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Newly elected Detroit school board members share top priorities

Head shots of the four people elected.

(Clockwise from left) DPSCD school board candidates Latrice McClendon, Iris Taylor, Carlotta Vaughn, and Angelique Peterson-Mayberry.

Courtesy of Latrice McClendon, Iris Taylor, Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, and Corletta Vaughn

Soon after election results were final for the Detroit school board race, the four candidates who won seats on the board were setting their sights on the future.

Latrice McClendon, a political newcomer, was the top vote-getter. She was followed by Iris Taylor, a former board president, and incumbents Corletta Vaughn and Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, according to unofficial results from the Detroit City Clerk’s office.

In interviews on Wednesday, they cited chronic absenteeism, enrollment declines, student homelessness, equitable school funding, and academic achievement as their top priorities for the Detroit Public Schools Community District. 

Last year, the district had 79% of students who were chronically absent. Students have left the district in large numbers in recent years. Youth leaders are advocating for increased mental health resources and safe spaces. And the district is investing federal COVID relief funds toward a tutoring program to address student learning loss in reading.

The four emerged as the winners from a field of 18 people running for four seats on the Detroit school board. Members serve four-year terms. Two incumbents — Deborah Hunter-Harvill and Georgia Lemmons — lost their seats Tuesday. Candidates also included several parents, several current and former educators, and several former school board members.

Taylor, who was president of the board when she lost her reelection bid in 2020, said her return is a chance to move the district “forward in a very aggressive way.”

“This is an opportunity for us to galvanize all of our support around closing the achievement gap, reducing absenteeism, and improving the overall experience and opportunities for children to thrive,” she said.

Among political newcomer McClendon’s priorities is lobbying state legislators for equitable school funding. Peterson-Mayberry, the current board president, also said she is looking forward “to begin to address disparities that are unique to large urban traditional public school districts like ours.”

With Tuesday’s historic election the Democrats took control of both the governor’s office and the Michigan Legislature for the first time in 40 years – and that could make it easier for board members to lobby for more funding. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was reelected Tuesday, made overhauling Michigan’s school funding system a priority during her first term.

For Vaughn, who was reelected to the board Tuesday, a big priority will be to ensure the district’s population of homeless and undocumented students have the resources they need. She wants to see the district turn some of its vacant properties into mixed-use facilities for families struggling with housing.

“I want them to be residential, educational properties, where families can live there and we — the board and the district — can educate children in one location,” she said.

More than 40,000 Detroiters cast a ballot in the school board race. Among them was Marlayna Tuiasosopo, a district parent at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy.

Tuiasosopo said she wants to see the board improve student literacy, be more accountable to parents, and increase salaries for classroom support staff.

“Paraprofessionals need to be paid more,” Tuiasosopo said. “That’s why we’re not able to hire any. When you have all this learning loss, why not beef up your staff as much as possible, and pay them extra so that we can have good quality teaching, so that our kids can catch up.

“We have the money,” she said, referring to federal COVID relief funding. “Don’t sit on it. There are kids that are suffering now, and we can’t wait (until) the money runs out.”

Fred Parham, a district parent and school bus driver, wants to see the school board address student disciplinary issues, as well as emphasize career and technical education for high school students.

“Not all kids are college material,” he said. “DPSCD does not do a good job at pushing kids toward those vo-tech centers.”

Both Tuiasosopo and Parham agreed that in order for the school board to make any progress, they must challenge some of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s decision-making.

“I do prefer to have a board that is more questioning … not necessarily just signing off on whatever Vitti wants to do, because I don’t agree with some of the things he has done or the decisions he’s made,” Tuaisoposo said, pointing to the district’s enrollment policies for Palmer Park, a Montessori school.

Parham said the board too often is “a rubber stamp for Vitti.” 

“Vitti works for the district,” he said. “The district does not work for him.”

McClendon, who is a parent of three DPSCD students, said she understands what it’s like to have a child in Detroit’s public schools. She thinks that experience helped her better connect with voters.

“Being a top vote getter speaks to what type of school board member and Detroiters want. I’m a parent, I’m not a politician,” McClendon said. 

“That message resonated because when you look at the makeup of the board, there’s no one with active children in DPSCD.”

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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