Melissa Girmscheid has been in education since 2000. A physics and mathematics high school and community college instructor, she has devoted her career to making sure all students have equal access to high-quality educational programs like her children did in the Peoria School District.
To that end, Ms. Girmscheid has declared her candidacy to become a member of the Peoria School Board. Thinking the board could benefit from the voice of an experienced teacher and education policy wonk, she if elected, would work on data-driven solutions to the teacher retention crisis. She would also endeavor to provide greater opportunities for Peoria students to help shape district educational policy and procedures.
Ms. Girmscheid graciously took the time to respond to questions about her candidacy for the Peoria School Board.
The questions and her responses are below.
- What are at least two reasons you would like to run for the Peoria School District Governing Board?
“I’ve been an educator since 2000, and I’m also one of those people who like studying what has gone on in public education in the United States. I’m a third-generation public school teacher so it’s just kind of part of how I grew up and how I was raised. Public education has been under attack since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, however, it seems like in the last five years it’s gotten much worse. As a teacher, it feels like we’ve gone from being attacked as a general thing to being attacked personally and I’m not one of those people that would like to stand on the sidelines. I’ve been studying educational policy for a long time. I was part of a group in 2017 that worked with the State Legislature to get legislation passed for teacher scholarships. We repeated that in 2018. I was part of a master teacher policy fellowship through the American Institute of Physics in 2018 and 19. And so when I started feeling like this attack became personal, I thought, if not me, then who. I have a lot of educational policy expertise, and this was the perfect time for me to step forward and put that to work. One of the other reasons is my kids went to Peoria schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and they had a fabulous experience. They had access to great programs in Peoria. They had fantastic teachers. They got the overall experience that I would want any kid to have and looking at that I would love for all 37,000 Peoria Unified students to have access to all those programs and experiences. One of the big reasons I’m running is I would love to make that happen. I want all those kids to be able to have the best possible education. Being someone who has not only had that for my children but has experienced it as a teacher, I want to work to make that happen.”
- Please tell the reader what two qualifications are at least you have to serve on the Peoria School Board.
“Number one, I have been an educator since 2000. There’s a little break in there when I stayed home for my kids and now I’m in my 15th year of teaching, 16th year in education overall. I believe that in any field, the people who know it the best are the people who are practicing. Being someone who’s been a practicing educator for that long, I can bring a wealth of knowledge about education and teaching to the school board. It’s very helpful for any governing board to have someone who is practicing in that field as an active member.
I also have a wealth of educational policy background and being a member of the school board means that policy is going to be my jam. The policy is what the school board sets. I’m not there to micromanage. I’m there to set policy and I am a complete policy nerd. I’ve been studying education policy for a long time, and I am ready to make sure that that policy fits what we need to move forward in Peoria.”
- If elected, what are at least two education-related issues you would champion as a member of the Peoria governing board?
“The top issue is educator retention. I hear in the news all the time that we have a teacher shortage. We have an educator retention crisis. I specifically say educator and not teacher, because classroom teachers, we have a retention crisis, but also every other person who works in schools, we have a retention crisis. It’s just all around. It’s nationwide. It’s statewide. As a member of the board, there are things that I could do to help Peoria specifically. We can say that it’s salary, that paying people more would help keep them. But being someone who’s worked in the field for a while, salary’s not the only thing. Working conditions are a huge part of it. Respect is a huge part of it. I would love to be able to sit down with educators in the room, and that means everyone from the people who fix the buses over in transportation, to our food service personnel, to our paraprofessionals, to our front office staff, to the classroom teachers, counselors, social workers, administrators, and figure out what we can do to keep more people in Peoria. I know as part of the bond and override PAC years back that we were talking about how much money it takes to recruit and train new people, and new staff, and it is expensive. Every time they lose somebody, it’s costing the district money in recruiting and training someone new so it just makes sense to stem the outflow of people so we can put more money into the classroom instead. I know that educator retention ensures continuity for families. When my kids went through elementary school, they would get a teacher they loved and my older child would tell my younger child, wait till you have Mrs. So-and-So, and in the meantime, if something causes Mrs. So-and-So to leave the classroom or leave the profession or leave Peoria, then it’s going to cause a change in the climate in the school. Keeping more staff in Peoria makes a huge difference. That would be my top priority. I think it would change a lot to make sure that we’re not losing as many people.”
“The other issue is the student’s voice. As a high school teacher, students’ voice is a huge part of what I do, and I absolutely love it. When I see a student get up for public comment I think, wow, this is going to be great because a student speaks about their learned experience. Not a secondhand anecdote or a thirdhand account because the kids are the ones experiencing education in the classroom on our campuses every single day. Governing board members could do a lot more to make sure student voices are heard. I would love to see students consulted on everything from discipline to curriculum to the school calendar. Having them as part of the decision-making process would be amazing. Years ago, a governing board member put together the SEATS program – Students Engaging with Administrators, Teachers, and Staff. They bring together high school students, and now they have a middle school program as well, so they can hear from students. I would love to see more of that. Having students on committees and giving their take on issues would be helpful. Making sure that we get more students speaking at board meetings and more children who can contribute would make a huge difference.”
- Please describe your views on the legislature’s attempts to ban certain types of books, mandate a distorted version of history education, and discriminate against children in the LGBTQ community.
“I think every single one of those things is born out of fear. I’m a huge reader. I grew up absolutely loving to read, and my first job at Peoria Unified was as a library paraprofessional. Reading something where the character has a different life experience than their own helps students to empathize with those people. You empathize with the main character, and it can cause you to think critically about your own experiences. That’s a parental conversation, and they’re just banning books instead. They’re interfering with the rights of parents to have those conversations with their kids. I didn’t want my children to read The Shining in fifth grade as I did but that’s for me, as a parent, to decide for my children. It’s not for me as a parent to say nobody can read books that I don’t like. I shouldn’t be parenting other people’s children by doing that. When I worked in the school library, we did have kids whose parents didn’t want them to read certain books. It was easy to write down what class they were in, who they were, and what they weren’t allowed to read. Every time that class came in, I could have a conversation with that student and help them pick out something different. Having these bills go through the legislature when we all know they’re going to be vetoed is such a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.”
“As for history education, there’s that saying that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. When we don’t teach the truth in history class, what we are doing is taking away our kids’ ability to see sociological patterns, to observe things that are happening that have happened before, and to act to stop those things from happening. If Germany can teach their youth about the actions of the German government in the twenties, thirties, and forties, then we in the United States can teach what has been going on since Christopher Columbus set foot on Hispaniola. It’s one hundred percent born out of fear. Society is changing and some people don’t like that. Fortunately, they’re the minority and I wish that the legislature would stop wasting taxpayers’ time and money on this.”
“When it comes to LGBTQ rights, our founding documents state that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights. Somehow, the legislature forgot that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every time I hear any of our legislators speak on this, what comes to my head is they don’t understand that there is a fundamental difference between gender, biological sex, and sexual attraction. The transgender bathroom debate is big news in Peoria Unified right now. It’s important to remember these are children. When someone says a student may be attacked in the bathroom, they’re sexualizing children. If the real issue is feeling someone’s in danger of violence on a school campus, then we need to address the violence on the school campus. This danger is not coming from our LGBTQ students. They are our most vulnerable kids, and we should be doing everything we can to protect them and to make them feel safe. All our kids should feel safe. They should feel represented on campus. They should feel honored as individuals and humans and these attacks from adults who should know better and who are strategically ignoring all the scientific evidence, empathy, and humanity are creating a problem that simply isn’t there.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first four questions that you would like the readers to know about you and your candidacy for the Peoria School Board? Please explain.
“I am a physics and math teacher. My whole philosophy is based on logic and science, and being a scientist and a mathematician, I base my decisions on data. As a member of the governing board, I will use data to drive all my decisions. Sometimes that could go against my personal beliefs, but if the data shows that a decision needs to be made, then that’s what I’m going to use. I teach my students that science is amoral and apolitical. When faced with statistics, statistics don’t have beliefs. Science doesn’t have beliefs. Science just is. I think that a governing board member needs to be able to look at the information gathered because they serve the community, families, students, and educators. If that survey indicates that a certain action needs to be taken, then that needs to be honored. That’s how I make a lot of decisions.”
“Another of my goals as a governing board member will be to not only listen to educators and students in the district but make connections with families. I think we’ve broken that. I think it’s been broken, maybe not that it was something that Peoria did, but that there are a lot of outside influences causing this divide between the home and the school. I will help eliminate that divide and bring things back together. I plan to bring back events like town halls where we can get conversations happening instead of the one-way conversation that happens at board meetings. It needs to be more of a conversation, and we can get that back.”
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