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Jacques: Is this the dream team for DPS board?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

With the November election just weeks away there isn’t a lot of time before Detroit voters will select a new school board for the debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Detroit school board candidates Penny Bailer, Sonya Mays, Mary Kovari and the Rev. Kevin Turman.

And they have a bunch of names to choose from. More than 70 candidates filed this summer for seven open seats, and the majority will appear on the ballot.

Several groups of candidates are banding together, realizing their campaigns will be more effective if they run as a slate. That’s important, given that nearly all of the current Detroit school board members have thrown their names into the mix and name recognition goes a long way in elections.

One cohort shows a lot of promise, and could bring the kind of leadership the struggling district desperately needs.

Penny Bailer, Mary Kovari, Sonya Mays and the Rev. Kevin Turman are calling themselves the “A+ Team,” and are hosting a fundraiser Monday to boost awareness of their campaigns and explain why they want a seat at the DPS table. They make a good case, and all have strong Detroit credentials.

“I don’t think the system is preparing students with a basic education foundation that allows them to go off and pursue the interests they have,” says Mays, who made a successful career on Wall Street. “I find it heartbreaking.”

Mays, a Detroit native and DPS graduate, returned to her hometown from New York to help Detroit through its bankruptcy. She worked as a financial adviser to former emergency manager Kevyn Orr. Mays has remained in Detroit and started the nonprofit Develop Detroit to offer new housing options and real estate projects in city neighborhoods.

“I feel like I have a specific skill set,” Mays says. “I have a strong finance background.”

Mary Kovari brings first-hand schools experience. As a former DPS parent, teacher and principal, Kovari understands the challenges the district faces. She says witnessing the district’s decline prompted her to run, and she wants to improve teacher training and resources and boost academics.

“I see the issues from a very distinct perspective,” says Kovari. “I feel like I have a lot to offer in terms of experience. I continue to believe in education as the longest lever for closing economic gaps.”

Bailer boasts a strong resume of working with young people and caring about education, including a stint as member of the DPS school board in the 1990s. Most recently, she was executive director of City Year Detroit. Prior to that, she headed the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council.

Turman is senior pastor at the Second Baptist Church in Detroit, where he has served for more than two decades. He has an impressive academic background, with degrees from Harvard and Yale.

Although he’s running with a different group, Brandon Brice also deserves attention. After spending time on the East Coast, Brice came back to Detroit to offer his expertise in the nonprofit and fundraising realm. He’s an advocate of the district’s return to local control, but he also is a proponent of parental choice and stewardship of the city’s tax dollars. In addition, Brice would like more focus on the skilled trades at DPS, which have been long neglected.

“We need to make a collective call to action,” Mays says. “If we get the right group of people with the right plan, things can improve. We have enough talent in Detroit to solve it.”

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques