Saline BOARD OF EDUCATION 2022: Meet Lauren Gold

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Dr. Lauren Gold is running for the Saline Area Schools Board of Education. Gold is one of two candidates running for a partial term that expires at the end of 2026, along with Amy Sontag.

In the other school board election, voters will elect two of the following five candidates: Laurie Saims, Kristin Hoffman-Peavler, Sharene Rumohr, Timothy Austin and incumbent Michael McVey.

Here is our Q&A with Lauren Gold.

LAUREN GOLD

Biography

My name is Lauren Gold. I am a life-long Michigander and moved to Washtenaw County to attend college, medical school, and train as a pediatrician at the University of Michigan. My husband and I chose to raise our family in Saline, moving here in 2009, when our eldest son started kindergarten. He is now a proud Saline graduate, and my two younger children attend Saline High School and Saline Middle School. I have enjoyed volunteering in their classrooms over the years and can often be found cheering for them on the Saline fields and in the auditoriums. I want to make sure that Saline Schools continue the tradition of academic excellence and educational opportunities that drew us to this community.

Why are you running & why should voters choose you?

I am running for the Board of Education in order to contribute to my community. I envision continued progress on welcoming a diverse group of learners and educators to our schools. When young families look for a community to raise their children in, I want Saline to be known as a vibrant and inclusive place to be. I want all children to feel important and cared-for at school. We also must prepare them for an increasingly complex world. I want to support our dedicated, professional educators in making certain our curriculum is challenging and comprehensive. Further, I have a particular interest in working with parents to build upon and improve the excellent special education programs at Saline Area Schools.

Projections show a continued decline in student population in the district. How should the district address this issue?

For the most part, these projections are expected. Enrollment declines overall in Michigan are due to a decrease in birth rate. SASD has previously dealt with this by right-sizing staffing levels as educators and staff retire. In addition to declining birth rates, schools nationwide experienced the largest single-year drop in enrollment since World War II during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are already increases in enrollment, as students head back to school. I am hopeful that as Michigan experiences a much-needed increase in per-pupil funding allowances and supplemental funding, our state and our district will attract new families moving to the district. Continued investment in our special education and STEAM programs, and attention to welcoming a diverse group of learners, will make Saline a competitive school of choice option for families. Of course, we also must continue to meet the needs of current families. Open communication with parents and the community will remain crucial in making improvements and maintaining trust.

What are your top priorities and why?

I envision continued progress on welcoming a diverse group of learners and educators to our schools. When young families look for a community to raise their children in, I want Saline to be known as a vibrant and inclusive place to be. I want it to be a place that alumni will be proud of and choose to raise their own families.

I will ensure the tradition of academic excellence by investing in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and literacy. This will require support for a future-focused curriculum and steadfast support for our dedicated, professional educators.

I want to promote a culture of overall safety in our schools. This requires policies that build trust, allowing students, staff, and families to speak out when there are safety concerns. It requires, among other things, a cohesive response to bullying, with clear expectations for students about behavior. We also must continue to partner with public-safety experts to enhance the security of our schools and with mental health professionals to support our students’ psychological well-being.

Were you satisfied with the way in which the district handled the pandemic? What changes would you have wanted to see?

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated families globally, nearly broke our health care system, and resulted in terrible loss of life. As health care professionals, we studied what information we had in order to give the best possible real-time safety advice to patients, friends, neighbors, community members, and even our own families. Our schools had to do much the same, making decisions- sometimes with incomplete data- in the face of an evolving virus. With all of those challenges in mind, I think that the Saline Schools did an excellent job handling the pandemic overall.

In the early days of the pandemic, before vaccination, and with the delta-variant raging, the sad reality was- it was not safe for teachers and students to be in school. As vaccinations became available for adults in the community, and those at greatest risk, Saline schools rightfully prioritized getting children back to learning. The balance between student safety, community safety, and in-person learning, was not an easy one to achieve. Therefore, I believe the district did its best by relying on the scientific knowledge at the time, and with guidance from the local Washtenaw County Health Department. I think school nurse Karan Hervey merits a special mention, as she handled her very difficult job with dedication, poise, and compassion.

In terms of changes, there were times that I would have liked to see greater attention to our Special Education and other at-risk populations. At the onset of the pandemic, Saline really rallied around bending the curve and helping to protect others. We masked up to protect those who were most vulnerable, like children and families with cancer and other forms of compromised immunity. It is sad to now see that these strategies to help protect one another are politicized. However, as vaccines and new treatments help us to cope with this virus, making it safer to get back to our way of life, I am hopeful that we can move forward together.

Do you support the Saline Area Schools bond proposal? Why or why not?

I support the bond proposal. I am a firm believer that our children deserve our investment. I appreciate the district’s focus on improving our schools, inside and out. Boasting award-winning schools with upgraded facilities is a draw for new families and raises real estate values for the entire community.

As a doctor who understands the importance of play in child development, the resources earmarked for adaptive playgrounds thrill me! Additionally, investment in STEAM is a top campaign priority of mine. This bond money updates and expands needed facilities, programs, tools, and accessibility. Our robotics and science students deserve to compete at the highest levels locally, state-wide and nationally. The bond also provides for improvements in maintaining the health and safety of our learners. From updating intercoms for improved security, to providing for better electrical systems, these upgrades are necessary for a thriving school system in 2022 and beyond.

Public schools have always played a role in socializing our children. At the same time the debates over societal norms have never been more ardent. In these times, how should the district weigh its societal role against the rights of the parents who don't want some ideas instilled?

This is an interesting question, mostly because I am not sure I agree that the debates today are more contentious than the debates of yesterday. By virtue of enrolling in public school, parents choose to educate their children in a public forum. Certainly, in looking at the photos of little Ruby Bridges integrating her elementary school in 1960, accompanied by the National Guard, we can see anger and fear in the eyes of the throngs of people surrounding her. The societal norm of integration, just 62 years ago, was terrifying to many parents. In the 1920s, teacher John Scopes taught evolution against the wishes of many in the community. In order to fully teach science, he broke the law in Tennessee. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the rights of children to learn science in school were affirmed. School children are being prepared in school for a wider world in which civil debate is the hallmark of a healthy society. Certainly, close communication between parents and educators is essential, and parent feedback is very important. However, we cannot lose sight of the primary purpose of a public school education: imparting information, sharing knowledge, and developing critical thinking skills. Civil rights are not social norms and should not be negotiable.

What ideas do you have about school security?

Again, I believe that consulting experts is vital when making decisions that affect our students and our community. To protect our students, we must use the best information available. I have been reviewing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) School Safety Task Force findings, published in February 2022, in regards to gun violence, with special interest as a parent and a candidate. Every parent I know has fears around sending their child to school these days. Did we tell them we loved them? Should they have their cell phone in case there is a shooting? Worse, our children carry these fears into school with them as well. It is a devastating reality of life today. The School Safety Task Force tries to address these fears in a comprehensive way. Tactics include prevention strategies with reporting (e.g. the OK to Say initiative), preparative strategies (frequent staff crisis drills with reviews), and identifying community resources. The Task Force requires schools to work closely with law enforcement and first responders and to consistently shore up physical safety and security plans. The Task Force also calls for mitigation strategies in the event of a crisis. It is incumbent that board members serve the community by providing oversight to the schools to ensure all recommendations are implemented.

What should the district to defend children against discriminatory attitudes they face over race, sexual orientation, religion or other traits?

This is a big and important topic. We are lucky to have dedicated leadership and engaged parents to lead us in this work. In reviewing best practices, several themes emerge.
First, we must take steps to make our schools accepting of and welcoming to all students. Having a safe, welcoming environment sends the message that we care about all learners. However, it is not enough.

There are many ways to create a learning environment, and one is in age- and content-appropriate curriculum. The idea of windows (to let students see others in books and media) and mirrors (to let students see themselves) is important in curriculum implementation.

For many years, we thought that if we did not talk about racism, and pretended everyone came to school with the same background and opportunities, we were protecting our students. Unfortunately, this premise was in error. It underestimated the impact that individual and societal backgrounds have on who we are as learners and citizens. As such, we must teach students about both the contributions and the challenges of traditionally disenfranchised communities. This is, of course, not new to children in these communities. American public school students should be learning historical truths and be given the opportunities to understand and think critically about them. They should also learn the historical contributions of our ALL Americans, including those who have frequently been ignored. This builds empathy, pride, resilience, and connections that will help to shape how our kids will relate to one another.

Furthermore, silence is complicity. We should teach students and teachers how to effectively speak up when they witness another person being subjected to harassment. Sometimes, hurtful statements will be made without malice. In these situations, there is a learning opportunity. But when students themselves do speak up, their concerns should be taken seriously by teachers and administrators. Teaching students WHY a statement is hurtful will help to prevent it from being repeated. Blaming and shaming are not the goal, constructive learning is.

Lastly, norms should be addressed proactively, with clear expectations for students, staff, and families. When harm does occur, it is important to center the victim when considering consequences.

Saline High School students are scoring lower on college prep tests, a trend that started pre-COVID. What do you make of this trend?

Again, this trend reaches beyond Saline Area Schools. The SAT and ACT are only one measure of college-readiness, and it is important to note that Saline graduates continue to succeed in their post-secondary life. There are increasing discussions throughout academic centers as to whether these tests continue to be the best assessment of college readiness. We also must look at equity in this discussion. Are our at-risk learners receiving what they need to succeed? Have changes in instructional methods and fewer “pen and paper” lessons decreased our student scores on these tests?

The length of board meetings has become an issue for administrators and engaged public citizens who want to stay abreast of happenings. How should board members conduct themselves in a way that manages business while respecting the time of already-stretched district administrators and employees?

As a professional who provides patient care in 15 and 30 minute blocks, I am acutely aware of the need to be economical with our time! It is a mark of a great community that we have parents and community members invested in their children’s education. However, at times, the meetings have become a forum for discussions that go beyond the scope of a board meeting. This is not always the best way for the community to feel heard, and to discuss concerns in a civil manner. I favor more moderated community conversations and also educational sessions in lieu of these very long school board meetings.

Are you happy with the direction of Saline Area Schools? Please explain your answer.

It is hard to think about my feelings about Saline Area Schools without smiling; thinking of my own children and their friends. I am happy with the dedication of our school administration and teachers to providing an inclusive and safe learning environment every day. I am excited about initiatives such as the Kindness Rocks Garden started by the Connecting Club, the expanding Robotics team, and the ongoing opportunities for our students in music, athletics, and the arts. Our community is very blessed to have these resources. We continue to support our learners in a variety of ways with our first-class technology classes, special education supports, and advanced placement offerings. With that said, there is always room for improvements. We will need to continue to be vigilant about maintaining our academic standards. We also need to promote equity in our schools and be sure we are adequately supporting our most vulnerable students. We must address the racism, bigotry, and homophobia that recent Saline alumni and students have reported experiencing in school. On that front, I am happy with the addition of Dr. Channon Washington as Director of Culturally Responsive Instruction, Equity, and Inclusion. These initiatives will help improve the learning environment of our schools for all of our students.

For years Saline was recognized as a destination district for families with students with special needs because of the district's commitment to inclusivity. In recent years parents have raised concerns about the practice of seclusion and restraint. Are you satisfied with the district's actions in this area? Do we need reform? Please tell us your thoughts.

This is such a difficult issue. I have so much respect for both the dedicated professionals who work in our Special Education classrooms and the parents who advocate for their children. As I understand the data, Saline Area Schools are able to keep more of our special education students in the district as compared to neighboring schools. This work should be applauded.

As to seclusion and restraint, the goal of the state is to “Ensure that seclusion and physical restraint are used only as a last resort in an emergency situation” and that it is not used to discipline a student. I believe that in light of legitimate parent concerns, it was appropriate for the Board to review the situation. It will be important, at least in the immediate future, for the Board to work with administration to ensure our staff is appropriately trained. We need adequate staffing and support services, as well as investments in teacher wellness. The district should work in partnership with families to meet the individualized, complex needs of neurodiverse students.

Links

www.electlaurengoldmd.com
https://www.facebook.com/ElectLaurenGold

Twitter @ElectLaurenGold

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Thank you Dr Gold for your willingness to serve our community as a candidate for school board. I am trying to learn more about candidates in order to see what sets them apart. Your views listed here related to parental rights  seems to be an area that may fit this category. More explanation may be needed to understand correctly. My outlook is “parents are their first and most important teachers in and out of the school setting” obviously in collaboration with school staff. If you are willing , please provide more information on how your view supports or differs from this statement. Thank you. 

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