Eight people are vying for four seats on Ferndale's school board in the November election and Ferndale Patch is bringing you Q&A profiles with each of the candidates.
We asked the candidates about why they want to be on the board of education, their backgrounds, what they consider the biggest areas for improvement and more.
Below are the replies of Amy Butters.
Q: Number of years a resident of the Ferndale school district?
Q: Do you or did you have children in Ferndale schools?
I have three daughters enrolled in 7th, 5th and 3rd grades.
Q: What prompted you to run for a seat on Ferndale's school board?
I’m afraid for our district. What will happen to it as our state continues to make cuts in education? What will happen if families keep sending their kids to other districts? What will happen if parts of our community continue to feel disconnected from our schools? My three girls have had positive experiences so far, but I know that we cannot take our experience for granted. It frustrates me that we have all kinds of great things going on in our schools, but I still hear from families throughout our district who are struggling with their school choice decision. I’m frustrated when I hear of families who leave because the schools aren’t living up to their expectations.
I sincerely believe that strong local leadership has the most potential to shape our community. This year we have a unique opportunity: Four seats are open on the school board. I am raising my hand along with my three running mates, Jim O’Donnell, Raylon Leaks-May and Kevin Deegan-Krause, because we believe in taking the board in a BOLD new direction.
Q: What kinds of experiences – professional, educational or otherwise – make you a unique and qualified candidate?
As a parent, community volunteer and journalist, I bring a wide array of skills to the table.
My school experience includes work on the 2012 school bond campaign, Ferndale Education Foundation trustee, elementary school Parent Advisory Committee secretary, district-wide orchestra booster committee, volunteer with arts programs including elementary musicals and district-wide art walk.
In my journalism career, I have worked in editing positions at newspapers in three states, most recently at the Detroit Free Press. My experience as a journalist enables me to communicate clearly with all parties, ask tough questions and gather input from all stakeholders to address the needs of our whole district.
I have leadership experience at my church, Greenfield Presbyterian in Berkley, where I served on the Session for three years, taught Sunday School, traveled on mission trips and sang in the choir. I also am active with the Detroit chapter of CISV, an international youth program that promotes peace and cross-cultural experiences.
Q: What new ideas do you hope to bring to the table?
For me, it’s all about better communication. I’m interested in improving how the board communicates with the administration and with the public. Each individual board member has a voice and has a responsibility to share it during the decision-making process, and to explain the business of the board to the community it serves. We have many communication tools at our disposal (on the Internet, in personal conversations, at community events) that board members can take advantage of. I will be committed to making this a priority.
Q: What do you think are the biggest issues facing the school district? How would you handle them?
All districts, including ours, face the challenge of improving student achievement. We need to find more ways to help all students succeed, both in and out of class. I will listen to teachers and support innovative approaches, including expanding parent volunteer programs in all district buildings.
Too many resident families are opting to send their children elsewhere. I want families to be confident sending their kids to their home district, all the way through senior year. I will find ways to promote the positives and to address the negatives, to make our district a more obvious first choice. Choosing a school is a personal decision, but when we lose too many families, it takes away from our sense of community. As we work to improve student achievement, we will be better equipped to attract the families in our communities: Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak Township and Oak Park.
Residents and leaders want a more collaborative relationship with the school district and more transparency when it comes to board decision-making. My professional and volunteer experience will foster openness. I have relationships with residents and elected leaders in all four municipalities served by our district; I will build on those relationships to welcome all voices to the process of keeping our district strong.
Q: What do you regard as the district's successes? How would you continue or improve upon these areas, if elected?
We have fantastic teachers. We have strong fine arts programs including music and theater in early grades. We send many Ferndale High School and University High School graduates to top colleges. We have a diverse student population across racial and economic lines. We have active parent-booster groups. Most of all, we have an incredibly strong sense of community among our enrolled families. I believe all of these tremendous positives need to be better marketed in our district. In this highly competitive educational market, where families can easily enroll in neighboring public districts through Schools of Choice, we need to constantly sell our district. As a board member, I would favor policies that encourage better customer service when families are inquiring about their options here. And I would call for a process for the district to find out why families leave and make adjustments accordingly.
Q: Around the country, state and in Ferndale, school budgets continue to be an issue districts grapple with. What areas of the budget would be your biggest priority, if elected? Where do you see the most room for cuts, if needed?
Budgeting is a constant balancing act. I see the role of the school board as a representative of our community. When it comes to making budget priorities, I as a school board member will reach out to the stakeholders and seek their input. What kind of district does the community want? I will weigh that information with the financial data and projections. We must constantly be looking ahead and be prepared for the challenges thrown at our district. The biggest budget priority, in any given year, is decided by the board with community input. With strong strategic planning, the school board can better manage those budget decisions.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
My BOLD running mates and I have a long list of endorsers, including elected leaders, business owners and community activists. See makeitclearferndale.org/endorsers for the full list.