learning programs.“
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS/PRIORITIES FOR THE NEXT 4 YEARS IF ELECTED?
Doby would like to see “decreased class sizes, (teachers’) pay commensurate with the level of responsibility (the district) ask(s) of them, and updated, readily available supplies… creating community service projects and events that engage and benefit citizens, businesses and education alike.” Wilcox would like to see “Safely continu(ing) children in school 5 days a week, and “provid(ing) the resources to teachers and students to increase test scores and provide as many opportunities for students as possible.” Yenshaw says that, as one of seven board members, “Personal goals or priorities are not a primary objective.” That being said, Yenshaw adds that Howell’s per-pupil state aid is among the lowest in Michigan, and he feels the state’s formula for funding public education needs to be changed to make it more equitable. Zurek says Howell is rated as only a C in diversity and needs to “be inclusive of all marginalized groups. For example, students should learn about how to be anti-racist and should learn about LGBTQ+ issues across the curriculum. Students perform better when they feel safe and included,” she says.
NICHE.COM RATES THE HOWELL PUBLIC SCHOOLS AS “ABOVE AVERAGE”. IS THAT SUFFICIENT, OR DO YOU THINK HOWELL SCHOOLS SHOULD STRIVE FOR MORE THAN THAT?
Yenshaw suggests that the rating is unscientific, and is based on “a compilation of statistical data analysis and user opinions gleaned by reviews of students, parents, and district residents.” Nonetheless, he says the district can always strive to be better. Zurek says the website gives Howell merely a “C” rating for diversity, saying that it must strive to “attract members of diverse groups to our community” adding that staff, the board, and students need to be trained in social justice. Doby says the board needs to “evaluate (its) performance and set constantly higher, yet achievable, goals.” Wilcox maintains that “Howell Schools is the Gold standard around Metro Detroit right now on how to educate students safely,” while adding the district “can always do better.”
WHAT SPECIAL SKILL SET/S DO YOU POSSESS THAT WOULD MAKE YOU VALUABLE TO THE BOARD AND DISTRICT?
Doby says that as the manager of a Starbucks, he knows “how important education is to success and the huge part that positive role models play in development. He adds that his experience with budgeting and addressing financial limitations has given him the skills necessary to navigate some of the current challenges in the district. Zurek says her “10 years of experience in education will make (her) valuable to the board and the district.” Yenshaw says he is known for his “integrity, work ethic, attention to detail, and listening to people as an effective and valuable member of the board.” Wilcox says that as an attorney on the board he provides legal guidance, in his words, “to ensure we are not making decisions that would jeopardize Howell Public Schools.”
HOWELL HAS RESPONDED TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH AN IN-PERSON PLAN, PLUS THE OPTION OF A VIRTUAL, ONLINE PROGRAM FOR FAMILIES THAT PREFER THAT TO IN-SCHOOL LEARNING. DO YOU FEEL THE RETURN TO SCHOOL PROGRAM HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL?
While saying that it has been a good plan overall, Doby says there was “a lack of clearly articulated instructions for what students needed to do on the first day, adding he thinks “masks should have been made mandatory for elementary students from day one to create consistency through the entire district.” Yenshaw says Howell has been unique in the area by having in-school instruction all five days while most other districts have adopted variations of hybrid learning. While some students or staff have tested positive for COVID-19, Yenshaw says the district only required one day, at the high school, devoted to online instruction. Zurek says she would “advocate for safer protocols,” adding that masks should have been mandatory in all district schools starting at the beginning of the year. Wilcox praised school officials for establishing what he calls “the best (coronavirus protocols) in the state of Michigan…(with) no student-to-student COVID cases during that time.”
ARE YOU A DISTRICT PARENT WITH CHILDREN IN THE BRIGHTON AREA SCHOOLS? IF SO, HOW MANY CHILDREN DO YOU HAVE, AND WHAT SCHOOL/S DO THEY ATTEND?
Wilcox has two children who both attend Southwest Elementary and Doby has a second grader, also at Southwest. Yenshaw, with three grown daughters, has no children currently in school, while Zurek has a son who attends kindergarten through Highlander Virtual.
HOW CAN HOWELL BEST RETAIN AND BUILD ON ITS GOOD ACADEMIC REPUTATION?
Zurek says by providing more professional development opportunities for teachers, “teaching social and emotional skills, making our curriculum inclusive, teaching critical thinking skills, and providing emotional support through school counselors and social workers.” Doby says by providing unique and interesting opportunities for learning….supporting teachers and staff by providing them with the resources they need will equip them with the tools necessary to improve upon our current results.” Wilcox says, “By providing the necessary resources to teachers so students are encouraged and motivated to learn in a safe environment,” also continuing “alternative programs like the builder’s trade program” and increasing AP classes. And Yenshaw says, “The District can maintain its good academic reputation by continuing to provide effective and wide-ranging instructional, social, and emotional supports necessary in pursuit of student success.”