DEARBORN — 10 out of 12 candidates vying for one two-year-term and three six-year-terms seats for Dearborn School Board discussed their plans if elected. Candidates Nofila Haider and Batoul Biaz declined to respond.
The Arab American News asked each candidate the following questions:
- What issues are of priority to you?
- What was your take on the BRICS bond from last year? With it failing, what would you do to resolve this?
- If COVID still exists if you’re on the board, how will you address it?
- How do you feel about two people of the same household being on the same board?
- Have you ever been arrested, charged or convicted in any case?
- Do you have children in the district and how long have you lived in the district?
Khodr Farhat — candidate for a six-year term:
1. I am running on an inclusive and empowering platform that is devoted to enriching our future generation and their dreams. Having said that, my priorities are as the following: Support our special education students through ensuring them equitable opportunities; support our English language learners; fight for our staff and teachers; support the STEAM program; tackle the stigma and challenges pertaining to mental health/substance abuse; lead a comprehensive dialogue to work on fixing our struggling infrastructure; ensure all Dearborn students are provided with equal shots; support our parents and pave them the way to be more engaged; fight for transparency, accountability and equity; maintain our great graduation rate; work to keep our college diverse, affordable and open up more opportunities for more partnerships with neighboring colleges/universities… This is a taste of who I am, and why I am honored to be your voice on the school board.
2. I was in favor of the BRICS bond. I supported it because I know that we need to work on making the repairs for the betterment of our schools and students. However, voters had spoken and it did fail last year. Nonetheless, I realize that the entire community likes to see these repairs taking place on all levels. I know that no one is against this as long as all insights and views are considered. Having that in mind, I will lead a comprehensive dialogue to ensure a community-wide support. Our taxpayers deserve great investment in return for their hard-earned money. As an advocate, I have a proven record of bringing everyone around the table, even from very contrasting backgrounds. I will utilize my experience and resources to execute great results for Dearborn schools.
3. I would like to give a huge shout-out to all of our teachers, staff, students and the entire community for dealing with the pandemic with such resilient and uplifting spirit. I know that it is an exceptional time and it is causing many hardship and frustration. But, we need to continue to cooperate and work together collectively in order to overcome this challenging time. The health and well-being of our students, teachers/staff and Dearborn community should remain the top priority alongside providing a quality and first-class education. Keeping that in mind, I will support any decision that ensures the best for our schools and beloved community. This means that I will definitely support providing all the necessary accommodations that our students need to succeed, whether they are in special education, general education, newcomers and students that need social support or anything else.
4. If two members of the same household are elected to sit on the same board, I feel that they should distinguish between their duties back at home and of those that the public entrusted them on fulfilling on the board without any biases.
5. Not at all.
6. I do not have any children myself; however, a lot of my family members attend our public schools. I have been living in the district since my immigration to America in March of 2009.
Sharifa Galab — candidate for a six-year term:
1. Overcrowding, the need to upgrade many facilities and, above all, ensuring safe schools are the most pressing issues at the K12 level. We also need to invest in our infrastructure and make sure it is adaptable to non-traditional learning methods, such as the current situation with COVID. This is also true of HFC, as college classes may be predominantly nontraditional in the future. Budget issues will always be of the utmost concern, especially when state funding is at risk and college enrollment is decreasing. We need to reexamine all programs in light of recent changes to continuously ensure quality education and parental involvement regardless of the method of delivery, in-person or online.
2. Despite its flaws, I was in favor of the BRICS bond in 2019 because the issues were so vast and urgently needed to be addressed. If elected, I would review all information collected regarding the needed repairs and upgrades. My approach will be no-nonsense and grounded in facts, not emotions. I recognize that community involvement and input are necessary to resolve the issues of overcrowding and infrastructure. Consulting with stakeholders and addressing concerns will be my priority, because our students and taxpayers are counting on us to resolve these issues.
3. If COVID still exists by the time the new board members are sworn-in, the difficult question will be whether to hold in-person or online classes. I believe that students need the structure and organization provided by in-person school; however, the risks associated with COVID-19 do not allow for a quick safe return to school. While this situation persists, the school district should continuously monitor the numbers and adapt strategies to balance the need for in-person education and the obligation to keep staff, children and families safe. Information provided by the state and the CDC, as well as the opinions of medical professionals, should be used to determine timelines for reopening.
4. While it is not illegal per se, I believe that in a city of almost 100,000 residents, we should have diversity and wide representation on the Board of Education, which comprises only seven members. It is therefore not a good idea to have two members of the same household serve on the board at the same time. A board that is more representative of the different segments of the population is bound to make better decisions in the interest of the students and taxpayers.
6. I do not have any children. I do have siblings and other family members in the district.
Paul Goddard — candidate for a six-year term:
1. Improving the relationship between the administration and the teaching and support staff. Teachers are on the front lines and deserve to be listened to carefully. I plan to visit every school on a rotating basis and to carefully listen, in confidence, to what principals, teachers and staff say — then act on verifying and improving where possible. Decisions being made based on good data — e.g., we should start school later by an hour every day and have high schoolers starting later — and good data analysis, not emotion or hearsay — e.g., BRICS bond failed in large measure because of the lack of clarity therein. Ensuring every student has an equal footing educationally — comparable opportunities for learning and growth.
2. The BRICS bond was defeated — 52 percent opposed, 48 percent in favor — and I appreciate why so many people voted no, as there were valid questions about the spending line item proposals. We have capacity and infrastructure needs that must be addressed immediately by the board — whether an in-depth review of the failed proposal or an entirely new proposal.
3. Very carefully, following state and county experts’ recommendations. No one signed up for this situation, but coming back too aggressively will only add to the difficulty. A balanced approach that includes frequent, clear communications to our community is required.
4. Diversity adds to the quality of decisions, and given there are only seven seats to cover a district as large and diverse as ours, I’m not in favor of it unless there are too few qualified candidates.
6. My family and I moved to Dearborn in 2001 from Warren. We have five children, four of whom graduated from Dearborn Public Schools: Two from DHS, one from the Magnet program and one from the Henry Ford Collegiate program. We have one child still in middle school.
Adel Mozip — candidate for a six-year term:
1. My current top priorities for the K-12 are: Safe return to in-person quality instruction, the safety of our students, teachers and staff, as well as social-emotional learning. Return to in-person instruction must be guided by science and health experts. I continue to be vocal about the importance of social and emotional learning; leading the passing of the anti-bullying resolution by our board and recognizing the month of October as National Bullying Prevention Month. In addition, fiscal responsibility is a major concern as we navigate a post-COVID World. My top priority for Henry Ford College is to continue on the improvement of the student experience on campus and ways to increase enrollment through strategic programs and innovative marketing.
2. I have supported and advocated heavily for the passage of the BRICS bond. I held many educational seminars to explain the bond to residents and I was always available for questions. The upgrades have been identified and moving forward, we as a board need to look at different ways of financing infrastructural projects such as sink funds. We must always engage the community early in plans, listen to their ideas and concerns. I have asked for listening sessions during our post-BRICS discussions in which board members need to tour the city and listen to taxpayers on ways to fund the upgrades/building of new schools.
3. COVID will stay with us for an extended period and as a district, we have to work to minimize the spread. We have successfully acquired PPE for our stakeholders and implemented protocols based on the recommendations of scientists and health professionals. I will always advocate for the safety of our students, teachers, staff and parents. We have to re-open our schools gradually and safely. We also have to be creative and flexible with families as we navigate these unprecedented times.
4. I am looking forward to collaborating with anyone whom the voters send to the Board of Education. My campaign is focused on my track record and priorities as a candidate, not weighing on other campaigns/candidates.
6. My oldest child attends Geer Park Elementary. I have lived in the district since 2000. I attended Fordson High School, U of M-Dearborn (BSE) and Wayne State University (MBA). For more information on my campaign, please visit adelmozip.com
Mary Petlichkoff — candidate for a six-year term:
1. Priority issues are supporting students/staff and parents during the pandemic and balancing the competing needs of safety and education. Learning loss, social/emotional traumas and reopening strategies are number one issues. Infrastructure needs to provide a school environment that meets the educational hallmarks for success remains an ongoing focus along with available funding options. Our revenues will most likely be reduced significantly next year due to this year’s economic impact with the pandemic. We will be working hard to fight for every dollar needed to prevent instructional losses greater than we already experience.
2. After the unanimous decision of the board to move forward with the bond it was disappointing to see it fail. Conflicting information within the community demonstrated the need to reassess our plan. No amount of grants (with limits of use and strings attached) will adequately fund our many needs over 34 buildings. We will have to return to the taxpayers again, but we will need to reset priorities and better communicate the best use of dollars that will protect our students’ and staff’s educational environment.
3. I believe COVID will be our ongoing challenge into the new year. We hope to follow the science and use the data to safely reopen in phases and monitor experiences for both virtual and face-to-face learners. We need to work at supporting overwhelmed and overworked parents and staff while providing as enriched a learning environment for students, despite obstacles. There are expected limitations and we need to prepare to address them in a variety of proactive ways. Ongoing discussions, including all representatives on the task force, will be necessary.
4. Elected boards should represent a broad cross section of the community in order to provide a diverse perspective with decision making. With only seven members that diversity should include ethnicity, age and socio/economic differences. While I am certain two people in a household may not share identical thoughts or opinions, I would have to believe that they could dilute the differences or dominate the opinion at the table due to sharing living environments and experiences. It could take away from a more robust conversation that would include a greater variety of thought.
5. I have never been arrested, charged or convicted of anything ever.
6. I raised two children in Dearborn; they attended Dearborn Public Schools as well as Henry Ford College. I have resided in Dearborn for 32 years. My husband was born and raised in Dearborn as well as his parents, so the family history spans 95 years in the city.
Irene Watts — candidate for a six-year term:
1. My first issue is ensuring our schools are safe for students and staff members. Our students must feel safe beyond the physical improvements of the buildings. All of our children have experienced trauma due to Covid-19. It is imperative that we address their social and emotional needs daily to mitigate any long-term effects caused by trauma. Covid-19 is also affecting our teachers and support staff. We are seeing a teacher shortage combined with teacher burnout within the first month of school. This is a problem that adversely affects students and teachers alike. We need to ensure that all staff members have received social and emotional professional development and been given support for proper implementation. Second, we need to continue our high-quality education that begins with our strong leadership who value research and teamwork. It consists of a team rooted in the belief in, and implementation of, best practices; continues to be data-driven and strives for high achieving outcomes; one that continues to be flexible and amenable to appropriate modifications. Lastly, transparency is crucial to ensure trust within the community. We need to create opportunities for families to become involved in various committees/sub-committees throughout the district, resulting in increasing parent engagement.
2. I was in favor of the BRICS bond. Unfortunately, a majority of Dearborn voters did not support the BRICS bond, leaving important lessons to be learned. As a community, we need to ensure that all interested voices are heard when garnering support for any school bond — something I believe we can do better. We need to invite all invested and interested stakeholders to the table to ensure transparency when identifying all the needed repairs, which may or may not be in dispute. In the end, everyone wants to have their voices heard. But I believe that we will find that we have more in common than not — all those participating want their property values to continue to grow in relation to a high achieving school district.
3. First, Dearborn schools should ensure that they meet the requirements of the state of Michigan’s Safe Schools Roadmap. Second, Dearborn must obtain and evaluate robust data from the Wayne County Health Department regarding the positivity rate and the number of daily tests conducted in Dearborn. I believe the district should be looking for a significant downward trajectory in daily COVID cases over a sustained period of time in its analysis.
4. I believe that our school board should reflect a diverse array of opinions, backgrounds and perspectives. Although it may be possible for two in the same household to still meet those qualifications, at minimum I believe it presents optics contrary, which we should avoid.
6. Yes I do. I have lived here for 15 years.
Albert Abbas — candidate for the two-year term:
1. There are many issues we face today and much has changed due to the pandemic. Infrastructure — Our schools are outdated and not very energy efficient. Our classrooms are overcrowded, creating stress on our students, educators, faculty and parents. We still have asbestos in our schools and utilize outdated boilers that cost the district millions of dollars. We need to modernize our schools and technology. Prior to COVID, I was on the forefront fighting for more funds in technology and safety. I spoke on the necessity to include online learning and interactive learning tables for all our students. The pandemic proved that we are light years behind where we need to be in order to be a district that is a national leader in learning. Mental health/drug addiction & bullying — Now more than ever we need to educate and provide resources to our students. The pandemic has really shined a light on the struggle our community is trying to overcome. The social distancing and increased screen time has been mentally draining on our children. We need to get rid of the stigma of drug addiction. It is an illness, not a choice. Many of our children are ashamed to share their struggles and the family is left in the dark. They don’t have the resources or the education on how to help their own child. When children feel ashamed and alone that’s when drug addiction can quickly become your least worry. In terms of bullying, we need to educate students early. We need to allow them to learn in grade school that although we have some differences, we have more in common. We need to learn through arts, food, music and dance how beautiful and unique we all are. We need to couple them in class projects with someone that doesn’t necessarily look like them or have the same beliefs, to enrich them with the culture and diversity our great city has to offer.
2. It is no secret that I have been on the forefront of defeating the Bricks bond. It is ironic that it was called “BRICS” to begin with, when it never included adding a single brick to our infrastructure. It failed our residents in many ways and the people have seen right through it. It added an enormous tax burden on an entire city without addressing the issues I outlined above — infrastructure, technology, mental health/ drug addiction, safety and important issues like students with learning disabilities or english learners. I have never left the side of our students, educators or our residents. I have met with Dr. Glenn Maleyko, the administration and the consulting firms since the day the BRICS bond failed. I have offered more fruitful ways to address the problems while being considerate of the taxpayer. I have demanded that we are given a 20-30 year plan before asking for any bond. I am the only two-year candidate that has been actively involved on two subcommittees to help our district. It is imperative to bring all stakeholders to the table when addressing these issues, including the ones paying the bills.
3. COVID will always exist and it is not going away. No vaccine will eradicate it in the near future. We must make good decisions based on real science to protect our children. We must look at hospitalization rates, not infection rates, to determine if and when our children will get back into the classrooms. Teachers and students who decide to strictly learn online should be given that option. Maybe they have some pre-existing health conditions and are not comfortable going to school, I understand. I also understand that those who are comfortable going to school should be allowed the same courtesy. I have four boys under the age of 9 and I see their struggles. I can relate to the family struggles of a dual income and now one parent has to leave their job. Parents are put in situations where they are now educators without the credentials. Children can’t learn strictly by reading or screen time; they learn visually, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetically. Teachers can’t teach effectively with Zoom meetings or schoology. We must adapt to the times and provide them with real life learning experiences.
4. I believe that it is a beautiful thing when multiple people in one household dedicate their lives for the betterment and advancement of our children. Nofila and Hussein have each dedicated their lives far before they got married and that shouldn’t be an issue. The voters will respond and we will move forward.
5. I have made mistakes in my past and learned from them. I have also been falsely accused of things while fighting corruption. It is best to avoid playing dirty politics, especially when video surveillance is on hand. Any person that puts out false statements will be held accountable with the court of law for defamation of character. We all know what happened and who was involved in the cover up.
6. My beautiful wife, Joanne, a nurse practitioner serving the underserved, and I have four blessings from God, Hamzeh, 9, Jacob, 7, Zayn, 3, and Mohamed, 10 months. I was born and raised in Dearborn and I am a product of our school system. I am a proud graduate of Dearborn High and U of M-Dearborn. I received my MBA from the University of Phoenix. Hamzeh & Jacob are currently enrolled in Howard Elementary School with Zayn & Mohamed soon to follow. I am running for school board to protect the future of my children as well as yours. I am the only two-year candidate that has children in the district.
Patrick D’Ambrosio — candidate for the two-year term:
1. Safe Reopening of Schools. School Funding. Infrastructure Needs. Expand K-12/HFCC Collegiate Academy and the Early College — real money-saving for parents. Continue to be a model “Blue Ribbon School District.” Funding. Funding needs to be increased for the schools and HFC. Over the last two decades, the state has stepped away from its funding obligations. (1) I would lobby state legislators personally. (2) There needs to be a systematic structure for the K-12 and HFC to have students and their parents lobby as well. Parents should personally convey the needs and successes of our students. (3) Additional money should be sought from private sources — businesses and foundations. Civics/government. Now more that ever, our children, grandchildren and young adults need to understand how our democratic system of government works, how its checks and balances work, the importance of voting and holding elected officials accountable.
2. The community should be better informed about the personal impact of the bond on students, the need to serve our increasing student population and the need for state-of-the-art technology. That Dearborn’s student population is growing is a testament to our schools and community. Quality schools benefit our children and grandchildren, bring families to Dearborn, strengthen businesses and increase property values.
3. COVID-distance education has suddenly been thrust upon many students and teachers. We must provide the technological support and training that affected students and teachers need. When possible, we must provide safe face-to-face instruction, particularly for young children who must learn social skills as well as subject matters. Until there is a tested and proven vaccine, approved by credible medical and scientific experts, distance learning will have to be employed to reduce the numbers of face-to-face students and ensure social distancing. We need to study the safest and best practices across the country and overseas.
4. School Board members should reflect the diversity of opinion within our diverse community. Board members from the same household diminish that possibility.
6. Two children graduated from the Dearborn Public Schools. Dearborn resident – 45 years.
Sabrina Evans-Cunningham — candidate for the two-year term:
1. Currently, due to COVID-19, the safety of our students and staff is most important.
2. I voted to approve the bond. However, I believe as a new resident of Dearborn, a community volunteer and an advocate for children, I would provide community forums for all stakeholders involved to understand the purpose of the bond. I will give residents, business owners, staff and students an opportunity to voice their concerns and suggestions for the BRICS Bond proposal and capital improvements.
3. I would make sure the current plan is updated. Also, give parents and staff an option to provide teaching and learning with three options:
- Face-to-face (students and staff have the option of attending school four days a week — Monday-Thursday, with Fridays as virtual learning to sterilize and sanitize school buildings, allowing three days to kill any viruses, germs, bacteria or spores;
- Virtual ( students and staff attend all classes virtually)
- Hybrid ( students and staff have the option to attend school two days a week)
4. I personally am not in favor of it. However, I believe it can steer votes (for or against) in the best interest of the board votes. Two votes for or against will always be in their favor and not always best for the school district, the staff or the students.
6. No, I have adult children.
Maali Luqman — candidate for the two-year term:
1. Ensuring equitable access to quality education through equitable allocation of resources, support of staff and teachers, engagement of families and students in their children’s learning.
2. I believe the BRICS 2019 bond failed primarily because it was proposed at an unexpected time and many voters felt that it did not address many infrastructure issues they had concerns about in a way that offered long term, sustainable solutions for our district. Voters needed more transparency and wanted to have more input in the final decisions regarding the bond. I agree that the district buildings and infrastructure need updates and expansion for our growing student population; however, our constituents need more time to learn more about what is needed and allowed more input in what they feel would satisfy student needs most. I would support a revised, detailed BRICS bond that allowed time for the community to weigh in on it.
3. I believe the district is addressing the pandemic in a reasonable manner, but can improve in some aspects. The decision to have online courses and revisit that decision again in the near future, depending on the situation, is a good approach considering the risks and spread of COVID. However, I feel that more could be done to offer support at home for families that rely on schools heavily. I also feel that reducing the academic workload will prove to be more effective towards student learning and avoiding student and parent burnout. Without certified teachers at home with each individual child, it is challenging for many parents to know how to best support their child’s learning. If students become overwhelmed by the expectation to perform as high as they would in a classroom setting, that will become counter-productive. Rather, shorter class timings, limited work load and considering the effects of the pandemic on student development will be more productive in the long run than long hours sitting in front of a computer screen, trying to stay caught up with grade-level content and meeting course hour requirements. We are experiencing unusual circumstances and we need to factor the real stresses of that reality when making decisions on how to continue to educate our students. Based on conditions now, I believe schools should offer fully remote learning for a bit longer and then consider a hybrid model within the next few months, particularly for special needs students, depending on how the pandemic situation continues to unfold. The hybrid model would allow for some in-person learning and for students to get out of their homes in a safe space, while also being manageable by staggering classes or limiting group sizes. I believe at some point students will have to transition back to school settings and a hybrid model might be the best approach to that transition. But foremost, we need to stay flexible, cautious and patient as we navigate this pandemic. There is no solid right answer to this unpredictable pandemic, other than that it is a journey that we are all navigating together and major decisions on moving forward will continue to be revisited as circumstances change.
4. It depends on the individuals and how well they fulfill their role as a trustee. As long as they are able to fulfill their roles with integrity, and they were independently elected by the people, I don’t see a major problem with two relatives being on the board. However, if conflicts of interest begin to arise, then they should be held accountable by their colleagues as well as the constituents.
6. I have been in the classroom for many years, so, as an educator, I think of all the students in our district as my students. I do not have children of my own, but I have nieces and nephews that I am heavily invested in, as well as many children of friends, neighbors and extended community who attend Dearborn Schools.
Albert Abbas’ answer to the question about previous arrests and convictions was vague and included threats of court action in case anyone “puts out false statement.” Court records from Dearborn’s 19th District Court show that Mr. Abbas pled guilty on 5/6/2005 to a charge of “disorderly person/drunk” in case no. 05C2902 and was sentenced to 24 months probation and three days on the work program. Records also show that on 9/21/2017, Mr. Abbas pled Nolo Contendre to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace (original charge was assault and battery) in case no. 17-14967.
A Nolo Contendre plea, or no contest plea, is entered to by defendants in criminal cases if they either cannot make a factual basis (because of intoxication or loss of memory, for example) or they fear civil liability. In a Nolo plea, the defendant does not provide a factual basis as in a typical guilty plea, but instead they do not contest the facts recited on the record by the prosecutor. Defendants who plead Nolo are usually advised by the court that this kind of plea is considered a criminal conviction in the same manner as a guilty plea.
Abbas’ answer to the question about two members of the same household serving on the Board of Education together included a reference to “Nofila and Hussein.” For the benefits of our readers, he is referring to candidate Nofila Haidar, who is married to Board of Education Trustee Hussein Berry. If Haidar is elected this November, it will be the first time in the history of our city, and most likely our state, that a husband and wife serve together on a Board of Education composed of only seven members in a major city such as Dearborn.