Your guide to Detroit’s School Board candidates...

Your guide to Detroit’s School Board candidates

Here’s the skinny on 14 candidates vying for three open seats

UPDATE, Oct. 29: This post was updated to correct an endorsement error under candidate Zsa Zsa C. Hubbard and to add information about candidate Richard C. Clement from his website.

UPDATE, Oct. 31: This post was updated to add information from a brief interview with candidate Lamar Lemmons, III.

We’ve got three open slots for the Detroit school board this election season—and 14 candidates. How to decide? Detour did some digging to compile details for you.

First, some history. In 2016, when the former Detroit Public Schools district was dissolved and the new Detroit Public Schools Community District was created, the school board changed its structure. It was previously an eleven-member body, with seven people elected from districts and four people elected at-large.

Today, the Detroit Public Schools Community District Board of Education consists of seven members, all elected at-large. Voters will decide on who to fill three open seats of the total seven from a pool of 14 candidates in the general election on November 3, 2020. All three winners will serve four-year terms. 

Of critical importance to Detroit voters in this race are the candidates’ positions on the best method to continue teaching students in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and who is best equipped to ensure the district’s resources to educate students continue to grow.

First up: The incumbents

There are three incumbents, all running together as the “Achievement Slate.” They include Sonya Mays, Misha Stallworth and Dr. Iris Taylor. The slate has been endorsed by the Detroit Free Press and the Michigan Chronicle.

Sonya S. Mays

Profession: President of Develop Detroit, a housing and development firm; current DPSCD board treasurer

Brief Bio: Mays briefly taught middle-school math in Detroit and is also a former Wall Street investment banker. In her role as board treasurer, she has helped to oversee the DPSCD transition away from state oversight.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: Sits on current DPSCD school board that supports face-to-face instruction during pandemic. “I believe that DPSCD’s response has been highly responsive and adaptive to the shifting pandemic environment…There are meaningful numbers of students—including [those with] special needs and others with unstable or unsafe home situations—who will not be able to reliably learn and achieve on a virtual or distance platform. I strongly believe that the District has a moral obligation to address the needs of ALL of our students and a hybrid-approach—implemented safely and thoughtfully—is the best way to create the flexible options needed.”

Key Endorsements: Detroit Free Press, Michigan Chronicle, Michigan State Representative Stephanie Young, Brother Marvis Cofield

Platform: “Safe Public Schools. Strong Neighborhoods.”

Misha Stallworth

Profession: Deputy CEO at CitizenDetroit and current DPSCD school board member

Brief Bio: Stallworth holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and is an alumna of City Year Los Angeles. She is the granddaughter of former Michigan State Representative Alma Stallworth.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: Sits on current DPSCD school board that supports face-to-face instruction during pandemic. “The opportunities for parents to choose what’s best for their families is critical. We have families who are frontline/essential workers during this time and they need a face-to-face option. We have families with students with disabilities who have been attempting to follow the instructions of occupational therapists at home; their children have gone months without proper therapy and they need a face-to-face option…On the other hand, we have families who are not comfortable having their students in face-to-face school…The district must continue to follow local data and best practices as well as plan—financially and operationally–for the resources to offer families options that meet their needs.”

Key Endorsements: Detroit Free Press, Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, Local 1 SEIU, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, Michigan Chronicle, The Black Slate, The Eastside Slate, 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization, Molly Sweeney, Southpaw Michigan, Abdul El-Sayed, Brother Marvis Cofield, Michigan State Representative Stephanie Young

Platform: Ensure holistic education. Amplify student voice. Facilitate community connections. 

Iris A. Taylor

Profession: Healthcare consultant and mediator; current DPSCD school board president

Brief Bio: Taylor holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, and a Ph.D. from Wayne State University. She is a former CEO of Detroit Receiving Hospital and University Health Center.

Position on in-person Instruction during COVID-19: Sits on current DPSCD school board that supports face-to-face instruction during pandemic. “DPSCD continues to be very responsive to the needs of our children, parents and staff during this COVID-19 pandemic. The metrics and criteria established by the CDC, MDHHS and City of Detroit Health Department have guided our reopening plan while leaving flexibility for adjustments due to the uncertainty of the virus. The priority is to ensure a protective environment during this pandemic, which requires diligence and compliance with all safety measures. The school opening plan provides the structure for this compliance.”

Key Endorsements: Detroit Free Press, Michigan Chronicle, Detroiters for Our Children, Brother Marvis Cofield, Michigan State Representative Stephanie Young

Platform: “Fighting for Our Children’s Future”

Next up: The challengers

Three community activists who are running for election to the school board have been endorsed by Citizens for Detroit’s Future. They include Elena Herrada, Ida C. Short and Dr. John Telford. These three and former state legislator LaMar Lemmons, III have all also been elected to previous iterations of Detroit’s school board, “in exile” as described by Herrada, because their terms were all served while DPSCD was under state control.

Several former public school teachers and school leaders are also on the ballot: state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Bessie Harris, Ida C. Short, Chico Frank Sorrell and Dr. John Telford.

Elena Herrada has some points that depart from the platforms of most other candidates in the race: She opposes a police presence in schools and wants a return to the previous board structure, where most candidates were elected by district, to ensure citywide representation on the elected body.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, perhaps due to her three-terms in the state legislature or perhaps due to her ability to stay in the news, shows the strongest signs of winning a seat over one of the incumbents.

Here they are:

Richard C. Clement

Profession: Owner-operator of C-Systems Technology Consultants; Activist working to legalize marijuana in Michigan; former Detroit City Council legislative aide to George Cushingberry, Jr.

Brief Bio: Clement is passionate about and actively involved in campaigns to fully legalize marijuana in the State of the Michigan.

Position on in-person Instruction during COVID-19: Unclear. However, Clement emphasizes a desire to have testing kits in each DPSCD building so that students can be tested every three to five days.

Key Endorsements: 14th Congressional District Cannabis Caucus Slate, State Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson

Platform: “Platform for Success” includes frequent COVID-19 testing at every DPSCD school, a decreased emphasis on test scores for allocating funds to schools, expanded music and arts programs, as well as expanding sports opportunities in golf and hockey, further growing programs at Davis Aerospace in conjunction with Detroit City Airport, and restoring the names Jared Finney, Dr. Ethelene Crockett, and Barbara Jordan to East English Village, Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, and Palmer Park Academy, respectively.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo

Profession: Representative for Michigan’s 8th House District (Gay-Dagnogo cannot run for state representative again due to term limits.) 

Brief Bio: Gay-Dagnogo is a lifelong Detroiter and former Detroit science teacher who is now serving her third and final term in the House. She holds a master’s in Education from Wayne State University. 

Position on in-person Instruction during COVID-19: In August 2020, Gay-Dagnogo issued a public statement urging the current school board to reconsider its decision to open classrooms for face-to-face instruction. “While optimal learning occurs best via face-to-face; amidst a global pandemic, health and safety comes first! Medical professionals warn of potential increases of COVID during the fall flu season. Michigan has done reasonably well flattening the curve, yet we’re seeing spikes of COVID, which could worsen in densely populated communities. Asymptomatic children being raised by elderly grandparents, aunts and uncles could potentially compromise our vulnerable senior population. Consequently, the best approach is remaining virtual until after we’ve tracked the impact of our pending flu season.”

Key Endorsements: Council 25 AFSCME, Michigan Democratic Black Caucus, Eastside Community Slate, UAW, Michigan Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, SEIU Healthcare, 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization, 14th District Democrats

Platform: “I am committed to closing the talent and opportunity gap, as an advocate for literacy proficiency, greater access to STEM, African American History inclusion, increasing Detroit’s Higher Education and Skilled Trades pipeline, and creating innovative ways to educate and protect our children and teachers.”

Bessie Harris

Profession: Retired educator in the district

Brief Bio: Harris holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from University of Detroit-Mercy. In 2016, she retired from a 32-year career across Detroit Public Schools as a special education teacher, assistant principal and principal. 

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: “During COVID-19, I feel the Board can keep students safe by being transparent when informing parents of data and outbreaks within schools. Establish a hotline where parents can ask questions. That hotline should also be tied to a social worker and a psychologist, should parents need an advocate to speak to.” 

Key Endorsements: Wayne County Black Caucus, Laborers Local Union 1191, Council of Baptist Pastors, Bishop Edgar L. Vann

Platform: “All Decisions Made with DPSCD Students in Mind!” and servant leadership; bringing back passion and motivation to DPSCD students, parents, staff and community

Elena M. Herrada

Profession: Community activist and adjunct instructor in Wayne County Community College District.

Brief Bio: Herrada describes herself as a “counter narrator” and community activist. She is also a former school board member and lifelong Detroiter. She holds a Labor School certificate and master’s degree in Industrial Relations from Wayne State University. 

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: “We should not be in school. There should be no one in these buildings until we know it’s safe. If we lose a year of school, we can catch up. We can’t get lives back. We have lost so many already. The  Latin@ community has been battered by COVID-19. Several people to a household, led by essential workers, and often having no health care or ability to avoid work has made our people so vulnerable. We have many families without internet connection or tablets. I hear from them.”

Key Endorsements: Citizens for Detroit’s Future

Platform: “A Brighter Future, Beloved Detroit” includes Internet for every household in Detroit and a return to district voting for the school board. Herrada’s position is that at-large school board voting disenfranchises certain communities, like the largely Mexican community of southwest Detroit which often only has representation on citywide bodies when voting is done according to districts. Herrada is also opposed to any police presence in schools.

Zsa Zsa C. Hubbard

Profession: Entrepreneur. 

Brief Bio: Hubbard is a serial entrepreneur and community advocate with a range of experience across media, including as an events manager and internet radio host. Previously, she worked as a deputy clerk of the City of Detroit, according to her website.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: No response

Key Endorsements: Democratic Black Caucus, Women of Color Entrepreneur Circle, and Bishop J. Drew Sheard

Platform: “Our Youth = Our Future”. A variety of points of the Hubbard platform emphasize personal and mental development in youth and adults.

Jermain Lee Jones  

Profession: Founder of Jones American Political Consulting Firm

Brief Bio: Jones is a lifelong Detroiter, district alumnus and small business owner.

Position on in-person Instruction during COVID-19: Unclear. However, Jones did advocate for in-person activities between students and staff to help foster relationships during a Zoom candidate forum with BridgeDetroit. In addition, he supported students grasping remedial concepts at home and using schools for more hands-on activities.

Key Endorsements: None

Platform: Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline; curriculum overhaul; keeping our students healthy and safe.

LaMar Lemmons

Profession: Chief of staff for State Sen. Betty Jean Alexander

Brief Bio: Lemmons, III is a former Michigan State Representative and former school board member, once holding the position of school board president. His wife, Georgia Lemmons, is a member of the current elected board.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: In an interview on October 31 with Detour Detroit, Lemmons said, “COVID does not respect man-made boundaries. I personally desired to have containment of the virus in the tri-county area at a minimum, with preference for containment within the immediate six counties (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Monroe, and Livingston) before Detroit’s schools would open…I am not pleased with having schools open.”

Key Endorsements: Citizens for Detroit’s Future

Platform: In an interview on October 31 with Detour Detroit, Lemmons described his platform as one focused on returning true control of Detroit’s schools to the people and not the state. Lemmons said, “The reason we have a board now is because the board-in-exile, of which I was president, refused to be complicit.” (“Board-in-Exile” is a term used by some to describe those elected DPS board members who held terms while DPS was under state control.) Lemmons also contends that DPSCD is at risk of a large financial fallout due to the particulars of the deal that formed Detroit Public Schools Community District. DPSCD was formed in 2016 to educate students in a district unsaddled with debt. The old Detroit Public Schools district still exists solely to pay down debt. Lemmons position is that this is not a good longterm deal for taxpayers or students.

Terrance Lemmons (listed on ballot as T. Lemmons)

Profession: DPS alumnus

Brief Bio: DPS alumnus

Position on in-person Instruction during COVID-19: No response

Key Endorsements: None

Platform: No response

Ida C. Short

Profession: Community advocate 

Brief Bio: Short is a former district school board member, former Detroit teacher and community college instructor.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: In response to a questionnaire sent by Detour Detroit, Short stated: “My position regarding face-to-face instruction in the era of a pandemic is that parents ultimately have the right to decide which format is best for students.  Face-to-face is best for most students; however, as a professional educator, students’ safety must come first. So, in this time it is important to follow the experts—nationally, state, and locally. In the specific case of DPSCD, a minority school district, it is extremely important to be mindful that this virus is attacking and killing this group disproportionately. Their numbers outpace all other groups; therefore, having schools open is not such a good idea. DPSCD should follow the lead of the richer districts that have chosen to protect all of their students by closing, like the Birmingham and Grosse Pointe school districts.”

Key Endorsements: AFT 2000, Citizens for Detroit’s Future, Wayne County Black Democrats, 14th Democratic Congressional District, The Original Eastside Slate, Black Progressive Slate, Grassroots Parent and Community Organization, Inc., Tawanna Simpson, Marion A. Brown

Platform: “Standing Tall for Students…Together We Can Build Back DPSCD”. Supports ‘looping’ in elementary grades; wants increased counselors, social workers and school nurses; wants more staff for bilingual students and Hispanic, Hmong and Arabic students, among others; seeks stronger support services for special needs students; wants to “restore parents’ rights, full transparency and community trust.”

Chico Frank Sorrell

Profession: Retired educator in the district and founder of Detroit Future Trends, a nonprofit with the mission to “reinvigorate neighborhood infrastructures in the city of Detroit impacted by economic and social turmoil of the last 5 decades.”

Brief Bio: Sorrel retired from teaching after a twenty year career in Detroit. At present, he is an educational consultant and the founder of Detroit Future Trends, an organization whose mission is to reinvigorate neighborhood infrastructures in Detroit. He holds a master’s in Administration Education from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: No response

Key Endorsements: None

Platform: “Making it better for children; making a better future.”

John Telford

Profession: Community activist and educator

Brief Bio: Telford is a longtime community activist and current poet-in-residence at Detroit’s Southeastern High School. He is a former interim superintendent of Detroit Public Schools. He is also a former deputy superintendent of Rochester Community Schools. Telford holds master’s and doctoral degrees in Education from Wayne State University.

Position on in-person instruction during COVID-19: “Classrooms should be unequivocally closed during COVID… COVID-19 has engendered urgent new tasks that we need to address in order to democratize students’ access to quality education. Here I am addressing our WiFi crisis in the same vein as Detroit’s Water Crisis, the on-going Housing Crisis and an ever yawning Public Education Crisis. The way to mitigate such detrimental possibilities is for DPSCD to reevaluate the role of public education. We need a three-year and a seven-year plan in order to heal from the impact COVID has had on education while dealing with the ever increasing inequities of school reforms. I am proposing a vision of OVERLAPPING CAMPUSES: a policy by which our public schools remain open for public services and sustenance even as our students adjust to becoming virtual learners during this time of crisis.”

Key Endorsements: PulseBeat Media, Detroit Native Sun, Helen Moore
Platform: “My platform is LITERACY – I want the students to read as well as I can.”

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition.