August 13, 2014 - Having gone through Oxford Community Schools K-12 and being a 2013 graduate, Noah Stevens said he noticed a few things while he was in school that could be changed, which is why he is running for the Oxford School Board.
Stevens (click for larger version)
"I decided to put my name in the hat (of candidates) just to see if people had the same concerns that I did," Stevens said.
What are his concerns?
While in high school, Stevens said the district was doing a lot of technology updates, but he's not sure if the technology was completely for the benefit of the students.
"One (update) was they put smart boards in every classroom at the high school, which was an awesome thing because it helped teachers connect with technology and it helped us as students see where the teachers are coming from more easily," he said. "Then they also put TV's throughout the school. The TV's were not a very beneficial thing as a student or as a teacher or administrator. Those are two the differentials I am trying to focus on, more towards the smart boards, less towards plasma TVs."
Stevens noted that the technology improvements were part of the one of two bond proposals that were voted on during 2009, the "technology bond" passed with 50.5 percent "yes" votes. The second bond proposal was more for athletic fields and failed with only 38.7 percent "yes" votes and 61.30 percent "no" votes.
Stevens believes the way the votes went shows what's important to Oxford citizens.
"It portrays that our residents' priorities lie not necessarily in having the nicest things to play on, but rather having the correct tools to be able to succeed in education. In spite of the second bond proposal being voted down, the school district ended up constructing the synthetic field," he said. "The maintenance and eventual replacement of this unapproved field will be passed onto the taxpayers. In addition, the board constructed a whole new football stadium at Oxford Middle School, new tennis courts at Oxford High School…This shows how our board got off track on what is best for the students in the district, in favor of outward appearances."
Stevens is also skeptical of how spending money for extravagant televisions and neon lights for the Oxford Arts Conservatory is a benefit for the students. While he believes the bonds are just "one way the board has sidestepped taxpayers," another example is the board administration office located in downtown Oxford as a way to "attract parents and bring kids to Oxford."
"The board should focus on the students that currently reside in Oxford before using resources on others," he added, which is why he is against Oxford being a "Schools of Choice" district.
"We should attract people to move into Oxford rather than bus them from other school districts. We have subdivisions in Oxford growing rapidly, including Oxford Lakes, Waterstone, Willow Lake, and others," Stevens continued. "If we encourage growth within our district while providing quality education, we will see our student population grow without having to have schools of choice."
When it comes to bringing in students from elsewhere, Stevens can't seem to see a benefit in building a dormitory to house Chinese students from Oxford's sister schools either.
"Our main focus is to get kids ready for secondary education or a job. If we bring in even 100 students from China, how does that benefit the average Oxford student? I would say that's taking time away from teachers or from administrators that could be more focused towards the students that are already here," he said. "I do think learning about the cultures and having sister schools is OK, but to the extent they are taking it, I'm not sure we're focused on the right things currently."
As board member, Stevens would like to see which programs are working and which ones are not. One that comes to mind is the International Baccalaureate Program.
"As a student, I observed that teachers had to take time out of teaching their respective subjects in order to go over the IB Learner Profile," he added. "Although some teachers did incorporate it in their lesson plans very well, it still seemed unnecessary for a student that wasn't even enrolled in the IB program."
However, since Oxford has already spent the money and is IB certified in every school, Stevens said that perhaps they should keep the program going a little longer to get a further assessment of how it's benefiting the students and the test scores.
Speaking of test scores, Stevens sees a need to change the exam policy, which allows a student to opt out of a final exam if they have three absences or less and a passing grade of 68 percent (a D+).
"I just finished my first year in college and that first semester when I had to take exams was a complete shock to me. In high school, I loved it because I didn't have to study for exams, but what kid wouldn't," he explained. "Now as I am looking back, that did not benefit me at all. More than not, kids went to secondary education, where did (not taking the final) help anybody?"
What are some highlights?
As far as highlights of the district go, Stevens praised both the auto program at the high school and the engineering program. While he wasn't involved in either of the programs, his friends were and he saw the benefit it had for them. Many of his friends, he said, are attending Michigan Tech.
"Since Michigan Tech is an engineering focused school and with that background they had at the engineering program at Oxford I believe it set them up for success," he said. "I think that's what we should be trying to strive for (in every program.)"
Stevens is getting ready to enter his second year at Oakland Community College, since education is important to him, Stevens wants to give his all "to improving the Oxford School district."
"My ultimate goal is for the school board to become more transparent. As an Oxford school board member we will have board meetings in public where residents can express their opinions," he said. "We need to analyze the schools finances and see exactly how the money is being spent. When we can assure the money is being spent efficiently it will achieve a world-class education for our students."
"Oxford is an amazing place to be right now. By becoming a board member, I hope to preserve that essence," Stevens continued. "I know that Oxford has many good years ahead of it and we as a community are going to grow. I hope that with growth we will learn from our mistakes and make a better future for not only ourselves but for our next generation."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.