Elections 2022: Grand Ledge School Board candidates in their own words

On this year's ballot are candidates for the Grand Ledge School Board (two vacancies for six-year-term seats, one vacancy for a four-year, partial term seat). If you are unsure which district you vote in, visit the Eaton County elections website to find more information.

Whether you choose to vote absentee or in person, get to know the candidates before you vote by reading their responses to key issues facing the Grand Ledge School District.

Here (below) are candidates in their own words. To return to the main election package, click here.

Meet the candidates

Jason Devenbaugh: I have 17 years of management experience which includes being in the public eye and being there to hear their needs. As a manager, I watch P&Ls daily. Working with a group of people like I do to come up with a plan that will work is important. I have been a community member for several years and I am invested in the School District as I have 3 children that are Comets. I want to make a positive change in the district and give back to the community.

Denis DuFort: I have served on the Grand Ledge Public Schools Board of Education for the last six years. During that time I earned the MI Board of Education Member Certification Award as well as the Level Two Award of Merit through the MI Association of School Boards. I have a M. Ed in Language & Literacy from MSU and a Bach. Degree in Elem. Ed. From Oakland University. I retired from a career in education after serving in a variety of roles for 3+ years. Continuing to serve my community in the field I know and am passionate about is an important part of who I am.

Ashley Kuykendoll: I am the most qualified candidate for the Grand Ledge Public School Board of Education because I am an involved parent and professional who understands the importance of education, collaboration, and execution for the success of the district. As a candidate, I am willing to do the work necessary to review concerns from multiple vantage points and make sound, data driven decisions. GLPS is a great district where I would like to see continued progression and positive momentum in serving the needs of all students.

Ashley Oneil: I have over 13 years of combined analytical, project management/lead, and analysis experience. Working large groups and departments to discuss what the end desire is and what needs to be done to achieve those goals. My family has been lifelong residents of Grand Ledge where both of my parents and I graduated from high school. I have three children who have either graduated or are currently students in Grand Ledge. I want to give back to the community and district that our family has been members of and loved for 30 plus years.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe (candidate for partial term seat): I want to hold this position because I care about students and believe that all students can learn and deserve the opportunity to learn. As a career educator I have given 100% to putting my belief into action. Serving on the school board is yet another opportunity for me to support students, families, and the community. I am qualified because I have taught in elementary, middle and high school, college, and community education classrooms. Additionally, I worked for fourteen combined years in Human Resource Management for the City of Lansing and State of Michigan.

Kim Laforet (candidate for partial term seat): Having created and run a successful business since 1976, I’ve had to negotiate and work with people of all walks of life, which has given me an advantage of helping to achieve win-win negotiations in many situations. In addition, I have been involved in education all of my life; from formal schooling to advanced courses taken, not for the certificate or degree, but for personal enrichment. I am bothered by the divisiveness in our schools today and hope to alleviate that by allowing ALL parties to have a voice and be heard.

Most pressing issue facing the district

Jason Devenbaugh: School safety and security. With the number of school shootings that have been going on, we need to put this at the front of our attention. I want to come up with a plan to have more secure buildings, where we make it one way in and one way out during the school day. Better protocol on allowing people into the buildings. Let's look into hiring security guards during school hours or find ex-first responders or military to come and stand guard at our schools. I want to make sure teachers and staff have better training on how to handle an active shooter.

Denis DuFort: Continuous growth for EVERY student. We need to continue to follow our recently established Strategic Plan, which states “GLPS will provide every student a high-quality education, critical thinking skills, and social development to reach their highest potential in a safe and inclusive environment.” This is not an easy target and will require continuous monitoring and smaller more specific goals to reach and maintain. It cannot be accomplished without the input of every member of the team.

Ashley Kuykendoll: One pressing issue facing the district is how we improve the standing to be ranked as a top-tier excellent school throughout the State and nation. I would suggest evaluating and prioritizing programs that have been researched and supported through data to increase student learning. Proven strategies to recover learning loss include: district wide one-on-one tutoring programs, emphasis on integrating classroom lessons into various after-school and support activities; individualized learning plans with targeted concentration on comprehension gaps; focus on expanding community partnership with established and vetted organizations, growing capacity to provide more individualized student attention.

Ashley Oneil: I think there are two issues facing the district; budget and parents/community involvement. Currently to assist with the budget shortfall a plan was discussed to not hire teachers or aids to replace those that were leaving the district and also open school of choice for the 2022/2023 school year. This is of concern with the possibility of increased class sizes and additional stress on our teachers and aids. Parents/community involvement — our current board fails to listen to and communicate with parents who speak out with frustrations or questions. The board should be there for parents and community members and should be replying to them when they are asking for answers.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe: The most pressing issue facing the district is bridging the academic, social, and emotional gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. To address this I would suggest spending additional ARPA funds and pursuing partnerships with donors, non-profit organizations, and corporations. Creating public and private partnerships will potentially generate more funding to address these gaps.

Kim Laforet: Even after COVID-19 relief funds, one of the most pressing issues at Grand Ledge Public Schools is their budget shortfall for the 2022-2023 school year, estimated at 5 million dollars. The solution to this shortfall voted on by our current board is to open up the schools to school of choice unlimited, while reducing teacher and aide headcount by 30 teachers and 17 aides. This may balance the budget, but I do not see how it is acting in the best interest of our students or teachers.

On diversity, equity and inclusion

Jason Devenbaugh: To ensure a fair and equitable education for all students regardless of ability, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. I feel every student should feel welcome and safe when they enter one of our schools. So I feel that we need to eliminate all flags except the American and State of Michigan Flag. All political propaganda needs to stay out of the schools as this makes some feel uncomfortable and not welcomed. Doing this will make all students feel welcome as students today are more accepting of each other than in years past.

Denis DuFort: To ensure a fair and equitable education for all students regardless of ability, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. One tangible action would be to seek out and retain a diverse and highly qualified staff for every position in our district.

Ashley Kuykendoll: One tangible action GLPS can focus on is creating a framework designed to establish continuity, awareness, and expand education of cultural competency for administrators, teachers, and staff. The development and implementation of a well thought-out/robust professional learning curriculum focused around diversity, equity, and inclusion will allow staff to identify areas of unconscious bias and strategies to mitigate unintended impacts. Equipping adults with these strategies and skills will help them to better identify inappropriate comments and/or behaviors in the school. This will add greater support to each student and help build educational environments that are welcoming and safe to all.

Ashley Oneil: Policy created regarding flags displayed in all buildings. Only the state of Michigan and the United States flags to be displayed. This would allow students to feel comfortable in classrooms no matter what their belief is. When a student walks into a room with a teacher displaying flags that they may not agree with they are uncomfortable and feel unwelcomed.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe: One action would be to gather input from students; this could be done by hosting listening sessions that are safe & respectful where they can speak to power. After these sessions it is important that the input of the students be included in creating educational opportunities that are fair and equitable.

Kim Laforet: One simple action the local schools can take to address the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion is to remove all flags from school buildings and classrooms except the U.S. flag and the State of Michigan flag. Then, topics that address diversity, equity and inclusion can be discussed in an age appropriate way in classrooms, with the students providing evidence to support their views, vs the teacher and administration telling them what their views should be. You cannot force someone to believe what you want them to and we will see no actual change until the topics are openly debated and each person allowed to prove their point with empathy and compassion for each other.

On COVID-19 and use of ARPA funds

Jason Devenbaugh: We need to put all of our focus and energy on the student's academics. We have seen since COVID that testing scores have dropped and we are below the state average. We need to add more tutoring programs for students that need help with their schooling. Also giving teachers the resources they need to help bring our test scores back up.

Denis DuFort: Our priority needs to be maintaining a safe and healthy environment in every building while minimizing long absences due to COVID and other severe illnesses. ARPA funds allowed for hiring of additional nursing staff, testing sites and protocols, better ventilation systems and online learning options. We were also able to provide a free summer school program for interested students and staff in a flexible and creative way that provided additional options for social and academic growth.

Ashley Kuykendoll: The district’s priority coming out of COVID-19 should be students first. Overcoming student learning loss, ensuring student safety, providing student resources for wellness, etc. There are many factors to consider when prioritizing spending for a district and it can be difficult to articulate an exact plan without knowing all the factors of influence. With that in mind, some of the areas I would consider as priorities to evaluate are maintaining student-to-teacher ratio that maximize opportunities for student engagement and academic achievement and evaluating facility safety, required maintenance, and necessary infrastructure for students in the district.

Ashley Oneil: The district's main priority should be the student and where they stand academically and what they may need to hit the benchmark of their grade. If they have fallen behind the priority should be in providing any resource available and necessary to help them. This should include but not limited to tutoring and additional teachers/aids to assist those who are behind.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe: The district’s priority is to create a safe environment for students & employees, to be and stay in school. This can be done by using ARPA funds to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), retrofitting classrooms, as well as, providing online learning and resources for families who need or choose to participate in the Distance Learning Program. Additionally, ARPA funds should be used to address academic gaps through summer school, summer camps, and the online resources that are used throughout the school year.

Kim Laforet: As two-thirds of the Grand Ledge third-graders are NOT proficient in reading, according to MI School Data, extra tutoring and assistance should go to those students in need by hiring tutors and teachers to help those students catch up. If a child cannot read, they cannot learn.

On gun violence among young people

Jason Devenbaugh: We need to make sure all staff and students are following the policies that are set up. We need to keep all doors locked and shut at all times. This should be monitored throughout the day. We need to make sure we have Active Shooter Training done before the school year. They already have drills that are done 3 times a year. I believe they need to be a surprise and catch everyone off guard so we can evaluate our shortfalls.

Denis DuFort: Building positive relationships with students and their families to earn their trust and respect is a critical step that may prevent many difficult situations from escalating. Providing and encouraging support can be highly effective to promote a safe and healthy environment. Having school social workers, counselors and other resources readily available may allow students who are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges find other more positive solutions. Teaching them how to advocate for themselves in a positive way to get the support they need can be a valuable life lesson. Our children need to have their immediate social and emotional needs met. Adding physical improvements to our buildings, staff training, working with local law enforcement teams, practicing safety drills are other ways we currently work on to keep children and staff physically safe.

Ashley Kuykendoll: As a mother of students currently enrolled in Grand Ledge Public Schools I believe student and community safety is a top priority. The school board member’s role and responsibility is to collaboratively and effectively work with the school administration in providing the best education and environment possible. Ideally, the board will be the bridge between the administration and the community. As a board member I would continue elevating conversations, strategies, and resources around safety.

Ashley Oneil: Our schools should be safe and secure at all times for our students and staff. Active shooter training should be held for all teachers and staff in every building and on our buses. Doors should always be locked with limited access into and out of the buildings during the day. Up to date security cameras should be installed inside and outside of all buildings. There should be more than one security officer for an entire school district. Communication with parents and the community on safety protocols.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe: The school board cannot address this important issue alone, however, the board can take the lead on collaborating with faith-based organizations, families, law enforcement and the Grand Ledge community to assist young people in identifying their purpose. Many young people are hopeless and have a difficult time seeing how school relates to the real world. Tangible actions include supporting after school programs, intramural sports, mentorship programs, internships, and career & technical education.

Kim Laforet: Simple solutions should be first employed, such as locking all doors and only allowing those in that have a specific reason to enter the building. Many of our school doors are still left open or unlocked or the visitor is buzzed in without knowing what they may be there for or even who they are. We have given first responder training, but we need to train teachers and staff what to do BEFORE first responders arrive. The first 30 seconds of an attack are the most imperative; no responder can physically arrive in that time period. More extensive training needs to be done for school personnel, not a one time training event that only tells them what they should do when the school is breached. How to avoid the breach in the first place, and what to do before responders arrive are the most valuable tools our teachers and staff can have.

Other issues of import

Jason Devenbaugh: Over the past couple of years, we have had a board that doesn’t listen and cares about what families' concerns are. It fell on deaf ears to the point that one board member said “Since I was elected I don't have to listen to the community anymore.” The community needs to be heard and responded to. We also had a board member call a student a liar at a meeting and humiliated her. There is no accountability for this board and there should be accountability. I will listen and respond to all community members when issues are brought up.

Denis DuFort: We live in a fast-paced and ever-changing world and I believe we need to more deliberately and proactively respond to our learners’ needs as it ties into their future success. Continuing to develop and provide more classes that are diverse and exciting for our students such as hands-on, project-based learning, robotics, and gaming development. Continuing to build and enrich our Career and Technology Education (CTE) and early college offerings with local partners. Developing more relationships with local business to provide learning opportunities like job shadowing, apprenticeships and internships may be another avenue to explore. Exposing our younger learners to a variety of potential career exploration is yet another way to build excitement and enrich our learners to own their learning and commitment to the educational process.

Ashley Kuykendoll: GLPS has done a great job increasing transparency. The Board Member Packet is available online prior to the meeting and a recording of the session, along with meeting notes, are posted online for the community to engage with. One positive change that has been occurring in the district that isn’t on the radar of many people is the addition of career and technical education (CTE) opportunities that will be available to students in high school. It is important for students to gain exposure to career opportunities and develop skills. Additional messaging and communication to parents could create awareness.

Ashley Oneil: Over the last six months one item that has been brought up by a parent multiple times is the privacy of our students and their personal information being used or given without parental knowledge or permission.

Toni Hughes Glasscoe: The number of school age children is dwindling and this means that although we have enjoyed enrollment numbers that have supported the many options that we offer our students, we are going to have to become more creative in keeping and attracting families. In order to offset the possibility of having fewer students in the district, it is essential that we collaboratively create opportunities to increase revenue through public/private partnerships, donors, and grants.

Kim Laforet: Several issues have been brought up by parents at Grand Ledge School Board meetings and they have fallen on deaf ears, as nothing has been addressed regarding them, other than lip service. One of them has to do with students’ privacy and personal protection regarding fingerprinting, another that the new bond funded pool that was built to NCAA standards and not MSHHA standards prompting many schools to refuse to dive at our new pool and the swim coach resigning, and yet another regarding a teacher that comes to class smelling of marijuana and sleeping during class time. Each of these issues should be taken seriously and addressed with the proper personnel so the policy changes or, in the case of the pool, meeting with parents, MSHHA and other authorities to see how this issue can be rectified.

This story was assembled from email questionnaires managed by LSJ news assistants Jayne Higo, Veronica Bolanos and Jack Moreland. Contact them at LSJ-EAs@lsj.com or 517.377.1112.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Election 2022: Grand Ledge School Board candidates in their own words