Many choices

We sorted through Detroit’s 63 school board candidates so you don’t have to

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
A total of 63 candidates ran for the first board of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Detroit’s school board race is crucial: Voters are choosing the first empowered board in decades, as the district struggles to leave behind the academic and financial turmoil of recent years.

It’s also potentially totally overwhelming: There are 63 candidates, most of whom have gotten no endorsements or funding to introduce themselves to voters.

So we’ve collected details about the 21 candidates who have racked up those key indicators of public support.

Read our previous coverage to understand the election’s stakes and where candidates are getting their money and support, and don’t forget to click on candidates’ names to read more about their backgrounds and priorities. (Their official questionnaires are here.)

Then take this guide — organized by number of endorsements — to the ballot box with you on Tuesday.

Leslie Andrews
Director of community relations and corporate giving at Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures
Endorsed by: Free Press, News, Chronicle, Chamber, FLH, Declare (6 total)
Campaign funds: $14,114

Sonya Mays
CEO of real estate and housing development nonprofit
Endorsed by: News, Chronicle, Chamber, Black Slate, 13th District, Declare (6)
Campaign funds: $23,792

Angelique Peterson-Maybury
UAW-Ford community relations director
Endorsed by: Free Press, Chronicle, DFT, Black Slate, FLH, 13th District (6)
Campaign funds: $57,980
Independent spending to support campaign: $69,500

Misha Stallworth
Advocacy coordinator for Detroit Area Agency on Aging
Endorsed by: Free Press, Chronicle, Chamber, DFT, FLH, 13th District (6)
Independent spending to support campaign: nearly $12,000

Iris Taylor
Retired former CEO of Detroit Receiving Hospital
Endorsed by: Chamber, DFT, Black Slate, FLH, 13th District (5)
Campaign funds: $10,725
Independent spending to support campaign: nearly $12,000

Penny Bailer
Retired former head of Detroit nonprofits
Endorsed by: Free Press, News, Chamber, Chronicle (4)
Campaign funds: $17,539

Kevin Turman
Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Detroit
Endorsed by: Free Press, News, Chamber, Chronicle (4)
Campaign funds: $5,967

Ryan Mack
President, financial literacy non profit
Endorsed by: Free Press, News, Chronicle, FLH (4)

Mary Kovari
Former Detroit high school principal
Endorsed by: News, Chamber, Declare (3)
Campaign funds: $14,383

Deborah Hunter-Harvill
Head of an education consulting firm
Endorsed by: DFT, FLH, 13th District (3)
Campaign funds: $3,810
Independent spending to support campaign: nearly $12,000

Keith Whitney
Pastor, Sanctuary Fellowship Church
Endorsed by: DFT, FLH, 13th District (3)
Independent spending to support: nearly $12,000

Wanda Redmond
Community activist, former school board member
Endorsed by: Black Slate, 13th District (2)

Phillip Caldwell II
Education consultant and former teacher and administrator
Endorsed by: Free Press
Campaign funds: $2,915, mostly from small individual donors.

Brandon Brice
Nonprofit consultant
Endorsed by: News

LaMar Lemmons
Policy analyst for state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo
Endorsed by: Black Slate

Tawanna Simpson
Member, old DPS school board
Endorsed by: Black Slate
Campaign funds: $1,200

Ida Carol Short
College professor, vice president of the old DPS school board
Endorsed by: Black Slate
Campaign funds: $975

John Telford
Radio host and retired school superintendent
Campaign funds: $31,000

Herman Davis
Retired personal banking, head of old DPS school board
Campaign funds: $2,141

Ben Washburn
Retired Wayne County Commission lawyer
Campaign funds: $1,202

Markita Meeks
Clinical lab scientist
Campaign funds: $100

The endorsement lists came from three newspapers (The Free Press, the News and Michigan Chronicle) and six community and political groups: the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the Fannie Lou Hamer (FLH) political action committee, Declare Detroit, the Black Slate and the 13th Congressional District Democrats.

Getting ready for school

Kindergarten ‘boot camp’ aims to ready young Detroit children — and their parents — for school

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
In this counting exercise, twin brothers, Rafael and Nicholas Gonzalez, prepare to stack pretend scoops of ice cream on their cones.

In a back room of a church on the city’s near east side,  Abraham and Magaly Gonzalez attended a summer camp with their 5-year-old twins. Six other children from the church’s child care center were seated around a rectangular table lit by fluorescent overhead lights, working on exercises to teach them colors, numbers, and shapes.

“They have to learn more,” Magaly Gonzalez said, explaining that the couple has been working with the boys, Rafael and Nicholas, at home using books and videos, “and we have to learn more to help them.”

This was their second session in the Detroit main district’s newly launched Kindergarten Boot Camp, a four-week summer program led by district staff that focuses on the basics children need to start school. The Gonzalezes sent their sons to preschool when they were 4 years old. But the couple was so excited about what their boys learned in an earlier camp that they came to the People’s Missionary Baptist Church, a community site, to help them learn more: how to count to 20, spell and write their names, and recognize letters and shapes.

Although school readiness is not a new notion for educators, in the past couple of years, the summer programs for children who are about to start kindergarten have become a national trend, said Robin Jacob, a University of Michigan research associate professor who focuses on K-12 educational intervention.

“They are a fairly new idea, and they are important,” said Jacob, who researched more than a dozen similar programs that recently have sprung up from Pittsburgh to Oakland, Calif., many targeting children who had no prior preschool education.

A full year of preschool is the best way to get children ready for kindergarten, she said, “but we know there are kids who fall through the cracks and it’s important to catch those children, and preschool doesn’t always include parents so they learn how to help their children at home.”

A growing number of districts and schools have added the programs, recognizing that they last only a few weeks, are relatively inexpensive, and keep students engaged during the summer months, she said.

These early lessons are important for children and their parents, said Sharlonda Buckman, the Detroit district’s assistant superintendent of family and community engagement, because officials too often hear from teachers that children don’t know how to sit in their seats, line up, or hold a pencil.

Even when they’ve gone to preschool, she said, some children still have trouble,  because kindergarten requires more discipline and structure than preschool. The children’s parents often don’t know how to prepare their children for kindergarten and lifelong learning.

That’s why the district’s program requires parents like the Gonzalezes to attend the boot camp sessions with their children.

“People automatically assume Kindergarten Boot Camp is about the kids,” Buckman said. “For us, it’s about the parents.”

About 100 parents attended the classes this summer in nine elementary schools and the church to build on the belief that “parents are the child’s best teacher,” Buckman said.

Parents also are involved in programs sponsored by Living Arts, a nonprofit arts organization, that is offering a range of programming in Detroit through Head Start to help preschool children and their parents get ready for the first day of school.

“Our movement, drama and music activities encourage children to learn how to be part of a line to transition to another part of the day such as going outside, the bathroom or a circle,” said Erika Villarreal-Bunce, the Living Arts director of programs. “The arts help children understand this new space they’re in is not like things were at home, and helps children learn to function in those spaces.”

Although not all camps require parent involvement, they offer similar lessons to prepare children for kindergarten.

In suburban cities such as Southfield and Huntington Woods, the Bricks 4 Kidz program uses models made of brightly colored bricks to teach preschool children letter recognition, patterns, colors, counting, and vocabulary. Maria Montoya, a spokeswoman from the Grand Valley State University, the largest charter authorizer in Detroit, said she wasn’t aware of any similar summer kindergarten readiness programs. They also did not receive grant funding for the pre-kindergarten initiative.

The best of them teach basic academics, instruct children in a classroom setting, and engage parents in student learning, Jacob said.

“Educators have thought about school readiness for a long time, but understanding how important that summer transition period can be is something that people have started to think about more carefully recently,” she said. “Summertime is a key time where kids can be learning.”

Regina Bell, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation program officer, said the foundation funded Detroit’s Kindergarten Boot Camp because of the importance of focusing on the earliest years of life to ensure students’ success in K-12 and beyond.

“Part of this is recognizing that most of the the human brain is developed by the age of 5, and when you think about early learning opportunities, those are the foundation for the future,” she said. “It is that foundation that really takes children into the K-12 system.”

Kindergarten Boot Camp, funded by a $3 million Kellogg grant, is only one part of the Detroit district’s efforts to increase parent involvement to improve student attendance, discipline issues, and test scores. The three-year grant also funds the Parent Academy and teacher home visits. (Kellogg is also a Chalkbeat funder).

As for Abraham Gonzalez, the twins’ father, parenting and teaching children doesn’t come naturally. So he says the early learning opportunity for his sons is essential for them — and their parents, although they spent a year in preschool at the Mark Twain School for Scholars in southwest Detroit.

“We are trying our best to teach these kids,” he said, and it’s even more challenging teaching them when Spanish is their first language.

Now, he said, the boys’ are getting so proficient at English, they understand more than their parents.

“They are understanding what the people tell them,” he said. “Sometimes, we don’t.”

School funding

Poll: Most residents want Michigan to change the way it funds schools

PHOTO: (Photo by Ariel Skelley via Getty Images)
Members of the School Finance Research Collaborative are calling for equitable school funding so all Michigan students get the education they deserve.

Most Michigan residents believe the state’s current method of funding schools is both insufficient and unfair.

Those were the findings of a new statewide poll that was conducted in June by the School Finance Research Collaborative, a prominent group of Michigan educators, policymakers, and business leaders that has called for major changes to the way schools are funded.

The poll of 600 Michigan residents found that 70 percent believe the state’s schools are underfunded, and 63 percent think they are not funded fairly.

“The results of the poll should really be a wake-up call for policymakers on both sides of the aisle, and to anyone seeking elected office,” said Wanda Cook-Robinson, a School Research Collaborative member and superintendent of Oakland Schools. “They need to listen to the Michiganders and use the school finance research collaborative study as a road map for a new, fair schools funding system.”

The poll follows a report the collaborative released in January, which recommended sweeping changes to the way schools in Michigan are funded. Instead of sending schools the same amount per student, the report recommended providing schools with additional funds for students who are learning English, living in poverty or facing other challenges.

The group spent nearly two years and about $900,000 producing the report but it did not get much immediate response from Lansing. The education budget signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this summer included increases to school funding, but made no changes to the funding formula.

Michael Addonizio, a professor of Education Policy Studies at Wayne State University and a member of the collaborative, said the poll offers another reason why lawmakers should pay attention to the issue.

“It’s time for a new school funding system that meets the unique, individual needs of all students, whether they are enrolled in special education, living in poverty, English language learners, and [whether] students attend school in geographically isolated areas of the state,” he said.

Details about the survey including the specific questions asked are below.