Letter: Councilman Discusses Ferndale School Board Endorsements

City Council member T. Scott Galloway submitted this letter to the editor.

Ferndale Patch welcomes letters to the editor.

The following was submitted by Ferndale City Council member T. Scott Galloway in response to a previous letter to the editor on school board endorsements.


The reason I support the BOLD candidates for the Ferndale School Board is simple. When I first ran for Ferndale City Council eleven years ago the top  concern of residents was our schools.  After almost three terms on Council the top concern of Ferndale residents remains our schools.

During this time most of the individuals elected to Ferndale’s School Board were endorsed by CBE, the same political action committee that supports BOLD’s  opponents in this election.

A decade is more than enough time to effect transformative change within an organization yet I hear the same complaints about Ferndale Schools in 2012  that I heard in 2001: unsatisfactory test scores, the perception of poor academics, and a School Board that demonstrates both a bunker mentality toward residents of the District and a “go along to get along” relationship with the Administration that rarely results in a critical analys is of the Superintendent’s policy initiatives.

If the School Board has been unable to transform the school district during the last decade, then I have no confidence that we will experience dramatic change in our district by electing yet another slate of CBE endorsed candidates.

Ferndale needs a school district that the whole community is proud of, a school district that draws people to our city rather than driving them away and a school board that unites rather than divides our residents.  Ferndale wants more than mere financial stability from our school district.  Ferndale expects more from our schools and we deserve more.

The BOLD candidates may not immediately have all the answers to the District’s challenges, but I am absolutely certain that if elected they will ask the tough questions that have been avoided for far too long.  I am not alone in my support of BOLD.  Elected officials and more than 250 individuals from all four communities within the District have publically endorsed Amy Butters, Jim O’Donnell, Raylon Leaks-May and Kevin Deegan-Krause.  Rather than a conspiracy or an attempted coup d’ etat from City Hall, perhaps the endorsement of so many elected officials is simply a recognition that it is time for a change on the Ferndale School Board.

T. Scott Galloway
City of Ferndale

Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Mr Galloway, As you mention schools should be "a top concern for residents" as well as "I have no confidence" Yes this should remain and be a top concern since we are talking about the future of our children as well as that of our cities. It's true and as it is in any city without good stable schools you don't have financial stability in city government which very is apparent just to our south. You mention transformative change that should have occurred with in that decade. By definition "The act or an instance of transforming, the state of being transformed" Transformation can occur suddenly or it can take a longer period to occur. I wonder if the citizen's of Ferndale think your 11 years have provided the right transformation of Ferndale? Many probably agree but I'm sure there are those that do not.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 12:38 PM
The transformation of the Ferndale district has and is occurring over a long period of time and many people like what is going on and others not.I point out the financial stability that the district has consistently maintained, which I add we are only a very small group of districts that are in such a distinction to have a rainy day fund vs. having to borrow millions of dollars just to pay the everyday bills. This has come at the hard work of many people including the current and past board members, finance advisory committee and countless other parents and volunteers that have given hours to work on. Just last night at the School board meeting the accounting firm Yeo &Yeo provided the state mandated audit presented the results of the Ferndale district. Comments by the firm is that they are very impressed with how the districts financial health looks. Many districts look to Ferndale to model after them and provide direction to them. Improvement in scores and academics are occurring and will continue to do so with the fact that the districtwide practice of work shops and meeting occurring every Monday in the schools as well as parental involvement. Students participating in extracurricular activities on a free basis when so many are doing a pay to play approach.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 12:38 PM
The successful passage of the school bond last year that invests in the children and the district to provide even more advances and strengthen the infrastructure that we currently have so we can keep moving forward. To say that pride is only from one group is incorrect! The pride that this community has for the district is overwhelmingly evident at many events and by how much those that volunteer countless hours to support the children of this district to make it a better place for everyone. There have been discussions on retention, given the current state of economy in S.E. Michigan and the diverse population of our district there has and will be continued movement in and out of the district. I hope that we continue to do what we have done best over the years is manage the district responsibly and in the best interests of the children. BOLD has asked questions and as you mentioned will ask questions but as you said "The BOLD candidates may not immediately have all the answers to the District’s challenges" So when will we get those answers? As many voters should do before casting a vote is to be informed and right now the CLEAR backed candidates have not informed us of what the plans are. I will place my vote confidently!
Adelaide Downing October 16, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I think the idea that the Ferndale schools have not made tremendous progress over the last decade is preposterous. It shows a shocking lack of appreciation for what has happened here over the years. Again and again I keep saying that the laser focus on test scores is short sighted and outdated. If our school board does not have a collective "good bedside manner" I hardly see that as a reason to be so dismissive of what they have been able to accomplish over the years. I wish there was some recognition that they have provided a solid foundation that can be built upon. Instead we have this divisive unflattering confrontational battle going on that serves no one least of all the kids who are enrolled in our schools. Furthermore it undermines confidence that no matter who ends up on the school board constructive progress will continue.
T. Scott Galloway October 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
You make many good points Nathan. As I point out in my letter, the current Board and Administration are to be commended for bringing financial stability to the District, but that is a starting point rather than a destination. The parents of pre-school age children in the District who I speak with expect more from a school district than just financial stability. The District needs to move beyond survival mode and set our sights higher.
Adelaide Downing October 16, 2012 at 05:10 PM
"expect more from a school district than just financial stability. The District needs to move beyond survival mode and set our sights higher." Your statements sadden me. Especially given that you claim they represent the feelings of many in the district. My experience is quite different and that is true of the parents I know and talk to. But apparently we don't have high enough or the right expectations for our children and have been remiss in keeping our kids in the district.
T. Scott Galloway October 16, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Adelaide - my comments were about the District and not you or your children whom I have never met. I plan on sending my son to the Ferndale Schools as do many of my friends. No matter how good a school or District is it can be improved and I think the BOLD candidates are more likely to produce greater results faster than the CBE slate of candidates.
Julie Knepper- Updyke October 16, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Well said Scott. I really appreciate this letter and the sentiments you express in it. I know many, many individuals and couples (with and without kids) who won't buy a house in Ferndale because of the perception of the schools. Those without kids eventually do want kids, and don't want to feel they have to move when that day arrives. Those who are thinking of moving here are doing so by saying "my kids are already in private school, so the schools aren't an issue." If it is "only" a perception issue, it's a doozie of a perception. I'd love to be proud of the district and I hope that in a few years, I'll send my kids to it. However, I just don't have the confidence to do that now. That should concern any candidate for the board- and shouldn't be dismissed as "well, trust me, the district is great," which is the response I've gotten when I've asked questions.
Adelaide Downing October 16, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Julie, I would very much like to know what it is that you and these people you know find so unacceptable about our schools?
Adelaide Downing October 16, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Scott I know you don't know me or my kids but in a general sense that is sort of what you were saying to everyone with kids in the district, that we have been unwise about our choice to keep our kids here. Education is not a one way street. You get out what you put in. That is true for both kids and parents. Also you are not taking into account perhaps the staggering challenges that many many families in this district have gone through the last 4-5 years, I would include my own family in there. It certainly takes its toll and has an impact on school performance. We spent two years not knowing whether we would be able to hold onto our home I had to litigate to keep it. Luckily I was successful but our economic challenges are still substantial and it would be foolish to pretend that that does not weigh on my children during their day. These are things that add pressure to those much esteemed standardized test scores. But my kids are well equipped to meet challenges and deal with adversity in a constructive way and even with humor. And that is something they share with many students they know. That is not something measured by any test given at this time to assess student capability and success that I know of.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Mr Galloway, I as well as many others don't consider the district to be in survival mode! Financial stability is a key foundation to the rest of progress. With that in place we are emerging and moving forward as we need to, maybe not the speed that everyone likes but we are making progress in the right direction and will continue to do so unless derailed by undefined plans. I'm just not sure what the plan is other than to keep asking questions and not providing any real solutions as some candidates are doing.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Julie, I do not regret for one day sending my daughter to Early Pre-school at Grant, Pre-school and eventually to Roosevelt. As long as I live in the district, I know that my daughter will proudly move on to attend Coolidge, The Middle school and Ferndale High School. My nephew was a graduate of the Ferndale district just this past June (with honors) and he went thru K-12. He was in the district back in the day when things were not as good as things are now. He was accepted and attends U-M so that should have something to say about the quality of education he received from the Ferndale Schools. Perhaps a discussion about your concerns would help.
T. Scott Galloway October 16, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Adelaide - I always enjoy chatting with you on fb or here since we are typically in near total agreement on the issues facing our schools. What I want for your kids, my son and the rest of the children in the District is a school board that does more things to make life within our schools easier and better for the families that attend Ferndale Schools. For those District families that don't have children in the schools yet, I want our schools to be their first choice. For families that are looking at different options of where they want to raise their children, I want Ferndale to be high on their list and not to written off immediately. Isn't that what we all want? From my time on Council, I know that who is leading an organization matters. I don't believe the people from CBE are bad people. In fact I personally like all of them that I have met. I simply believe that the BOLD slate can do a better job taking the District to the next level of achievement.
T. Scott Galloway October 16, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Mr. Schoenfeld: You seem to be dismissive of the school board asking questions of the Administration and demanding answers. You seem to place no value on collecting information to better understand and address the challenges of the District. Why? It seems to me that the challenges faced by the District directly stem from this type of approach to governance by the current Board.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 16, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Mr Galloway, I am very surprised by "your" statement that I'm dismissive! I fully support the school board asking questions of Administration and getting answers to those questions as well as the public who ask those questions as well. I collect information review it and make informed decisions to understand the challenges of the district. While I do not claim to be an expert in all matters I think I have enough facts and knowledge to understand that we need to move forward and do what is in the best interest of the children of this district.
Adelaide Downing October 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Scott, You are always so polite after I have been rather blunt. In a larger sense I think what has become the focus of our schools and what we today call education, has left us unable to not only meet the challenges we face but to avoid trouble in the first place. As I have said before I think Ferndale may very well have a unique and solid foundation that encompasses so much more than just raw academics. I think we are educating in the larger sense of the word students who will go on to be more qualified to meet the challenges that we face now and will face in future. These challenges are going to require creative thinking and new ideas AND a strong ability to cooperate with all kinds of people with differing backgrounds and views. Without these qualifications if you will, I think it is rather apparent what we are left with, and then we are left to inevitably, decay on a scale I think we will find shocking and frightening. We are not lacking for brains so much as we are lacking in wisdom and the ability to put ourselves in other peoples' shoes and find workable solutions for a good majority of us the majority of the time.
Julie Knepper- Updyke October 19, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Sorry it took me so long to respond. I think the main reason my peers won't move because of the schools has to do with what information is easily accessible. While the MEAP conversation is always divisive, and I know that there are organizations working on establishing a more relevant 'report card' to compare schools, the reality is that the MEAP is the only easily accessible common evaluator between all districts.... and Ferndale's scores on the MEAP are HORRID. (I believe there was 7% proficiency in Science last year in the 8th grade, with other scores topping out in the 30% range for proficiency?) When someone, particularly someone from out of the region, is researching where to move, they look at this as a baseline- and immediately rule Ferndale out. I know there is more to quality education than the MEAP, but the reality is that it is used by parents to get an overall picture of student achievement in a district. When I talk to parents, I do hear positive stories about the schools- the problem is they are all subjective. I need data. I can't rely on "the teachers are great." In all seriousness- there is no "unit scale for greatness." What does that mean? I need to know what the standards are for achievement, and from the conversations I've had with school leaders and others, achievement isn't part of the conversation. I'd love to hear more discussion and see more transparency about what the inside of Ferndale classrooms look and sound like.
Adelaide Downing October 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I am sorry if this is a double post but I looked at these two links and it seems to me that we are pretty much in line with how the rest of the state preforms. But look at the data and tell me what you see. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Fall_2011_Statewide_MEAP_Results_376778_7.pdf https://oeaa.state.mi.us/oeaa/directory/meap.asp?dCode=63020&bCode=-99&gCode=117&aCode=MEAP
Adelaide Downing October 19, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Science looks like an achilles heel. I guess they are all below what would be considered average. I know this is to some degree this hyper focus on test scores is the nature of our society. My oldest is in Med school and had to take the MCAT's and then the medical boards; there is something a bit strange about so much pressure on tests that encompass so much learning over so many years. I still think to weigh where one is going to send one's child on just MEAP scores is narrow for lack of a better word and certainly I would never look to only that to determine where my kids get their education. Perhaps too as an older parent what I know would have concerned me when my youngest was little to what I now know to be important has changed. So I understand perhaps this being so much a focus for new parents with young children. So maybe there is some kind of answer in there in terms of outreach and Public Relations.
Adelaide Downing October 19, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I am going to be very personal here to illustrate a point. My father got a full scholarship to Yale from where he graduated. By common standards he was not a success in life. He was a good and very decent man and we led an unconventional and rich life but he struggled in the world until he passed away at quite an early age from cancer. I went to school in Europe as a child both France and England. I spoke French fluently pretty quickly as I was attending the neighborhood school, and went to a very "good " high school once we came back to the states. My life is not exactly a success by conventional standards. My oldest daughter went to Ferndale schools from 3rd grade on and is in Med school and a newly single mom. She is by all conventional standards a tremendous success. My oldest son is the head chef at Maria's Front Room and is 22. My middle girl had learning disabilities but is a terrific nanny. My younger two are both in high school and do very well on the MEAPs and well in school. My high school age daughter is also a serious and accomplished ballerina she got accepted into a very good ballet school in NYC. My high school aged son is also in Marching Band and played on the tennis team as well. So on balance my kids who have had ordinary and what some might call substandard Ferndale educations are on balance much more successful than either my father or i who had what normally would be considered huge educational environment advantages.
Adelaide Downing October 19, 2012 at 07:26 PM
One important point that might have got lost. As a single mom of five kids I feel so extremely fortunate to have quite by happenstance ended up in all places Ferndale MI to have and raise my kids. Because I am quite clear that without our great schools and the tremendous support that the community gives them my kids might have turned out quite differently. We have something truly special here that is not reflected in a MEAP score, something that does indeed promote success. And pretty much all current good thinking on test scores is that they are indicative of very little and should be something we move our focus away from, not to. People need to be disavowed of their focus on test scores not apologized to because ours don't "measure" up.


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