At A Crossroads • The Saginaw Public School District Board of Education Candidate Forum

Posted In: Politics, , Candidates, Interviews,   From Issue 903   By: Robert E Martin

08th October, 2020     0

The Saginaw Public School District presently consists of seven board members that presently consist of President Jason Thompson, Vice-President Charles Coleman, Treasurer Ruth Ann Knapp, Secretary Vera Harrison, and Trustees Kim Hamilton, Joyce Seals and Mattie Thompson.

In the November 3rd General Election, the terms of both Jason & Mattie Thompson are up for election and are being challenged by Janet Nash and Todd Rennea Boone.  Both Jason & Mattie Thompson are the son and wife of the late Willie Thompson, which the newly created Thompson Middle School was named after.

In order to afford for a more informed public, the REVIEW posted the following questions to each of the candidates; however, only Janet Nash opted to respond to our Candidate Forum.

REVIEW:  What are your strongest qualifications and reason why you are running for this  Saginaw Public School District Board position?

Janet Nash: My qualifications come most deeply by being active in the Saginaw community for all my adult life.  I moved here after college at 23 years of age and my first job was working with The Friendship Games, where I met hundreds of people.  I have over 40 years of experience as a district educator, community leader and resident and worked with Community Education and all of the schools in the Saginaw district for 18 years. 

During that time I finished my Bachelors Degree at the University of Michigan and my Master’s Degree at Central Michigan and in my early 40s went back and got my teaching certification, so I have perspective in the district as an aide, a specialist technician; and also worked at the UAW General Motors skills center for a while, as well as with Adult Education and Community Education.

I spent years at Webber Middle School as an Assistant Principal and was Vice-Principal at Arthur Hill High School for a year’s time and then spent seven years at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy as Principal, so have pretty much done everything in the school district except for custodial, cafeteria and bus driving.  

I have broad experience in budgeting and personnel, evaluation and hiring, along with program development.  I’ve written grants for the District and administered them and believe my strongest strength is that I come knowing a lot about school operations and how our district runs.  My teacher certification is for secondary education, but I’ve had a lot of affiliations with elementary schools working with teachers on science fairs and spelling bees and math Olympics, along with art programs and things of that nature.

As for the reasons I am running for this position, I had thoughts of running before I retired as principal at SASA and felt the district could benefit from strong leadership at a board level, but I ended up spending 8 years taking care of my parents and couldn’t make a commitment to attend meetings at that time.  After I lost both of my parents in 2016 and 2017, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to run for this position since then. 

I’ve been out of direct involvement with the school system long enough now that my perspective is more objective and I can make the switch and can bring more objective management to policy decisions, which is an entirely different role than running an actual school.

REVIEW:  What are your top three priorities in terms of how the Saginaw School District could best improve?

Janet Nash:  First, we need to educate the public better about why we’ve made the changes we have. A lot of people don’t understand downsizing and how that came about. The situation has stabilized over the last couple years, but part of it was that we had to close schools because of changes in funding and budget deficits and attrition. The District had a $38 million budget deficit it had to correct.

When I first hired in the district had 33 schools in the 1950s and 1960s and only one closed in the first 25 years that I worked for the district; but then we started to lose population and then Schools of Choice started happening.  The grass is always greener on the other side, so people started leaving the district; but as the district started correcting itself for these changes and adjusting, more people started leaving because their neighborhood school was closed.

The change in the district was overdue and probably should have been addressed sooner, but I think we’re in good shape with the 12 to 14 buildings we now have here in Saginaw and Zilwaukee and Buena Vista. So one of my priorities is to educate the public about why we need to be the size we are. People are having fewer kids, lots of people left the area because of plant closings and other economic factors, Schools of Choice allowed people to select schools closer to where people lived or programs more to their liking, but I think the Saginaw School District has retained a very strong educational program in terms of professional development.

Our teachers are excellent and during COVID we’re using remote learning rather than 3rd Party remote learning programs, so when schools do re-open the kids will already know their teachers; and we can make that adjustment on a month’s notice if things change. Personal contact with the community is an important process and I know Saginaw school teachers in terms of their level of caring for their students, sacrifice a lot to work with the students they serve.

REVIEW:  What is your take on the $100 million City of Saginaw School Bond issue?

Janet Nash:  The district’s bond issue is an important one. While the timing of it is wrought with some problems, I support it entirely.  We met a year ago to begin community groupings to discuss what the district’s strategic plan needed to be and from those meetings came the recommendation to consolidate high schools.  Then in January and February when the Board put forth the vote to place the bond request on the November ballot, they didn’t know about COVID at that time, so are moving forward with it because they made the commitment to advance it.

This bond is important because the condition of some of our schools is such that we need to get these buildings up to snuff for the kids we’re serving to have safe spaces. When the previous $70 million dollar bond millage was advanced 10 years ago, I was part of that team supporting it. With that money we built Jesse Loomis and Thompson Middle schools and the majority of that money went to build these schools from the ground up and demolish the old Handley and Loomis schools to build them.  But then a lot of school shootings were going on around the country, so the community conveyed a priority for student safety. Consequently, we had to rework all the entrances to all the buildings in the district to give them secure entry ways, which took construction costs at nearly every building to accomplish.

SASA got $7 million from that bond to build a new gym and auditorium and two science labs; but now we need to re-construct SASA and retrofit the old Arthur Hill High School. Originally the Board was going to build a new Arthur Hill, but decided to retrofit the current structure and save money.

With SASA the problem is that the old Montgomery Ward’s where it was originally built was constructed on a concrete slab, which is now sinking; whereas the new gym and theatre are built on pilons, so will never sink.  Consequently, there’s a hill now in the back hallway and parts of the building are sinking and the drainage is falling apart, which requires new sewer and water lines.

REVIEW: What would be your third top priority for the Saginaw school system?

Janet Nash: A high level of achievement for all students. Having worked across the entire spectrum of learning from Special Ed to Gifted and Talented programs, I want to see all kids have two things put into their education: one of the most important elements is developing a career pathway at an early age, as this helps them think about what they are good at, which in turn allows them to seek higher levels of achievement in the classroom.

REVIEW:  Has home schooling had much of an impact on the district?

Janet Nash: You know, honestly I don’t see a lot of impact on our district. There’s probably more of that in pockets around the state that are a little more evangelical, along with further more rural districts. But when I was principal at SASA we probably had five or six families that came into SASA that had been in home school, along with a few at Arthur Hill and Webber. It’s miniscule in our area. One of our strengths is the diversity of our programs and the fact kids see what the real world looks like.

REVIEW:  What do you feel is the most pressing issue the school system faces over the next 4 years?

Janet Nash:  Without doubt its stabilizing the district along with the bond issue and what we need to do and accomplish through a long range plan.  Up to now the Board has been working in front of the snow plow and struggling to adjust, but now I see it moving behind them and now they are driving the snow plow and have more control.

I can say that with this stabilization we can offer students what they need to be successful. The Career Complex with the ISD has helped stabilize the district, as that was a big financial drain on the city of Saginaw school district for a long time. It was one of the only career centers around in the state that was run by a district, but now that the county finances it, that has helped our district with an immense financial burden. Kids need training like that. My daughter went through graphic design there and now works at Amazon. Her experience there helped her understand the workplace and what goes on there, as opposed to focusing solely on the realm of drawing. That center offers everything from construction to food services and culinary arts programs, so it is a fabulous resource that kids truly benefit from.



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