Friday, July 31, 2009

Can you read?

Rochelle Riley of the Free Press reports today on a Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth study that estimates that


of Michigan adults read at less than a 6th grade level. Yes, 44%. WOW.
I find that number staggering.

In Washtenaw County, there is help: Washtenaw Literacy.
If you suspect someone doesn't read very well, you can help them immeasurably, by getting them help. Yes, it can be embarrassing, but--that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask, and offer help.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kids Count

Or do they? I often wonder about that. Do we just give lip service to the importance of kids and the importance of education, or do we really care? Frankly, the way we fund services for children. . . education. . . help for families in poverty. . . . would suggest that kids don't count for much.

But if you think that kids do count, then you might want to look at the Kids Count Data Book 2009.

Kids Count National Data Book (you can get to all 50 states here)

Kids Count Michigan Data Book (drill down to the county, city, or community level if you like)

Kids Count in Michigan is a collaboration of the Michigan League for Human Services and Michigan’s Children.

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Unexpected Death

I once asked an acquaintance whose father had died, "Was it expected?"
"No," he said, "it was totally unexpected."

I was reminded of this conversation recently.
When Marika Bedolla-West died, this blog received a huge increase in visitors. Why? It was an unexpected death. An unexpected death, but I didn't know Marika--I posted about it only because I thought people might want to know how to find out more or contact her family.

My daughter is away, and we had sent her a note telling her about Marika's death, but I didn't think she really knew Marika. Well, it turns out that she did. Ann Arbor is a small town, even if it is a big city. And in her letter back to us, she closes with:"How did she die?"

It's not that expected deaths are easier. I don't think they are. But I think they are easier to talk about, at least to kids. He was very, very sick. She was very, very old.

With the unexpected death, it's different.
I do know how Marika died, but I'm not writing about it in this blog. Families deserve to be able to treat death, and grief, privately, if they want. So I will just write more generally.
Every year in Washtenaw County there are kids who have unexpected deaths. It may be from an undiagnosed heart condition; a car accident; criminal violence; domestic violence; suicide; a freak accident.

I find that my daughter's simple question, "How did she die?" tears at my heart. Maybe that is because How just scratches the surface. How leads to Why. Why leads to Who was involved and Might it have been preventable? And even though I know how Marika died, I don't know why. I don't know if it could have been prevented.

What I do know? Some of these unexpected deaths could be prevented. Sometimes we can intervene by taking away a drunk person's keys; by getting help for a depressed person; by reporting an assault; by making sure that someone wears a bike helmet.
When we speak out and speak up, sometimes we can prevent harm.
I'm very fond of Ben Franklin's quote, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And yet--some of these unexpected deaths could not be prevented. Nevertheless, when we look back at unexpected deaths, our hindsight is perfect, and the "if only I had..." impulse (and related guilt) is strong. Every child who dies has potential that is lost.

In this post, I remember also the kids from my hometown who died of unexpected deaths when I was in high school or college:

For Joe, who was hit by a car while walking on a dark road one night.
For Rex, who was killed by a drunk driver.
For Feffi, who slipped on slick rocks, fell and hit her head.
For Chris, who died in a bar fight when they turned to knives.

I'm still not sure what, exactly, I will say to my daughter. Please do post your suggestions--and your resources--for how to talk to kids about unexpected deaths.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Principal Shuffle is live.

Welcome back to the education beat, David Jesse.

If you are interested in new principal assignments in Ann Arbor, you can find them here.

There are changes at
Elementary: Angell, Pattengill, Logan, Slauson
Middle: Tappan, Forsythe
High School: Skyline, Huron, Community, Clemente

Three of the new principals are from outside the district: Detroit, Dearborn, and Battle Creek--I'm especially curious as to how those new principals will adapt.

And generally, I don't have time to be a "breaking news" site, so if you have breaking news you could send it to:
David Jesse, K-12 education (734) 623-2534
Nor is that the only game in town. In the Ypsilanti area, I've been impressed by the detailed education coverage at but I couldn't find the right contact information for Dan DuChene. Try this: and let me know if you have a better contact.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good News...And Not Just For Schools

The Ann Arbor News is giving its photo archives to the Ann Arbor District Library. I'm sure there is a lot of good stuff in there.

The News will give the Ann Arbor District Library its archive of photo negatives dating back to the early 1900s, and that archive may contain more than 800,000 negatives.
"We wanted to preserve this historical, visual record of our communities, and we decided that the Ann Arbor Public Library will be great stewards of this work. Over time, the library will make these photos available to the community," said Ed Petykiewicz, editor of The News.
Josie Parker, library director, said the library is extremely pleased to receive the archives and called the negatives an
"amazing resource."

But wait--there's more!

Petykiewicz said the paper also will give the library permission to digitize the library's existing files that contain stories from the paper over the years.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Early Childhood Education Advocacy

There is a lot of evidence that when we provide significant early childhood education, that the benefits down the road are huge. That is the rationale behind Head Start, Early On, and lots of other early childhood education programs. In fact, some of the important early research was done in Ypsilanti, at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation.
To put it very bluntly: pay now for early childhood interventions, or pay later for for corrections, special education, and employment interventions.

Here are a couple of alerts, put out by the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children.

State Level:
Dramatic cuts to critical early childhood programs are under final discussion in the state legislature. All state funded preschool and parent education programs have been eliminated in a bill recently passed by the state Senate in Lansing.If the Michigan House concurs with the Senate and the Governor signs it into law, the future of young children and all of us involved in early childhood programs are at risk. We must act now to make sure that these proven, cost effective programs continue. Over 2,500 concerned citizens who believed that early childhood programs need continued funding signed a petition from MiAEYC to reject the Senate version of the school aid bill for FY 2010 (HB 4447). Each legislator was sent the petition. If you did not sign the MiAEYC petition, please contact your legislators directly to let them know you want to support the early childhood programs in your community.

Federal Level:
On July 21 the House Education and Labor Committee will mark up the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (H.R. 3221). Title IV of this Act authorizes the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a new federal funding stream to promote State early care and education systems for children birth to five.

Please encourage your representatives to support this legislation. Committee members from Michigan include Dale Kildee <> , Vernon Ehlers <> , and Peter Hoekstra <> . If you live in their districts, please take action.

Representative George Miller (D-7th CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced <> the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (H.R. 3221). President Obama called for a new Zero-to-Five Plan on the campaign trail as well as in his Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request. This new legislation builds on that proposal by providing $1 billion a year for 10 years in mandatory funding for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, using savings obtained through streamlining the federal student loan program.

To view a summary of the legislation, click here <> .

For more details on investments in early education, click here. <>

For more details, go to

Several national organizations are supporting this bill -- they have information about the bill and connections to the Congressional delegation on their websites.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees:

Center for Law and Social Policy: <>

Early Care and Education Consortium:

First Five Years Fund:

National Association for the Education of Young Children: <>

National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies:

National Association for Family Child Care: <>

National Head Start Association:

National Women's Law Center:


Monday, July 20, 2009

Another Death: Teens and Alcohol

Northfield Township girl dies; police think alcohol was a factor

Over the years, I had at least two teenage neighbors who got into serious trouble with alcohol. One of them was binge drinking at a party, passed out in a position that cut off circulation to part of his body. Nobody noticed for hours. He survived, body intact, thanks to intense medical interventions. It was his wake up call, and he turned his life around.

Another had issues with alcohol, drugs, and serious depression. Said one of her parents to me at the height of the crisis, "There is nothing out there for middle-class families." Wealthy families can afford everything, and (this person's perception was that) there were possibilities for poor people. (Note: I'm not sure that second part is right; and even money can't always buy you solutions.)

Conversation with my 160-pound teenager:
Me: "How much alcohol do you think you could tolerate in one sitting before you would be over the legal driving limit?"
Teen: "Seven or eight drinks."

Well, NO! Not Exactly. Which is why--just as we need to talk about sex with our kids--we need to talk about alcohol and drugs. Avoiding the subject, or assuming that if you tell them to abstain, they will abstain, does not work. Believe me, I wish it did. In a lot of areas of my life, I try to model good behaviors for my kids. However, typically that is for things that they can legally do (such as wearing a helmet while bicycling). Since none of my kids are 21 yet, my modelling of drinking a glass of wine or bottle of beer once or twice a week, is not something that can be practiced, legally, now.

Teen (paraphrasing): Well, what would be the point of only drinking one glass? It doesn't taste good, the point is to get drunk.

Well, NO! Not Exactly. But I don't think that my teen is at all unique in taking this point of view.
Binge drinking is clearly a problem, and it is scary.

Conversation in a class I was in during graduate school:
Student #1: I am a recovering alcoholic. I started bringing vodka to high school in my sophomore year. This went on for two years. I was still an A/B student.

Rest of class: Then what happened?

Student #1: My chemistry teacher noticed, and intervened.

In Saline not too long ago, parents were partying on school property! Which might be the wrong kind of parental modelling.

See the report for Washtenaw County, Underage and Under the Influence. It's sobering. (Pun intended.) In Dexter and Pinckney, there are now coalitions to end underage drinking. The Youth Photovoice project is interesting.

When I started college, I could drink legally. Now, most students cannot. Here are two discussions (one is a video embedded in the text) on whether the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


It's a little hard to see, but there are 39 geese on the Forsythe playing fields. I guess geese have summer school.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Marika Bedolla-West

Another AAPS high school student has died.

Here is the obituary and guestbook for Marika Bedolla-Jones. [NOTE Added 7/18/09: The obituary lists Marika's name as Marika Bedolla-West, which is different from the note the schools sent out. I didn't know Marika and I'm sorry if I posted her name wrong.]

Marika was a Skyline student (the third one to die this year--all from different causes but I think that is pretty unusual for a school of 9th graders with 400-450 students.) Technically, Michael Jefferson was a Pioneer student, but he started out at Skyline. Jesse Walker was a Skyline student.

Counselors were at Skyline today--it is good to know that the AAPS has a good post-crisis program. Read about it here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Good Superintendent Is Hard to Find

Over the past several years, many local school boards have terminated, failed to renew, or are still struggling with issues around superintendent contracts--including Ann Arbor, Willow Run, Saline, and (most recently) Howell. In some cases, superintendents choose to leave; in others, they are kicked out.

The Ypsilanti schools have been fortunate to have had an interim superintendent who was a former superintendent, and came out of retirement. Despite budget cuts, for the past few years the experience and skills of Superintendent James Hawkins have allowed Ypsilanti to work through budget cuts and school closings with a minimum of rancor and a focus on the kids.

It's no wonder that the Ypsilanti school board wants to replace him (now that he is retiring again) with someone who can jump in with experience. In their first posting of the position, they were not satisfied. Now they are into round two, and have narrowed down the field of candidates. Read about the candidates and process here. I wish the school board luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stimulus Funding at Pioneer High School

For the Allen Creek watershed. Don't expect to see any action until after the University of Michigan football season.

It's cool to see how the stimulus money is being used in our community. I only wish that the relevant information was not only on the County's web site but also on the AAPS web site.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summertime in the Library

Forgot to sign up for a summer reading program? It's not too late.

Ann Arbor District Library
You can even register online, and yes, there are prizes.
Ypsilanti District Library, Saline District Library and Milan District Library
There are programs for kids, teens, and adults.
Dexter District Library
and Chelsea District Library and Manchester District Library
These end before the end of July, so hurry! Deal ends soon!
Last but not least: Northfield Township Library has a program too.

But wait--there is more!
And also--have you heard about the fabulous Park and Read Passes that you can get at your local library? They will let you visit Michigan Parks for, it is not too good to be true. (At the bottom of the page you can find the participating parks and libraries.)

Or, how about the Museum Adventure Pass program? Yes, free visits to museums.

Libraries--they're not just for reading anymore.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's In A Name?

I'd been reading blogs for a couple of years before I decided to try my hand at it. I started blogging because because I was curious about how it worked. I'm generally a curious person (in educational terms, I'm a life-long learner) and although I'm willing to read directions I prefer just jumping in and reading the directions as I go. I decided that the best way to learn about blogging was to try it, and then I realized that three things were stopping me. I needed a topic, one that would be sustainable and that wouldn't bore me quickly (I get bored easily). I needed a name for my blog. And I needed a name for me.

I cast around for a topic for a while, and ultimately chose something that I thought was sustainable and interesting, that gave me plenty to say, but that wasn't entirely too personal. (You can read about why I'm writing about the schools right here.)

As for the name of the blog, I'm still thinking about this one and I might revise it. Grammatically, one can defend the use of the word School or Schools, and I sometimes wonder if I should broaden the name to include Washtenaw, or Michigan, or. . . I'm fond of the ampersand (&) so maybe "& Beyond" belongs in there. Or is that too pompous? But I digress.

I started this blog about six months ago, and you can tell that I'm still learning as I go. For instance, look at this post I wrote the other day. Although the whole picture shows up in preview, I can't get the whole picture to show up in the final version. . . I'm learning more every day about statistics and web searches. For instance, it should not surprise anybody that the top web search for this blog is "Ann Arbor School" or "Ann Arbor Schools," but it might surprise you that people are still searching on Kisha French.

Where the blog really got personal--and what stymied me for quite a while--was in finding a name for me. Sure, a lot of people use their own names as bloggers, but I was uncomfortable with that. I was afraid to start blogging and then become a too-public figure--and blogging about my life and the schools does involve my kids' lives too. On the other hand, I just couldn't think of a clever name for myself, as some bloggers have. Finally I realized that I could be semi-anonymous, and that's how I started just using my first name. [I feel pretty sure that an astute reader could figure out who I am, but really, if you want to know, I will probably tell you if you just send me an email--my email address is in the side bar.]

In any case, that is how things stood, until invited me to be on their "parenting blogging" team. Was I flattered? Yes. (Even though you could, and should, argue that education shouldn't be relegated to the parenting blog, and I try to include some policy, I am partly blogging as a parent.) Ahhh, but the sticking point--I still wanted to remain semi-anonymous. Ultimately, has decided they want everyone to use their full names, for reasons of credibility. Which strikes me out. (I do feel fine about this or I wouldn't blog about it. It was unpaid, potentially a big time commitment, and I'm still flattered.) Nevertheless, of course I have some thoughts about how, whether, or why credibility should be attached to using your "real" name.

I think if is thinking of Ann Arbor bloggers as "citizen journalists" then they are sadly mistaken. I doubt that I will ever "break news" in the way that a traditional reporter does, and I don't think most bloggers do. is making a mistake if it thinks of typical blogging as the Huffington Post, or unusual events like the breaking of news in Iran (two of the examples recently given on the web site). Really, the Huffington Post is more like an online newspaper with a lot of commentary than a blog (sure, the lines blur)--and the blogging from Iran seems more like a new way to source data. [And by the way--a lot of those sources were choosing anonymity.]

If you're going to be "hyperlocal," that is not what blogs look like. Some of my favorite blogs are anonymous, others are attached to real people's names, but they generally: share information; aggregate information; analyze information. And the best do all three, but they are not generally breaking news. [Take a look at some of the blogs that will be on the parenting section of Ann; they are well-written and interesting, but they are not news breaking.] In addition, although some of the most credible bloggers I know do use their real names, others don't. They seem credible to me because their voice comes through (yes, as in "writing voice"), they provide thoughtful analysis, they cite verifiable sources.

So What's In A Name? As Shakespeare points out, and as I thought when I started blogging, quite a bit.

By the way: Ed Vielmetti has some thoughts about the blogging vs. journalism issues here (he's the new "blogging leader"). They are not fully fleshed out, but I'll look forward to more.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Red, white, and blue/What does America mean to you?
Independence Day/How do you feel about the USA?
(from Red, White, and Blue by Two of a Kind)

Take a look at the editing on the document below! (If you want to do a serious comparison of the different drafts, go to this web site.) Talk about modelling how to revise your writing, how to create a compromise, and how to provide a window on the past!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Kite String Theory

Click on the title, it will take you to some important summer reading. It is funny, but it is also serious stuff!