By Jennifer LaTosch
Every doorstep, mailbox and email account across Michigan has undoubtedly been inundated these past few weeks with political fliers and requests for campaign contributions. Hopefully by now everyone acknowledges the importance of exercising their right to vote this upcoming Nov. 4 and will make their way to the ballot boxes. While there, don’t forget the names at the bottom of the ballot. While at your local polling location, do vote for the top spots of Governor, Attorney General, U.S. Senate, Michigan Supreme Court… and then vote the ENTIRE ballot, all the way down to your local school board candidates.
Local school board elections are often over-looked by voters – especially voters without school-aged children; yet they are critically important to creating and maintaining the growing, dynamic communities that we lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people want to live in. No matter how thriving a city, it will never rise to its fullest potential if its local public schools don’t likewise thrive.
I live in Ferndale, Michigan. It’s arguably one of the most vibrant and “hip” towns in the state. Economically, Ferndale is also on the rise; it was just recognized as having the most real estate growth in all of Oakland County since the recession. Unfortunately, the growth and cultural climate of our schools has not matched our city’s vibrancy. There was a time when I did not realize how much impact a local school district could have on the viability of a town, but now I know differently.
When my (now) wife and I bought our first home in Ferndale in 1995, we wanted to live in a community that was open and diverse. When we started our family, we were also determined to live in a community where our kids would be proud to say, “I have two moms.” Ferndale is all we could ever want on these two fronts. At the same time, it was just as important to us for our kids to have access to the best education. Unfortunately, when our kids were infants, we saw many families either move out of the Ferndale Public School district or send their kids to out-of-district or private schools. They were leaving because they weren’t satisfied with the public schools – and neither were we. We had a decision to make: either we could leave Ferndale, or we could stay and do our part to make the schools better. We decided to stay.
Beginning with the 2012 school board election, other voters like us were energized to make a change in the Ferndale school district, and we made our voices heard at the polls. That year, four new board members were voted into office. With only a total of seven serving at any given time, it was an impactful election. Holding true to their platforms, the new board began to make significant changes and to strategically plan for the future of our schools. Holding true to my own promise of involvement, I made a commitment to our schools and applied for an open appointee position on the board of education. I can honestly say that when I came out in my early 20s, I never in a million years thought I’d one day be appointed to the school board. Yet if there was ever the right school district to have an out school board member, it would be Ferndale.
I am now running to retain my school board seat on a ticket with my fellow incumbents, Nan Kerr-Mueller and Karen Twomey. We, along with the four board members who were elected in 2012, are working hard to make sure our schools are dynamic, vibrant and successful – like our town. We are working on issues like raising student achievement across all lines, ensuring that children with special education needs have the resources they need to be successful and providing students with a safe, supportive and encouraging learning environment where they can thrive.
Further, we know that our diversity and our difference are our strengths. Supporting and strengthening that diversity to ensure all students can be successful is key. I am proud to say that we are already making visible change to our schools and our school culture.
There are several wonderful, vibrant towns all across Michigan. Support your local public school system to ensure that your town becomes or maintains its status as a vibrant community. Good schools foster strong communities and develop caring and educated world citizens. If you don’t know who to vote for in your community, ask a neighbor, read the flier on your doorstep, talk to those you respect in your community and find out how your vote for the local school board can change your town.