Former Board of Education director sets sights on higher office

Tsichlis believes time on school board is an ‘asset’

Lindbergh+Superintendent+Tony+Lake+%28left%29+presents+former+Board+Director+Mike+Tsichlis+with+a+plaque+commemorating+his+time+on+the+board.

Photo by Beth Johnston

Lindbergh Superintendent Tony Lake (left) presents former Board Director Mike Tsichlis with a plaque commemorating his time on the board.

By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

Mike Tsichlis, a six-year veteran of the Lindbergh Board of Education, did not run for reelection on the school board this April, and is instead focusing his efforts on the race 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 experience and volunteer work at multiple levels of government, including two years on the Crestwood Board of Aldermen, one as board president, and membership on committees throughout Lindbergh and Crestwood.

Tsichlis said his experiences would allow him to move into the statehouse with a “higher level of knowledge” on state level issues and committee-run government.

“The school board is very much a microcosm of the state. You have to work through issues, policies, procedures … any item you might be voting on, you’re going to have a level of debate,” Tsichlis said. “It all starts at committee level. There’s continual negotiation, continual review and that’s something I believe I’m prepared to do. I’m even better prepared having served at Lindbergh and … Crestwood.”

For now, his main priority is reaching out to potential constituents to find out what is important to them. He has done door-to-door canvassing and has found it can be tough for people to identify specific important issues. 

“At this point there is so much going on politically that I have found people have a difficult time narrowing down … to a most important issue,” Tsichlis said.

He said he tries to keep the issues to the local level when canvassing. Citizens have mostly brought up inflation, taxes and education, which are issues that Tsichlis said either “affect pocketbooks” or are heard often 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 did a good job of quickly rolling out hybrid learning options, but there were aspects of the district’s response that could have been handled better.

Masking quickly became one of the most talked about issues at school board meetings, and Tsichlis said it was “soul crushing” to hear stories about social and emotional development being impacted by COVID policies.

“I think having the dashboard up was helpful for parents … at least to see the most recent data in the area on COVID. I tended to be one who as soon as we could … (wanted to) begin going to mask optional,” Tsichlis said. “I think our kids’ (social) development suffered as a result of masking.”

Tsichlis said he thought the district’s benchmark of mask-optional buildings being at  below 1.5 percent was on the “conservative side,” and he was hoping the district would be mask-optional toward the beginning of the school year.

A major concern during the April election was the district’s ranking. Schooldigger.com ranked the district 76th in the state, a ranking which was impacted by a portion of students being unable to take standardized tests during the pandemic. Tsichlis said regardless if 76th is an accurate ranking or not, anything outside of the top 10-15 is not good and being further down than that “does not speak well for the district.

“We beat Ladue, we beat Clayton and we did it on lower tax rates and we didn’t even have to spend the amount of money they did per student,” Tsichlis said. “We want to still attract families to this district.”

As masking began lowering in popularity as a public comment topic in Lindbergh, the recent book challenges began to rise. The challenges featured 15 books found in the high school library which were called out for violence, sexual content and other potentially offensive matters. Tsichlis often was the lone pro-restriction voice on the board for the challenged books.

“The books with visual imagery were the most troublesome to me, because those books really needed some mature reading flag,” he said. “Parents should be notified because … you’re dealing with minor students. To me that was an important issue that should have engaged parents more closely than it ended up doing.”

Tsichlis said he would have liked to see the materials be in their own area in the library, instead of asking parents to proactively look through the system and restrict their children’s reading. This option was presented at a past board meeting for certain books, but was never pursued. Tsichlis said that option would have assured parents that their wishes were being respected.

Related to the book challenges were accusations during public comment that critical race theory, a law school-level concept, is being taught in Lindbergh schools. The comment has been refuted by several board and staff members at meetings. Tsichlis said it is possible that aspects of CRT are in public schools as schooling and CRT have evolved. He said it is important as curriculum changes to avoid intersectionality within classrooms.

“Although we need to teach history with all of the good and the thorns we have experienced during American history, we also need to look ahead with the vision Martin Luther King had,” Tsichlis said. “That is a longer-term vision of working toward greater unity, working toward those issues we have in common, not our differences.”

Tsichlis said curriculum should highlight  commonalities, especially with the district’s “sizable immigrant community.”

“We don’t want to end up … welcoming students from across the world and then also telling them, ‘Welcome to America, you’re part of this group or that group,’” Tsichlis said.

Highlights of Tsichlis’ school board career include hiring Superintendent Tony Lake and the passage of Proposition R, a $105 million no-tax-rate-increase bond issue passed in April 2019. The project has been used for secure vestibules at various schools, and a massive upgrade to LHS. 

Tsichlis said the LHS upgrade was “long overdue” as the upgrade will ensure students no longer have to walk outside to reach approximately 28 classrooms. 

When Tsichlis was first elected six years ago, he was able to join a salary negotiation committee to help sort out salary negotiations with teachers. The issue was sorted out without a tax increase, which Tsichlis said he is proud of. 

Tsichlis said if he does arrive at the state house, he hopes to be on education or other committees relevant to his work.

“If I had to guess, I am probably the only candidate (in the region) running for state representative who has just stepped off a school board after years of service,” Tsichlis said. “I think that’s a real asset I will be able to take to the state house.”