Make Your Voice Heard at Ferndale Education Forum
The Center for Michigan, Ferndale Area Chamber and Ferndale Public Library will host a 'community conversation' on Pre-K through 12 education on May 8.
Whether they are driven by a love for teaching, a desire to see standardized test scores rise, a push for higher wages for teachers or frustration over diminishing school funding, people get passionate about education.
Residents have rallied in Lansing, they fill school board meetings and they write to legislators. They also cheer for young people at sporting events and beam when kids receive honors at awards ceremonies.
The Center for Michigan, a think-tank focusing on helping citizens drive important changes in the state, has been leading conversations on education throughout the state, and Patch has been partnering with the center to continue these conversations with communities after the forums are over.
On Tuesday, May 8, a forum will take place at the Ferndale Public Library.
The Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce is co-hosting the event along with the library and Ferndale Schools. Patch will be there as well, reporting on the forum and listening to community concerns.
The chamber hosted a forum with the center in 2010 about a different issue and heard about the group's ongoing education forums, said Jennifer Roosenberg, executive director of the chamber.
"I just felt it was very important that Ferndale's voice be a part of this," she said. "We're a very small community compared to some others but we wanted to make sure that Ferndale citizens and businesses were represented."
Seating for the Ferndale conversation is limited, but some spots are still available. To RSVP for the event or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During these sessions, topics will range from teacher preparation to class sizes, and participants will have opportunities to offer their opinions.
"Our pledge is that you will learn something and that your voice will be heard," said John Bebow, CEO of the Center for Michigan and himself the father of a second-grader who attends a public school. "This isn't me sitting in my pajamas coming up with ideas. This is all about the people."
Bebow quickly illustrates the power of community conversations and how they helped spark change in Michigan a few years ago: "We were holding these meetings, and a few of the parents were saying they weren't sure kids were going to school as often as they were supposed to," Bebow said. "Sure enough, we looked at the statewide data and found that kids were going to school one or two or three weeks less than they used to."
The center helped bring that concern to the attention of lawmakers, and within six weeks, Bebow said, the law was changed and the current 180-day calendar was adopted.
"That came out of average citizens coming to these meetings," he said.
'Customers' of education
Each year the center chooses a different topic to explore. This year's community conversation topic is education.
The focus is on the customers of the school industry: students, parents and employers — "people who have been left out of the conversation," said center founder Phil Power, former owner of HomeTown Communications Network Inc.
The goal is to involve 5,000 citizens in about 200 forums from northern Michigan to downriver in Metro Detroit. So far, education forums have taken place in several Patch communities, including Farmington, Lake Orion, Plymouth and Troy. On Wednesday, the day after the Ferndale forum, White Lake Patch will co-host a conversation at Lakeland High School.
The center will release a report that will be given to every legislator in office at the beginning of 2013.
Bebow helps run the forums. Like Power, he is a former journalist. Bebow said the community conversations operate like a traditional town hall meeting, with about 30 participants who receive a small polling device that looks something like a calculator. Bebow or another moderator asks questions that are projected onto a screen, and participants vote on their hand-held machines and see the results in real time.
The forums last 90 minutes — enough time for polling and conversation.
The Center for Michigan
Power said that after retirement he set about creating a nonprofit organization that would serve as a kind of megaphone for Michigan voices.
He founded the Center for Michigan in 2006 "because as a practical matter, ordinary people's voices are almost excluded from our political system. Political parties are interested in fierce partisans or in people who are part of interest groups that support their parties."
Any person who isn't in one of those groups, he said, finds himself or herself excluded. "Our purpose was to try to find ways to call forth those voices, amplify those voices, and bring them into the corridors of power," Power said. "The way to do that is through small, informal discussion groups."
In 2008, the center launched Michigan's Defining Moment, a series of 90-minute discussions that drew Michiganders into the process of developing an action plan to move the state forward. During a three-year period, 580 conversations took place with more than 10,000 residents.
"It was the single largest public outreach campaign in Michigan history," Power said, and it resulted in a “bottom up, common ground agenda” given to every 2008 gubernatorial candidate. That agenda formed the basis of much of Gov. Rick Snyder's legislative program, he added.