The three candidates that are hoping to be elected to two available seats on the Dearborn Board of Education participates in a moderated event Tuesday night at Dearborn City Hall in an effort to showcase their point of view about education policy in the city.
Mary Lane, the current president of the 7-member school board; Aimee Blackburn, a long-time school board trustee; and Mary Petlichkoff, a past board trustee; are seeking a 6-year term on the board.
During the forum, which was organized by the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, the candidates fielded questions about test scores, teacher evaluations, school funding, the board’s dual role as Henry Ford Community College trustees, and the future of the 19,000-student Dearborn Public Schools district.
According to Betsy Cushman of the LWVDDH, the questions posed to the candidates were determined by a committee that organized the forums throughout the community; forum attendees submitted questions which were then screed by the moderator.
All three candidates agreed that the most vexing issues facing the schools are educational achievement, and funding.
Blackburn said that funding needs to be expended carefully because monies remain scarce.
“I would like to see cost/benefit analysis used at the schools,” said the trustee, who is a financial risk manager at TRW Automotive. “Funding is getting more precious.”
Lane said that the pressures on funding are a fact of life that’s unlikely to ease anytime soon, and that the district is doing a good job balancing the books. Petlichkoff agreed with that sentiment, and said the district board has properly managed its funds.
When it comes to achievement, all three candidates said the district has made gains, but that more progress is needed.
The trio was also in agreement about the role of test scores at the schools, and balked at the fact that two of the district’s three high school did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, according to scores released earlier this year. Lane argued that at one of those schools, there are 500 students taking part in dual enrollment programs, vocational programs and other programs designed to prepare them for the job market or college.
“The schools are working for 90 percent of students,” she said.
Additionally, all three candidates agreed that AYP should be based on progress, not target, and that although they are an important tool for administrators, they should not be the sole measure of the district’s success.
When the candidates were asked about how the district compares with schools in Plymouth and Northville, Blackburn indicated that might not be a fair comparison, citing socio-economic differences between those communities and Dearborn.
“Every year we have some students that are accepted into colleges like Harvard,” she said, adding that it’s not the norm because of the financial status of many Dearborn families. “We need to focus on getting the students into a college they can attend.”
HFCC, Teacher Cvaluations
Teacher evaluations and the role of a teacher in student’s education was also a topic the candidates addressed.
Petlichkoff said evaluations need to be specific, not arbitrary, and should be based on student progress at the beginning and end of the school year.
“Testing (of students) should be done on the way in and the way out,” she said.
Blackburn indicated that evaluations should involve observation of a teacher’s skills, and Lane said a portfolio should be developed by teachers as part of the process.
When it comes to the school board also serving as trustees for HFCC, two candidates said more discussion needs to take place; one said the two roles should remain unchanged.
“This has been something that has been talked about because of issues like a conflict of interest, but there needs to be more discussion about this,” Lane said.
Petlichkoff said there is no evidence that suggests it is a disadvantage for the board to represent both the schools and the college, and that the arrangement should not be changed.
Dearborn's school board election will be on the Nov. 6 ballot along with elections for several other offices, including the President of the United States, the U.S. Senate, judges, and several state and county ballot initiatives.