Susan Estep is one of six candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot seeking one of the two seats on the Saline Board of Education. The terms are six years long. The other candidates are Brian Woodruff, Jennifer Steben, Richard Conn, Tom Frederick and incumbent Scott Hummel.
Here's our Q&A with Susan Estep
My wife, Ann, is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. We have two children; Riley is in third grade at Woodland Meadows Elementary, and Arianna is in pre-school. Additionally, we have been a licensed foster family for over three years and provide a safe and loving home environment to children who are placed into foster care.
With 10 years of experience working in education, I have in-depth knowledge and experience that make me a well-rounded and highly qualified candidate to serve on the Saline School Board.
I earned my Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. My position at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is a Student Affairs Program Manager in the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Life.
My career in education at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University has given me opportunities to support students from a variety of backgrounds. As a professional in student affairs, my job is to foster the students’ development in and outside of the classroom. In my job, I have supported and taught service-learning courses and student leadership programs, mentored and advised at-risk students, and have taught academic and life skills classes.
Relevant experience (other related boards or government experience):
I have many years of experience serving on various boards and committees in higher education. For example, I am currently Vice Chair on an Executive Board at the University of Michigan-Dearborn that supports professional development for faculty and staff. Over four years on the Board, I have served as the Chair of the Professional Development Committee, Co-Chaired the Publicity Committee, have been the webmaster, and helped implement our annual awards ceremony recognizing leaders on campus and in the community. In addition, I am presently serving on university, regional and national boards in higher education. I regularly present at conferences on topics of student support programs in higher education.
What's your motivation for running?
I decided to run for the School Board because I want our children to have the best possible experience throughout their education, and I believe that Saline Area Schools have the potential to achieve this.
Personally, I struggled through school due to facing adversity in my family life. We were a poor, working class family, and my dad worked in the coal mines, which didn’t offer job security. Neither of my parents attended college, so college was never an expectation of me. They encouraged me to be average in academics and to excel in sports. I wanted something different for my life, but didn't know how to achieve that.
Teachers and staff encouraged and supported me to achieve what I thought was impossible. This led me to become an educator, so that I can provide holistic support for all students to be successful, no matter what journey they are on.
What do you think your service would provide the board, schools and district citizens?
Education has led me to find my calling in life, which makes me an incredibly passionate candidate. I am the candidate that will seek input from constituents and take action. With my background in education, I will ensure that the Board’s decisions are based on the needs of the students and rooted in the latest research and best practices from national education organizations.
What are Saline Area Schools best strengths to build on? What areas most need improvement?
Saline Schools excel in academics at all levels, and our students will become future leaders. We are using 21st century pedagogy, with an emphasis on project based learning, and we have significant recognition in with our athletic programs. Our teachers are dedicated and work hard to ensure our children have the best learning opportunities available to them.
We could do more to create and maintain safe and supportive schools, particularly for marginalized students. There is also work to be done in regards to maintaining the budget and ensuring resources are properly allocated. I also would like to improve transparency on the Board and facilitate communication between the Board and its constituents. Lastly, the Board could do a better job of advocating for Saline Schools and public education on state policies.
Describe the ways you've stayed apprised of issues in education and Saline Area Schools.
Saline Area Schools -
- Attend Board of Education Meetings, open committee meetings and forums
- Volunteer at school programs; attend district-wide events; most recently on topics of the importance of mental health for our children
- Read weekly emails from the district administrators, principal, teachers, and parents
- Engage in conversations pertaining to education with students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members in the Saline School District
- Follow and engage on social media with Saline School administrators and teachers via twitter and facebook
- Attend state, regional and national conferences, and engage in webinars and online meetings sharing best practices with colleagues around the nation
- Most recently, I attended First Lady Sue Snyder’s Summit “Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault”, where I participated in sessions on student-led prevention in high schools, through being bystanders and educating peers about consent
- This fiscal year, the State of Michigan mandated that all public universities and colleges provide in-person Title IX trainings to all new incoming students, in addition to online training for all students. As an expert in this area, I led over 70 trainings between July-September
- Listen daily to education podcasts
- I've discovered episodes led by Saline School District administrators :-)
- Scott Menzel, Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) Superintendent, was on a popular podcast this week discussing his national work on equity, inclusion, and social justice. The focus of these initiatives are surrounding students experiencing poverty, students with disabilities, and students of color.
As a board member, I will advocate for affordable, high quality professional development opportunities for the Saline teachers, staff, administrators and school board members.
When you serve on the board, who do you see yourself representing and working for?
The students are my priority above anyone else. They are the reason why many of us chose a life-long career as educators. They are our future. The whole school district is responsible for preparing our students to become successful citizens. Thus, support must be provided to the staff, teachers, families, and administrators to achieve these goals.
What's your opinion of the district's move away from the traditional classroom, and how would you assess requests to fundamentally change the way Saline students learn in school?
The Saline Area School District has made positive changes in the schools using 21st century pedagogy. I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of student-centered learning. Since my son Riley’s first day at Woodland Meadows Elementary, he has been engaged in his learning through the Next Gen classroom model. In Mary Ledford’s class last year, Riley and his classmates had the unique opportunity to create the very first Saline History App. This was accomplished through collaboration and teamwork. The students worked together to research and learn about the history of Saline, create educational videos, and learn how to code to create the app. The Saline History App is available through the Apple Store!
In a world constantly changing, it is essential for educators to keep abreast on national data-driven research, and best practices to prepare students for higher education and future careers.
What are your thoughts on the way the district teaches students life skills and provides opportunities for students who might thrive in vocational programs?
Saline’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are second to none, as I saw on my visit with Saline High School Principal Raft. He is truly proud of the students and staff who are part of these amazing programs. The CTE programs offered through the South and West Washtenaw Consortium (SWWC) are a tremendous asset to Washtenaw County and beyond. We have an amazing Saline Young Adult Program that teaches life skills to students with disabilities. It is essential that these programs continue to be fully supported by the Board of Education.
I personally believe that we should broaden life skills education for every single student to prepare them for life beyond high school. Working with students in higher education, I have personally witnessed how underprepared many young adults are when they arrive on college campuses. I strongly believe that we need to support student development to better prepare all of our students in their journey beyond the Saline School District.
What's your position on teacher pay and benefits - given that the district's purse strings are controlled by the state.
To ensure that our students continue to obtain high achievement, our teachers need continued support by providing them classroom resources, professional development opportunities, and encouraging best practices in education. Moreover, we must be certain that all of our teachers and staff are supported with competitive pay and great benefits. While this is important for the recruitment of new teachers, I believe it is absolutely essential for the retention of our current teachers and staff who have dedicated their service to the Saline School District and the Saline community.
To achieve this, Saline School administrators and trustees have to work together to be fiscally responsible, transparent and held accountable with the budget. Last year, for example, the Saline Area Schools had a deficit of $359,128 in their fund balance. My plan is to help rectify this problem so that the school has a surplus of funds that can be put in places where it is needed, including supporting teachers and staff.
Under what, if any, conditions would you consider privatizing support staff?
I do not support privatizing support staff.
How important is diversity in staff and administration?
Diversity and inclusion are extremely important and must be priorities for the Saline School District. The Saline schools have a problem that no one wants to talk about, but we have to start having those conversations. This includes taking action and implementing policy to provide support to students, staff and teachers who are being marginalized in our communities. The Saline School District must ensure that students, staff, and teachers feel safe, supported and included in the Saline Schools. We need to change the culture of Saline and overcome the perceived reputation that Saline Schools do not welcome everyone.
Does the district do enough to protect students from bullying? If not, what would you like to see done.
I do not believe the school district is doing enough. Undoubtedly, there are teachers and staff within the district that are responsive to issues of bullying. However, the data show that marginalized students (e.g., students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQ+) are at a greater risk of bullying, and we need to directly address this issue. There are instances of bullying within the Saline School District that have forced students to leave Saline schools. With the lack of response from the district, families are being deterred from attending Saline schools. This has to change. We can start by making diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority for the district. It should be factored into decisions regarding recruitment and retention of students, teachers, and staff.
Regarding pay to play, should the schools spend more or less to subsidize student athletics and extracurricular activities?
The cost of sports should not be a deterrent for students to participate. We need to be especially mindful of low-income families, and make sure that resources, such as scholarships, fee waivers, and community funds, are available to allow these students the same opportunity to participate.
How do you see online/digital learning opportunities fitting into Saline Area Schools?
Technology is important for preparing students for college and the workplace, where they will be expected to have these skills. However, it is the Board’s job to make sure that the introduction of technology in the curriculum follows the national best practices.
A big part of the board’s responsibility is budgeting and policy making. Describe your experience and/or skills in these fields?
As a citizen, I have always advocated for education. I follow current events and educate myself on how it affects public education. One example, in August I attended the Michigan Department of Education’s “Listen and Learn” public input session, held at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), on revisions of the Michigan’s Social Studies Standards. The Michigan Department of Education is in the process of revising the Social Studies Standards with the C3 Framework. The review process involved politicians in focus groups, who made revisions removing topics on the history of civil rights; this included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), women and LGBTQ rights. The revision also included removing the words “core democratic values” and any references to climate change. I was advocating against the proposed changes, along with fellow educators, parents, and many concerned citizens. Our voices were heard, and they are now working towards creating a fair process.
I have experience working with budgets in the programs that I have run at the university level and in organizations that I have served on. I have also worked on several grant-funded projects. While the size of the budgets that I have worked with are smaller than the Saline Schools’ budget, I have considerable experience in overseeing the finances of an organization, and I’m confident that I will be able to handle this aspect of the Board.
The move to an early start of the school year prompted discussion about year-round school. What are your thoughts on year-round school?
Saline is already a high-achieving school, so I don’t see a need for year-round school. The school district should explore creative ideas and programs to prevent the loss of retention during the summer months without affecting the students’ summer break, which is an important time for families to come together and for teens to earn wages.
A lot of the most contentious issues the district has seen recently are offshoots of the so-called "culture war," whether it's Planned Parenthood's involvement with sex education curriculum, or including LGBTQ students in the district's bullying policy. How will your religious beliefs, or lack there of, inform and influence your policy making?
We need Board members that will make decisions using an educational lens, informed by state and national recommendations and best practices. When the Board seeks community input on policies, I will advocate for a fair and transparent process.