Ex-BoE chief eyeing higher job – St. Louis Call Newspapers
Mike Tsichlis, a six-year veteran of the Lindbergh Board of Education, did not seek re-election to the school board in April and is instead focusing his efforts on running for House District 96 in November.
Tsichlis is running as a Republican and will face Brad Christ in the Aug. 2 primary. The former Lindbergh treasurer brings with him his experience and volunteer work at multiple levels of government, including two years on the Crestwood Board of Aldermen, one as chairman of the board and committee memberships across Lindbergh and Crestwood.
Tsichlis said his experiences would allow him to enter the state house with a “higher level of knowledge” about state-level issues and committee-run government.
“The school board is a microcosm of the state. You have to work on issues, policies, procedures…anything you might vote on, you’re going to have a level of debate,” Tsichlis said. “It all starts at the committee level. There are ongoing negotiations, ongoing review, and that’s something I believe I’m prepared to do. I’m even better prepared after serving at Lindbergh and… Crestwood.
For now, his main priority is reaching out to potential voters to find out what’s important to them. He went door-to-door and found that it can be difficult for people to identify specific issues that are important.
“At this point, there’s so much going on politically that I found that people were having a hard time focusing … on one most important issue,” Tsichlis said.
He said he tries to keep issues local when soliciting. Citizens mostly talked about inflation, taxes and education, which are issues that Tsichlis said “affect wallets” or are often heard in the news.
Tsichlis’ time at Lindbergh included the district’s handling of the COVID pandemic and the issue of masking in schools. He said the district had done a good job quickly rolling out blended learning options, but some aspects of the district’s response could have been handled better.
Masking quickly became one of the most discussed issues at school board meetings, and Tsichlis said it was “crushing” to hear stories about social and emotional development affected by COVID policies.
“I think the dashboard has been useful for parents…at least to see the most recent data in the region on COVID. I tended to be the one who as soon as we could … (wanted) to start masking as an option,” Tsichlis said. “I think the (social) development of our children has suffered from the masking.”
Tsichlis said he thinks the district’s benchmark for mask-optional buildings is at below 1.5% was on the “conservative side” and he hoped the district would be mask-optional near the start of the school year.
A major concern in the April election was district standings. Schooldigger.com ranked the district 76th in the state, a ranking that has been affected by the inability of a portion of students to take standardized tests during the pandemic. Tsichlis said that regardless of whether 76th is an accurate ranking or not, anything outside the top 10-15 is no good and being lower than that “doesn’t speak well for the district.
“We beat Ladue, we beat Clayton and we did it with lower tax rates and we didn’t even have to spend the amount of money they did per student,” said Tsichlis. “We still want to attract families to this neighborhood.”
As masking began to wane in popularity as a topic of public commentary in Lindbergh, the book’s recent challenges began to escalate. The challenges included 15 books found in the high school library that were called out for violence, sexual content and other potentially offensive subject matter. Tsichlis was often the only pro-restriction voice on the challenged books board.
“Books with visual images were the most bothersome to me because those books really needed a mature reading flag,” he said. “Parents need to be notified because… you are dealing with underage students. For me, this was an important issue that should have involved parents more closely than it ultimately did.
Tsichlis said he would have liked to see the materials in their own space in the library, instead of asking parents to proactively check the system and restrict their children’s reading. This option was presented at a previous board meeting for some books, but was never pursued. Tsichlis said this option would have assured parents that their wishes were respected.
Related to the book’s challenges, accusations have been made in public comment that critical race theory, a law school-level concept, is taught at Lindbergh schools. The comment was refuted by several board and staff members in meetings. Tsichlis said it’s possible that some aspects of CRT will be found in public schools as schooling and CRT have evolved. He said it was important as the curriculum changed to avoid intersectionality in classrooms.
“While we must teach history with all the goodness and thorns we have experienced in American history, we must also look forward with the vision of Martin Luther King,” Tsichlis said. “It’s a longer term vision to work towards greater unity, to work on the issues we have in common, not our differences.”
Tsichlis said the program should highlight commonalities, especially with the district’s “significant immigrant community”.
“We don’t want to end up … welcoming students from all over the world and then saying, ‘Welcome to America, you’re in this group or this group,'” Tsichlis said.
Highlights of Tsichlis’ school board career include the hiring of Superintendent Tony Lake and the passage of Proposition R, a $105 million tax-free bond issue passed in April 2019. The project was used for secure hallways in various schools, and a massive upgrade to LHS.
Tsichlis said the LHS upgrade was “long overdue” because the upgrade will ensure students no longer have to walk outside to reach around 28 classrooms.
When Tsichlis was first elected six years ago, he was able to join a salary negotiation committee to help settle salary negotiations with teachers. The problem was solved without a tax increase, which Tsichlis said he was proud of.
Tsichlis said if he makes it to the state house, he hopes to serve on education or other committees relevant to his job.
“If I had to guess, I’m probably the only candidate (in the area) running for state representative who just left a school board after years of service,” Tsichlis said. “I think that’s a real asset that I can bring to State House.”