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Questionnaire: MI State Representative District #45 – Joanna VanRaaphorst (D)

July 28, 2014

Rochester SAGE sent a questionnaire to each candidate for State Representative District #45. Here are Joanna VanRaaphorst’s responses.


Joanna VanRaaphorst – Candidate for State Representative District #45 – Mother of two children who attended Rochester Community Schools and graduated 2008 and 2010.



Thank you for the opportunity to share with you again my views on Special and Gifted Education. First, I must share that coming from an educator’s family (my late father was a middle school counselor, my late mother-in-law taught advanced high school science and my twin sister currently teaches 5th grade) I feel that ALL children are special and gifted each in their own way. Case in point would be my own two children. One excelled in math and science while the other’s English and social skills were always off the charts!

Two years ago, I spoke with the following people to answer your questions: Dr. John Schultz, former school supt., Barb Cenko, former RCS School Board member, Beth Talbert, current school board member, Dr. Zumsteg, the interim RCS Supt. and Carolyn Matzinger, 5th grade teacher.

Since then I have meet with Irene Larson, Assessment Director for RCS and Michael Berhmann, Director of Curriculum. I’ve also attended 12 various PTA/PTSA meetings.

1)    Currently most gifted students in Michigan’s public schools are not being taught at their academic level.  As a legislator, what bills would you support to increase gifted education?

I would be supportive of any bill, which help schools meet the individual needs of our children. This would include special needs children, children in poverty, and gifted and talented children.


2)    Gifted students make up about 5-7% of the population.  Should taking a class in teaching gifted students be part of becoming a Highly Qualified Teacher?  Why or why not?


Highly qualified teachers are teachers who teach in their specific area of study. My understanding is a part of all current teaching training is being able to differentiate for children of various ability levels, including those with higher abilities.



3)    Schools often claim lack of funding is the primary reason they can’t provide gifted education.  Should the state allocate funds for gifted education?  Why or why not?


I am extremely concerned about school funding. I would like to protect the funding sources for all of our students. If we were able to increase overall funding for schools, I would support providing some monies to increase the teaching and learning of academically high ability students. However, I do not want to allocate funding for one group of students at the expense of another group of students. I think we need a stable and continuous source of funding for all students. More funding would enable class sizes to decrease, giving every teacher more time to address the needs of all her/his students.


Case in point was the recent REDUCTION of funding from the State (in June 2014) to RCS of over $500,000.


4)    Should the state mandate identification or services for gifted and talented education in public schools?  Why or why not?


I understand from my numerous education friends that identification of gifted and talented children needs to have a multifaceted approach. I would rather local school districts determine research-based identification and services for gifted and talented students rather than leaving this up to the state.


5)    Many parents of gifted children believe gifted charter schools are the best option for properly educating gifted learners.  Would you support gifted charter schools?  Why or why not?

I am supportive of a limited number of charter schools in low achieving and high poverty areas. I have five concerns with a charter school that only accepted children of a certain ability level. One, it is unconstitutional for a public school to turn away students based on ability. Two, as we have witness with the recent slew of articles about charter schools, I do not want any more created until there is better accountability of how our tax payers dollars are being spent. Three, I would worry that this type of school in a high achieving district like Rochester would siphon already limited dollars to our Rochester Community Schools. Four, I object to for-profit charter schools such as those supported by the DeVos family. Finally, I would be concerned that the identification process would be so narrow that a child who is both a special needs child and gifted would not be allowed in the school.

I know from my own children’s experience in our public schools here in Rochester that their education was enhanced greatly from interacting with children of all abilities. For example, my son was captain of the Stoney Creek Swim team and their members included two young men with Downs Syndrome who contributed to the team in their own special way. My son and his team learned valuable lessons from these teammates and built his appreciation for those who differed from him.

In addition, my children were able to take advanced classes (AP or Honors) in numerous subjects, as did many of their peers. Many of our students start college with quite a few college credits under their belt, including my own.   To me, this interaction with a whole host of children it is the best of all possible learning environment.

Finally, it is incumbent on parents of all students, to augment their child’s education. Just like many parents, my husband and I have taken our children to dozens of art and science museums, had them do homework and reading over the summer, traveled to many places to learn about other cultures, hosted an exchange student from France and in general supplemented their education.


Publication of this questionnaire and responses does not imply an endorsement of a candidate.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted children!

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