(Editor’s note: Responses for Cyndi Parrelly and Jim Thorpe mistakenly were left off the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education candidate preview in last week’s edition. We are running the entire, corrected, version this week.)
By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The Nov. 6 general election ballot will be stacked with eight candidates vying for two seats on the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education.
The two victorious candidates will serve six-year terms.
The candidates are Afaf Ahmad, a journalist and radio host; Billy Amen, Hype Athletics director of operations; Khalil El-Saghir, an education consultant; Aman Fidama, an activist and volunteer; Roxanne McDonald, a former board trustee; Adel Mozip, a software entrepreneur; Cyndi Parrelly who is retired from DPS and Henry Ford College; and Jim Thorpe, a financial advisor and current board trustee.
Each candidate was asked three questions with a 100-word limit for each. Mozip, Ahmad, and El-Saghir did not respond to the questionnaire by press time.
Question 1: What skills, strengths, education or experience do you possess that make you a qualified candidate for the position you are running for?
Amen: As the COO of Hype Athletics, I’m grateful to be responsible for more than 3,000 of our children weekly. I budget, program for, protect, and mentor children within our district, while simultaneously responsible for two complexes with hundreds of staff and support personnel. Prior to Hype, I worked in our school district’s special needs department for several years, working first-hand with our gifted children. In my passion, I’ve been a coach for many years at various age levels, mentoring our children, and reinforcing the good values at home. My entire life has been rooted in working with students which has given me a unique insight into their unique challenges.
Fidama: I have a unique life experience which is different from all other candidates and sitting trustees. I was born and raised in Dearborn, I was fortunate to attend Dearborn Public Schools despite social and cultural difficulties. I worked very hard to afford my eight daughters the best education that Dearborn Public Schools and Henry Ford College affords.I lived, dealt and understand the many challenges that students and their families face as they try to assimilate in our new culture and attain a good education to compete, excel and succeed.
McDonald: I have a heart for service and a passion for education. I’m certified by the Michigan Association of School Boards and have had countless additional hours of professional development in education related subjects such as; strategic planning, legislation, finance, school law and more. I’ve spent more than 20 years serving Dearborn in many capacities and currently serve on the board of directors for the Goodfellows and the Dearborn Community Fund. I was raised with integrity and a strong work ethic; my tenure as a trustee on the board of education was defined by good governance, fiscal responsibility and academic excellence.
Parrelly: I recently retired after 30 years of service in the Dearborn Public Schools and Henry Ford College. I earned an associate’s degree from HFC and a bachelor’s degree from Siena Heights University. I served as stenographer at the schools and HFC Board of Trustee meetings for much of that time – and as executive assistant to two HFC presidents. In those roles, I learned a great deal about the schools and college policies, practices, and the reasoning behind them – as well as the day-to-day operations of the schools and college.
Thorpe: I have served on the Board of Education since 2016 and have focused on spending time in the schools, building relationships with administrators, staff, and students. I have served the school district on the curriculum council and strategic planning committees. I have also been a board member on the Dearborn Education Foundation, support programs that are beyond the district’s budget. I am active in the chamber of commerce, serving as chairperson in 2010 and leading the Teacher of the Year award for four years. I am also a member of the Rotary club of Dearborn, serving last year as the President of Dearborn Rotary Foundation which gave over $60,000 in scholarships to 24 students in 2018.
Question 2: What will be your priorities if you were (re)elected?
Amen: My focus is on school safety; I believe the only fear a child should have at school is making it to class on time. Our schools must be safe; our teachers must be able to focus on creating engaging, inclusive classrooms. I would heavily focus on curriculum, particularly on engaging educators, administrators, and parents in jointly deciding a solution. I encourage our students to attend college, but I realize not all want to, and for those choosing not to, we need to build technical programs supporting the next generation of highly skilled laborers. Our students deserve 21st century answers to their 21st century challenges.
Fidama: My priority is to provide our students a healthy and safe environment where they can grow, learn and compete. Some of Dearborn Public School buildings are almost a century old. They are outdated and badly in need of updates.The Infrastructure of other schools need to be upgraded as well. Some schools need to be brought up to speed with current information technology. We need to provide healthier meals for the kids.I would work hard to get families in the community involved and understand the situations because we need a strong support team to help our students succeed. Quality education and Fiscal responsibility will always be my focus. We need to constantly look at ways to improve the delivery of education while not over burdening the tax-payers and residents. I will be diligent and reviewing all programs for effectiveness and making sure resources are allocated appropriately.
McDonald: It is vital to maintain effective security without compromising the warm and welcoming environment, conducive to learning that our students deserve. I truly believe in individualized education; we must understand how each child learns, identify their strengths and weaknesses and provide the programs and support they need. We have great programs for gifted students at the secondary level, but need similar programs for our elementary students. Our aging buildings, although well built, must be maintained and repaired. I wish to expand our tuition free programs and provide more opportunities for students seeking alternatives to traditional college, such as skilled trades.
Parrelly: Given my 30 years of experience in the schools and at the college, I can provide the schools, college, and community with insights that few candidates have ever brought to the school board. I am very concerned about school safety, a nationwide problem, and will work with staff and community members to assist the Schools’ Safety Committee.
Thorpe: My first priority is to ensure that every student that attends our schools will receive the education they need and the training they require for their careers. I believe we need to spend more time preparing our students for college and careers. My second priority is that every employee of the school district is respected and valued and as such we must maintain a work environment that is welcoming. Our employees are one of our biggest assets, we need to make sure we listen to their ideas and concerns. My final priority is to make sure the money entrusted to the schools is used effectively and efficiently.
Question 3: Why should people vote for you?
Amen: Directly working with students my entire life, I uniquely understand the challenges students face; I hear it directly from them every day, in the schools and on the field. I’ve worked in our school system, supporting our children with special needs and coaching our young adults, reinforcing the great values instilled at home. This position is paramount because we are electing someone to truly be a voice for children, the majority of which cannot vote, and we must represent them with someone who has listened to them. Our students face new challenges such as school safety, educational equity, access to technology, technical programs, and I will prepare them for it.
Fidama: I am running for Dearborn Board of Education because I believe the greatest opportunity we have to shape our future is by investing in our youth. This is my first time running for public office and I’m excited to take on this challenge. As a mother of eight daughters who benefited from the quality education we have in our city, I feel it is time for me to give back. Throughout the years, I have donated my time and skills to teach ESL classes, tutor students and provide translation services to immigrants. I have reached a point in my life where I have more time to give and I’ve chosen this position because I believe my experience can help improve the district and benefit our students.
McDonald: I’m prepared, from day one, to successfully take on the challenge of serving our community in this crucial role; because I’ve already done it and have done it well. Shortly after being elected to the board, the college needed a new president and faced a huge financial crisis. Enlisting help from our stakeholders, we oversaw a successful $16 million turnaround at the college and were able to substantially add to the district’s general fund. I am a proven leader with the knowledge and experience to serve Dearborn; I wish to continue preparing our students for a rewarding and successful future.
Parrelly: Funding for the schools and college – and college enrollment – are also of great concern. I will do all I can to lobby to State Legislature to assume its responsibility to fund our schools and college properly and reverse its cost shift of school funding to local taxpayers and student tuition. At HFC, I have been heavily involved in serving veterans and assisting all students in achieving a quality education which can lead to secure, good paying jobs.I am and will continue to be accessible and responsive to student, staff, and citizen concerns. I believe that both the Schools and HFC are providing a good education and future to those students and adults we serve. We have good leadership in Superintendent Maleyko and HFC President Kavalhuna. I will strongly support improvement in curriculum, teaching, methodology, and programs. I believe in improvement but not fads or change for the sake of change – especially when tax dollars are at stake.
Thorpe: As a current member of the Board of Education, voters can look at what I have done since being elected, not only at what I say I will do. I have focused on reducing assessments, allowing teachers more time to teach. I have devoted time to find a new president to lead Henry Ford College and determine the best way to handle overcrowding in the high schools. I would encourage people to reach out to their neighborhood schools to ask about me. I am confident that my time in the schools shows how much I care for the student and staff. Since being elected I have strived to do what I believe is in the best interest of the students and tax-payers I serve. I would appreciate your support — and your vote on Election Day.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])