County school board races are an aspect of election season that is all too frequently overshadowed by larger state or federal campaigns. And yet, public schools remain the heart of many communities– Livingston County included.
Four candidates are vying for two six-year terms on the Pinckney Community Schools Board of Education, as well as another two candidates competing for a partial three-year term. Of these six individuals, Michelle Crampo, Gayle Hurn, and Bill Wearne opted to respond to a candidate survey sent out by GIGO News. These three candidates, all incumbents, are running on a shared platform based on the philosophy of putting the best interests of students at the forefront of all decision-making. Crampo, Hurn, and Wearne are all endorsed by the Pinckney Education Association and the Michigan Education Association.
Current Board President Michelle Crampo was first appointed to the Pinckney school board in 2006. Over her 16 ½ years of service, Crampo notes that the experience has provided her with many opportunities to expand her knowledge of finance and curriculum, as well as allowing her to create relationships with teachers and administrators which facilitate collaborative problem-solving and district planning. Crampo has a bachelor’s in Business Administration with a focus on accounting and finance. This background greatly impacts her position on the board and the decisions made, particularly in her work on the finance committee.
Additionally, Crampo added that she’d also like to focus on finding teachers and creating a more financially secure district. These two goals are linked, as Crampo explains that acquiring and retaining high-quality educators relies heavily on careful spending and management.
Another of Crampo’s goals in pursuing reelection is continuing to forge a “strong, integrated academic education with the necessary social and emotional support to develop well-rounded contributing citizens.”
The best way to continue this practice, Crampo adds, is by using data as a driving force. A data-driven decision-making process allows the board to determine “the best resources to provide our teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to educate our students academically and socially.”
Through social media, Crampo also called out the misinformation being spread regarding Social Emotional Learning (SEL), encouraging parents and voters alike to educate themselves on the state’s SEL guidelines.
Having been appointed to the board earlier this year, Gayle Hurn is running for a partial term ending in 2026. As someone with experience in education, a passion for teaching, and 25 years of various public service endeavors, Hurn describes herself as a candidate who understands both the challenges and rewards of dedicating yourself in service to a community you care deeply about.”
As a parent of four young children, all of whom attend Pinckney Schools, Hurn is particularly concerned with expanding student access. Establishing and maintaining a state of long-term financial security would allow for the development of additional specialized classes designed to provide students with critical job skills. In addition, Hurn emphasizes the importance of facilitating an environment that promotes emotional well-being among students.
“In order for teachers and students to thrive,” Hurn told GIGO News, “we have to build an infrastructure of support that facilitates a positive educational experience for everyone.”
Hurn adds that a strong SEL program is crucial not only to the development of the school district but the community as a whole. Hurn’s ideal program is based on creative solutions to staffing shortages and ensuring that all students get the education they deserve. It sets the stage and provides students with the tools and skills necessary to “become citizens that value the diverse nature of humanity.”
Hurn has a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education as well as an MFA in Applied Drama and Theatre for the Young, both from Eastern Michigan University. She also serves as a professor at EMU, currently teaching an integrated art course for those pursuing careers in elementary education.
In his 4 ½ year tenure on the board, Bill Wearne has become well-acquainted with the challenges and strengths of Pinckney Community Schools.
Wearne notes that one of the greatest challenges the district has to contend with is the number of students who came to school unprepared to learn– academically and emotionally. To combat this, Wearne proposes additional social support for struggling students, allowing both students and teachers to get back on track and resume learning and teaching at the appropriate pace.
As a parent and a professional, Wearne elaborated that Pinckney does an exceptional job of “meeting each student at their level in each subject and providing individual support to ensure year-over-year growth.” This positive academic environment is no doubt due to another of the district’s strengths: a committed and caring staff dedicated to maintaining a culture of compassion and connection.
Wearne adds that the district’s implementation of the Orton-Gillingham approach to literacy for preschool to fifth grade. The district is continuing to train educators in this method for grades 6-12.
“Despite very tough times financially and through all of the COVID challenges, I feel our board and administrative team have positioned the district on a trajectory which will continue to allow us to serve our students, families, and the community as a whole while continuing to advance our staff,” Wearne shared. “We need to maintain the consistency and experience of our current board to keep things moving forward.”
The remaining three candidates declined to partake in GIGO News’ survey. Jessica Barefield, Stephanie Johnson, and Anne René LaVasseur are running a joint campaign on their shared Republican values. While none of these three candidates have taken any steps to interact with voters or share their platforms, the parts of their campaigns that are visible to the public are very much aligned with the usual conservative talking points. If the Livingston County Republican Party’s error-laden mailer is to be believed, Barefield, Johnson, and LaVasseur are stalwart advocates of the parents’ rights idealogy that’s characterized numerous school board races around the county. None of the women appear to be doing much conventional campaigning, opting instead to utilize Facebook for selective networking, interacting solely with those who share their beliefs. Essentially, it’s been a private campaign for public positions. As far as get-out-the-vote techniques go, it is certainly a unique approach.
Barefield and Johnson are both strong advocates of the Moms for Liberty platform: no masks, no mandates, no CRT/SEL, and a smattering of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment tossed in for good measure.
For reasons unknown, the mask debate that characterized the early phases of the COVID-19 Pandemic is alive and well represented in current conservative candidacies. The constant reiteration of refusal to wear a mask may be a moot point, as none of the Livingston County school districts require masks to be worn by students or staff.
However, the anti-mask platform has been a centerpiece of Jessica Barefield’s community presence for the past two years, and she appears to be thoroughly unwavering in her beliefs. The right-wing Livingston Lantern praises Barefield for her opposition to mask mandates and SEL. The conservative blog claims to be a resource for “the Constitutional Republic of Livingston County” and seeks to preserve conservative values by “protecting our son’s [sic] and daughter’s [sic] rights [sic] to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Several editorials are written under the pseudonym WeTheParents, a phrase frequently invoked by Moms for Liberty, so a connection between these two far-right factions is heavily inferred.
Unlike many candidates, Barefield doesn’t appear to have much experience in the realm of community service organizations. She did, however, organize a campaign for donations on behalf of former gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley following his arrest by the FBI.
Barefield’s campaign site calls her a “champion of children and teachers, with an emphasis on parental rights.” She goes on to assert her belief that schools are a support system for parents as compared to parents supporting schools. This statement makes Barefield’s candidacy all the more puzzling: what is the purpose of running for school board if not to support the school?
Barefield’s campaign appears to have been halted due to her campaign Facebook page being hacked.
Stephanie Johnson has remained exceptionally vague in most areas of her campaign. Her campaigning has been conducted primarily through a private Facebook group, and what little she’s deemed suitable for the public has been reiterations of Barefield’s idealogy.
Anne René LaVasseur, who’s competing with Gayle Hurn for the three-year partial term, cites 25 years of teaching experience in Washington and Hawai’i. At one point, she alleged to have been a former civics teacher, despite that her teaching license, issued and valid in the state of Hawai’i, lists her only certification as K-12 Art Education. LaVasseur’s own Facebook page confirms that, at least at the time of her retirement, she was teaching ceramics, not civics. LaVasseur claims to have lived in Washington, though Washington State’s teacher credentials are not available for public research. In addition, she also cites specialization in jewelry appraisal and house remodeling.
Anne René LaVasseur appears to be something of a social media gatekeeper, engaging in what might be considered antagonistic dialogue with those questioning her beliefs. On October 13th, LaVasseur posted her responses to the League of Women Voters’ candidate questionnaire to her campaign Facebook page, claiming that the organization had not uploaded her comments to their election forum. When asked about her refusal to respond to the Livingston Post’s candidate questionnaire and her lack of presence at the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum, LaVasseur turned belligerent, essentially claiming that since the individual who posed the question didn’t show their face in their profile picture, she “didn’t owe [them] her answer.” This type of response from someone campaigning for a position that is ultimately beholden to the public is unsettling. The secretive nature of LaVasseur’s campaign raises many questions; questions that LaVasseur has made it abundantly clear that she is not obliged to answer.
LaVasseur’s answers on the questionnaire are not aligned with the idealogy of Barefield and Johnson, but, when asked to clarify her statements and her relationship with her fellow candidates, LaVasseur once again declined to answer.
For more information on upcoming elections, including candidate lists and polling locations, visit the Livingston County Clerk Elections Division.