Angie Smith's Educational Justice Goals
Why do you want to be a school board member?
Because I care about kids. As an educator, I get it. I have taught, worked, and volunteered with all ages preschool- adult. I have worked with incarcerated learners, gifted students, kids with traumatic brain injuries, I have been a classroom teacher and worked one on one. As a parent in our district for the last 17 years I have experience interacting with our Board of education and our administration about issues that are of concern to me. I’ve been a weekly volunteer, a PTO president, a part time support staff, and have sat on committees that investigate policy change.
Through this I have learned that we need to invest in what we value, and I am ready for a new role as a trustee to the Board of Education. If elected I hope to reflect and respect the values of our community. My goal is to challenge everyone from teachers to top administrators to work collaboratively and creatively to ensure a more just and equitable future for all students.
What does education justice mean to you? What does it mean specifically in the context of your school district?
Educational justice means we are supporting every member of our school community in the ways they need in order to reach their best potential. Youth are empowered and so are their teachers. Like in so many communities, the pandemic has really laid bare so many issues of injustice for us. This also means we are ripe to examine and reform problems including racial biases, how we support students with non-neurotypical needs, respect for teachers and staff members, carbon neutrality, and so much more. I am particularly aware of communities of color and families with students who have special and specific needs that are experiencing a lack of support and justice. Working to expose these injustices, talk openly about them, and come up with community based solutions are the first steps in addressing the problem. Climate justice also needs to be addressed, but maybe not through the constraints of this question.
If you could completely reimagine the way schools look after this public health crisis, what would they look like?
This is a great question, because this pandemic has offered a opportunity to examine the idea of real educational reform. If this is a true opportunity at imagining, I would imagine schools to be the gold standard for what climate forward planning, implementation and infrastructure look like. Buildings would be teaching tools used by the students who inhabit them and the community that surrounds them for safe and carbon zero gatherings. Schooldays would start later to allow for students to sleep in and get required rest. Class sizes would be smaller. Students would work and progress at their own pace collaborating with teachers and other students and community members in a way that is non-competitive. Students would be empowered to feel like masters of their own educational progress. All teachers would have the time and tools they need to teach, assess, and encourage students. Kids would get outside every day, and have an opportunity for understanding and impacting where their food comes from, how big decisions are made, how budgets are managed, how our health is protected, and how to discern reliable and credible information. Families would be included in the process of education in a way that does not distract from their own work and goals. Paramount, the safety of kids and our community would not be a worry.
If we want to think about more concrete examples of what could be done we would first think about how we define success for our students. It’s not a report card or a test grade that makes a successful student. Last time I asked our district what our measure of successful education is, the answer was a student that is bound for college. Not all students want to or need to go to college, and I have known many successful students who have opted not to go straight on to University. By reexamining the measures of success, we will change the tools that we use for assessing, and diminish our reliance and costs for high stakes assessments as a way to measure student learning. We can also let go of those assessments as measures of teacher success, and instead rely on real goal setting and creative collaborative work.
Describe how you think parents, students, and families should be involved in making decisions within your school district?
I think of education as a triangle: Student, Parent, Teacher, and then as kids grow Student, Community, School. Each of these pieces of the angle needs to be strong and supportive to the other segments in order to create and shape successful education. This means open communication in working towards shared goals and understanding of success. I’ve seen education work best when
parents felt like important members of the learning process
teachers and school leaders act as guides, examples, and caring mentors
children are empowered to make decisions about their learning.
Research supports the need for parent involvement. By focusing on open and honest communication, schools are better able to meet the needs and values of the community.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals within your school district?
Safety and Equity.
Student and Teacher Empowerment.
What are your top 3 educational priorities/goals at a state level?
Increased student funding not tied to zipcode.
Ensuring no classroom is under-resourced, with the recognition that the best resource to our students is excellent teachers.
Promoting carbon neutrality in a way that honors the needs and values of our global community.
What challenges do you anticipate this school year due to COVID and what do you think your school district must do to keep students & staff safe?
The pandemic has already been such a wildcard for how to safely ensure a free and appropriate education for all. I think it’s important for the district to be able to trust science and state leadership in creating a plan for safely educating children. Once the plan is created, the district leadership needs to feel and show confidence in adopting it and adapting it as needed. Then the plan and rationale need to be clearly communicated to the community.
Challenges to this are difficult: Continuing evolving standards from the state health and political leaders make setting on and trusting an agreed plan tough. Ensuring appropriate resources from PPE to safe and well-ventilated learning spaces is another challenge. Leadership also has to overcome the challenge of helping the community and staff feel confident that the place they will be is safe. There may be people not comfortable with a return to in-person learning for a very long time. As leaders, we need to be able to acknowledge and accept that, we need to figure out a way to accommodate that. We also must acknowledge the risk to wellbeing that virtual schooling may be causing. These are not easy problems to solve, but all facets must be considered when providing public education.
What should be your school district’s top spending priorities in their budget? Alternatively, what should not be prioritized your district’s budget?
We’ve got a billion dollar bond that will need to be carefully managed and spent over the course of many years to come. That and other funds of the district need to be spent in ways that prioritize equity, environmental protection, and the needs and values of our community. Our biggest resource as a district will always be our teachers. Teachers deserve our respect, and this should also be reflected in our spending priorities. One of the best ways we can support equity and excellence in our district is ensuring that no classrooms are under-resourced or over crowded.
What role do you think standardized tests should play in your school district?
Standardized tests play too big of a role in our schools. These high-stakes tests are expensive biased ‘snapshots’ that do little to measure student learning and less to reveal the effectiveness of teachers. The fact that they are relied on to prove either is a great disservice to what authentic education should look like. Studies have shown that success on standardized tests is tied heavily to the socioeconomic level of the student. This means that the test scores are not revealing where the ‘good schools’ are, they are revealing where the high socio-economic neighborhoods are.
Assessment and feedback are a very important part of education, and targeting and measuring goals is a crucial part of the learning process. But any full reliance on standardized tests for teacher assessment, state funding, college entrance, and real estate comparison is a harmful way for kids to measure their self-worth.
If you could have an impact on your school district’s curriculum , what changes would you make? What, if anything, would you keep the same?
There is a lot of good learning going on in AAPS. So many teachers are giving their all and inspiring students in ways that they remember for their lifetime. I would both keep that the same and change our district to allow more space for that. More student-led, project-based, goal-driven place-based opportunity that motivates a desire for lifelong learning and meaningful engagement. Personally, my education is in teaching science and social studies, so I have a deep respect for outdoor education, understanding of the world around us, inquiry-based learning, hands-on exploration, and giving children the opportunity to wonder. But I know that this is a question best left to teachers who are interacting with the students in their classes and are passionate about their subject matter. Allowing qualified teachers professional control of curriculum and pacing gives students the freedom to master skills at their own pace.
I would also inquire about more opportunities for choices or specialty learning within the district. As a large public school district, we can foster some of the creative and varied options that are available at choice schools and magnet schools. Ann Arbor has seen continued success in some of its strong magnet programs–Open, Community, STEAM. At the district level, IB, Highpoint, and the college alliance courses are also successful options.
By supporting specialized magnet programs in geographically diverse community schools, students have a unique opportunity to learn in a way that can be motivating and gratifying. If this can be accomplished in a way that is financially equitable, I would support the growth of these programs.
What responsibility do you believe your school district has in supporting students’ and staffs’ mental and emotional health/wellbeing?
A tremendous amount. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center states: Mental health problems can affect a student’s energy level, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism, hindering performance. Research suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages, and that co-occurring depression and anxiety can increase this association. Schools are where youth spend the majority of their waking time (in non-pandemic times) and so the responsibility to identify and and support these barriers to wellbeing must be taken seriously. And if at all possible, they must be addressed in a way that does not drain the funding for academic spending. How we treat who we hire (and how we hire) is a lesson to students, whether we think they are paying attention or not. Our values speak volumes when we put them to practice (as good employers).
How do you think your school district should handle student discipline/and make schools a safe place for students and staff?
Restorative Justice is an effective way for schools and communities to repair harm, injustice and conflict. It gives power to victims, holds offenders accountable, and disrupts the school to prison pipeline by seeking to restore and repair the harm instead of using penalties, shame, and punishment to teach a lesson. Student safety and equity are a school’s first and most basic responsibility.
What are your top priorities around special education in your district?
As someone who works with students who have suffered traumatic brain injury, as a parent of a child who went through school with a legal 504 document to ensure her health and safety, as a candidate who has talked with many parent who feel their special needs child has been left behind as part of the plan for pandemic education, I have learned that the top priority needs to be communication and goal setting. The safety and success of these students who have been identified as needing further supports are a great responsibility. Open and respectful communication can lead to appropriate goal setting which in turn can lead to successful students. How we measure success bears mention here as well. Last time I asked how our district measures a successful student the answer was if the student goes on to college. For many students (including my own) a direct move to University studies is not the best option. Measuring student success in ways that are not test scores, GPA, or college entrance is an important part of honoring and supporting kids with unique challenges or goals.
What is your perspective on working towards achieving equity within your school district?
This needs to be the backbone of public education, the idea by which all decisions are considered. This is not only a responsibility to our students, but to our community and culture.