An 18-member panel discusses education during Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s visit to Novi High School Aug. 24.

An 18-member panel discusses education during Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s visit to Novi High School Aug. 24.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Governor discusses issues in education with Novi Schools

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published September 8, 2022


NOVI — Select members of the Novi Community School District kicked off the school year by participating in a roundtable discussion on pertinent issues in public education with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Novi High School Aug. 24.

The district was selected to be the first of several stops on Whitmer’s Back-to-School Tour. The discussion, which was led by district Superintendent Ben Mainka, included parents, teachers, staff and students.

Participants were selected to represent various roles in the education of local students. The 18-member panel included two students: seniors Krisha Ramani, Michigan student governor; and Katherine Youmans, who aspires to be a teacher.

Seven parents affiliated with Parent Teacher Organizations took part: Lesley Tauro, Shavonne Crimes, Peri Palaniappan, Mary Hocking, Glen Stroup, Christine Long and David Dean. Novi Board of Education President and parent Danielle Ruskin was on the panel, as were two teachers — Chris Capuano, of Novi High School, and Shalini Prasad-Heintz, of Village Oaks Elementary School.

There were two counselors on the panel: Sarah Lephart, of Novi High School, and Audry Moiseeff, of Novi Meadows Elementary School; and a student teacher, Logan Carter, who is doing her student teaching at Novi Woods Elementary School. Novi Police Detective Julie Warren, the school resource officer at Novi Middle School, completed the panel with the superintendent and the governor.

“Regardless of anybody’s political affiliation, it’s kind of a big deal when the governor of the state of Michigan chooses your district,” said Heather Burnside, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Novi Meadows Elementary School and the president of the Novi Education Association. “I thought that was exciting to have her here and listening to the perspective of the people who are kind of boots on the ground, who are in it every day. Whether it was students or parents or staff, I thought that was really great. She was a very good listener.”

The conversation brought to the forefront several issues that school districts are facing statewide, including mental health, classroom investments, and teacher recruitment and retention.   The governor listened as the panel expressed their opinions on the various issues. According to a press release, Whitmer signed her fourth bipartisan education budget in July, which will make the highest state per-student investment in Michigan history; hire, train and recruit 10,000 teachers; expand on-campus mental health resources; build up school facilities; and more.

Lephart spoke of the impact that the shooting at Oxford High School last November had on the mental health of both students and staff. She said the incident still weighs heavily on their minds. Lephart also stressed that the competitive nature of the student population to achieve great success, and to perform at an advanced level, can create intense anxiety.

Whitmer said that the Oxford shooting was the most difficult thing she has had to deal with during her governorship, even more so than the pandemic, as children were killed in a place that was supposed to have been safe.

“Of all the hard issues we’ve had to deal with, and we’ve had a lot of hard issues lately, the day of the Oxford shooting was by far the hardest for me, because supporting a family that’s lost a child to gun violence, there’s nothing you can do or say to ease the burden from them,” said Whitmer. “All we can do is make sure we do the work to try to keep everyone safe in our schools.”

Ramani, a 12th grade student, said that young people are more connected than ever because of social media. She said that she has friends who attend Oxford High School, which is 40 miles away.

“It makes it so much more real when it is in our county, our state,” she said. “It is important that we are transparent with students too. Because of social media, we know what is going on in the world. We know what is happening in our state. We know what is happening in other states. The average student is so much more informed now, because of social media.”

Whitmer said that public education is very important to her, as she is a product of the public school system, along with her daughters, and she has several family members who are educators.

“As a mom, I know every parent wants to send their kids to school knowing they have the resources and support they need to start the school year off right,” Whitmer stated in a press release. “That’s why I’m grateful to get invaluable input from parents, teachers, and staff to ensure resources from the historic education budget I signed last month are used as effectively as possible. ... Together, we can improve your child’s in-class experience, and make sure they are on track for long-term success. I will work with anyone to help our kids learn and grow in-person.”

Whitmer has worked with leaders in education, students and parents to gain their perspectives throughout the budget process, according to a press release. She will continue engaging with students, parents, educators and experts into the school year, including more formally bringing parents into the policymaking process with the Michigan Parents’ Council, the release states.

“As public educators, we are extremely grateful for the investment that was made this year in our students, staff, and quite literally — our future here in Michigan,” Mainka stated in a press release. “The intentionality given to mental health, teacher recruitment and retention, and school infrastructure by Governor Whitmer and the legislature this year will benefit not only Novi Community School District, but the entire state of Michigan. We are extremely excited for an incredible school year, and support like this is exactly what Michigan schools need right now.”