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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tomorrow is...

Count Day. 
Schools depend on count day for their per-pupil funding allotments.

Just remember:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Death Spiral, or Revival?

It's time to turn our attention back to the east side of the county, and Willow Run schools.

Good News
There has been a little bit of good news from WRCS over the past few months. For one thing, they officially fired their superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, and that frees them to move on! In addition, according to the Ypsilanti Courier, Holmes Elementary just won an award, the "2010 Robert and Patricia Muth Excellence in Leadership Award from [the] Middle Cities Education Association, a coalition of 33 urban school districts in Michigan. The annual award honors K-12 schools in Michigan's urban school systems that demonstrate leadership in school improvement, specifically improvements that reflect gains in student achievement." And WRCS actually came to agreement with its teachers' union, and the union gave up big concessions. [I'm not sure the big concessions are good news, but having an agreement certainly is.]

The Big Questions
You might recall that Willow Run was asked to file a deficit elimination plan (for I believe the third year in a row), and that the state accepted it, even though it is predicated--once again--on an increase in enrollment (50 students). For more than a decade, WRCS has lost student population every single year. Count Day is coming up this week. The number of kids that show up on Count Day determines the vast majority of the per-pupil funding for the school year for each district. Accurate projections (even if the numbers go down) are key to balancing the school district budget.

Steve Norton, of Michigan Parents for Schools, once wrote in a comment on this blog that chronically losing students leads to lack of funding which leads to losing students which creates a "death spiral" that is hard to break.

Is it possible that WRCS can push back against a more-than-decade-long trend and increase enrollment this year? We will know later this week, but my sources in the district say "I doubt it."

The Bad News
You might also remember that Willow Run High School was in the bottom 5% of high schools in the state. That's not good, but that's not the bad news part. [Well, really it is the ultimate bad news part; no school wants to be designated Persistently Lowest Achieving.] What I mean is, that's not the bad news I am discussing here. Every high school in that bottom 5% had a chance to compete for additional grant funds that would allow the district to remake the high school. There were four choices:

*turnaround model--replace the principal and 50% of the staff, change governance structure
*transformation model--replace the principal, change instructional methods
*restart model--close the school and reopen it under the guidance of a charter school operator
*close the school

Now, in fairness to Willow Run, the competition for the grants was relatively stiff. According to the Michigan Department of Education Frequently Asked Questions document, in the first round of funding, 108 schools were eligible; 84 schools applied; and only 28 schools would be funded.

But according to my sources in the district, it didn't help that Willow Run applied for a model that required the replacement of the principal, and proposed. . . keeping the principal. Does that make any sense? NO. It's not rocket science, it's grant writing. MDE says, "The award of a grant was based primarily on the merit of the grant application." Typically, you need to meet the grant requirements in order to get the grant. Or really, why bother spending all that time writing the grant?

It doesn't make me too hopeful.
Count day, later this week, will give us some more information.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saline Non-Discrimination Policy: More News

Saline Schools Superintendent Scot Graden has a blog post that describes the recent history of the Saline Schools non-discrimination ordinance. Most usefully, it has current and proposed language, as well as information about what the bullying ordinance says.

This post also says that at the board's next meeting there will be discussion (not a vote, as previously reported) of the ordinance, and that it is scheduled as an action item (likely vote--but it could always get tabled) will occur on October 12th.

The bullying ordinance includes language about sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Of course there are concerns about safety, because hate crimes and bullying do occur based on individuals' sexual orientation.

But--just for the record: Not all bullying involves sexual orientation, or gender identity. And not all issues around sexual orientation and gender identity involve bullying.

Including this language is important as a matter of basic civil rights, fairness, and human dignity.

All meetings are held at the Liberty School Media Center, 7265 Saline-Ann Arbor Road, and start at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More about the International Baccalaureate Program

Saline schools superintendent Scot Graden has a blog post about how the International Baccalaureate program could work for Saline. He writes that it is "set to open" in 2011. It's about time for at least a little bit of public commentary. There is also a link to the presentation that was made to the school board about the program, and a request for your comments.

From his blog:
Enrollment for each district is proportional to the percentage of students in the county.  For Saline, this means approximately 18 students in each grade, or 72 for the full program would be eligible.  The school is being designed for 9th to 12th grade students with 150 students per grade.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Blame the Messenger

Last week, I came home one day and found this email message:
Ann Arbor Public Schools sent an important automated phone notification using their SchoolMessenger system. You are receiving this message because your email address was included to receive the notification.
If you missed the call, or if your phone number was not included on the notification list, you can still listen to the message. Simply follow the message link below to play the message in your web browser.
I asked my husband, "Did you listen to the message from the SchoolMessenger system?"
(And to be perfectly honest, I thought it was either a reminder about a PTO meeting, or that perhaps my child had been "absent or tardy.")

"Yes," he said. "It was a reminder about Skyline's Spirit Day. The kids are supposed to wear blue."

Really? That was the "important message?" Aren't high school kids old enough to remember their own spirit days? But. . . whatever. I don't care about it, but maybe someone else does. I don't mind the "important message system" being used for that. At least I didn't care. . . for about. . . five minutes.

That's when I opened the web site of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, and I was shocked. . . Shocked. . . SHOCKED to see Jennifer Coffman's article that said this:
AAPS, UM to Open "Lab School"
The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education’s planning committee heard a presentation this morning on a “lab school” partnership being planned between the University of Michigan and Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools.  The Mitchell/Scarlett/UM lab school, as it’s currently being called, has been under development for six months.
At today’s meeting, Mitchell principal Kathy Scarnecchia described the lab school as creating an integrated K-8 campus between the Mitchell and Scarlett buildings, as well as extending the function of the schools to serve as a community center for local families. She also noted that the lab school will use a year-round, extended-day academic calendar.
Had I heard of this before? No. And here is the kicker: 
The Mitchell/Scarlett/UM lab school will pilot two projects during this school year, then begin its full program in the 2011-12 school year.
So, just like the International Baccalaureate program, it's a fait accompli? Is predestination something more than Puritan theology?

Look--I'm not opposed to schools of choice. I've said before that I think Ann Arbor should have more magnet schools. I've dreamed of an elementary immersion Spanish program. . . perhaps another open school. . .  a high school arts magnet. . . something on the east side, maybe? I completely understand why Scarlett and Mitchell--both underperforming and underenrolled schools--would be targeted. I understand why schools of choice, and the money that follows them, are key. [What do you think is a top search term for this blog?]

When I was at the UM in the School of Education, reading John Dewey, the man who pioneered the "lab" school, I used to wonder why the SOE couldn't have its own lab school. (In fact, the School of Education is actually in a former Ann Arbor high school!) I get all that, but. . . But. . . BUT. . .

HEY! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! WHEN IS THERE ANY PUBLIC PROCESS? 
Is everything determined by professional staff now?

I really, really hope that significant public process comes before the "i"s are dotted and the "t"s are crossed.  Let's recall that our successful alternative schools (yes, I mean Ann Arbor Open and Community High School), in the past, have been developed through a ROBUST public process and with a GROUNDSWELL of support from parents and teachers--NOT from the top down.

Let's have some discussion: what do you think of an extended day and a year-round program? [I wouldn't send my kids to a year-round program. Would you send yours?] What do you think of sending your kids to a "lab" school? Why both Scarlett and Mitchell? Scarlett alone could accommodate between 800 and 900 students, which would be large for a K-8 program. Mitchell can accommodate over 300 students. Do we need a program for 1000-1200 students? How will this be cost-neutral? Etcetera.

Ann Arbor Administrators and School Board: I don't need to know about Spirit Week. I need to know where the schools are going.

This is the message that I should have gotten from the SchoolMessenger system.
This is a reminder that the Ann Arbor Public Schools are considering a partnership with the University of Michigan School of Education to create a "lab" school. Please come to the planning committee meeting on [DATE] or one of the three public hearings scheduled for October. You can also read the concept paper on the front page of the Ann Arbor schools web site, a2schools.org.
THAT is what we need.

P.S. A concept paper? Yeah, that would be a nice idea. I couldn't find that on the Ann Arbor schools web site either.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Weekend Open Thread

The good news is that I've got lots to write. The bad new is that I don't have time right now.

So--weekend open thread!

In particular, I am interested in how your first two weeks of school were--whether you are a student, teacher, or parent...

Is the new transportation system working for you? Are your special education students getting the services they need? Are your kids at a new school, and what do you think of it? Tell a joke if you want! I am especially fond of punny ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saline Schools Non-Discrimination Policy, Part II

Thanks to Kyle Feldscher for a summary of the Saline school board policy committee meeting tonight, where they discussed the expansion of a non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Read my earlier post here. Read about tonight's meeting here.

A few thoughts.
First, thanks to AAPS board member Glenn Nelson for sharing the AAPS experience:
He said he believes it's important for the Saline board to add that language to its policy because it would contribute positively to the county’s reputation, has been beneficial in Ann Arbor and because the students from Saline are so passionate [in support of ordinance expansion]. (Annarbor.com article.)

Second, Saline school board member Chuck Lesch implied that Saline couldn't expand their policy because the state of Michigan didn't include gender identity or sexual orientation in their list of "protected classes."
The state of Michigan does not prohibit Saline (or any other public body) from adding additional classes for protection. Lots of local public bodies have expanded lists of protected classes. Think of the state's law as a floor, not a ceiling.

Third, Saline school board member Paul Hynak said that the root of the problem is bullying. I would submit that bullying and issues of sexual orientation and gender identity do intersect, but not all sexual orientation problems in schools are related to bullying, and not all bullying problems in schools are related to sexual orientation. In other words, if bullying needs to be brought under control, let us bring it under control in all cases. That's important, but it is at least partially a separate issue.

So--tomorrow night, September 14th, the full board will discuss this issue.
6:30 p.m., Liberty School media center, 7265 Saline-Ann Arbor Road--turn out to support the students and support the expansion of the non-discrimination policy!

The issue may be voted on September 28th, 6:30 p.m., Liberty School media center, 7265 Saline-Ann Arbor Road.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Support Non-Discrimination: Saline

Monday night, 9/13: Read an update here. Read below to get "the scoop."

Monday, September 13th (yes, that's tomorrow) the Saline board of education is having a policy meeting where they will be discussing expanding the school district's non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. According to the facebook invitation I got,

The Saline Board of Education is having a policy meeting to discuss whether sexual orientation and gender identity/expression should be added to the school's non-discrimination policy. The majority of the committee is reluctant to take any action, unofficially citing religious beliefs.
It is incredibly important that we support the LGBTQ and Ally youth in Saline, and create a presence at this meeting! Please help us fill the room! This is not a morality or a religious issue, it is a safety issue. (Emphases added.)
The students are especially requesting that adults show up. If you ask me, expanding non-discrimination policies is a no-brainer--of course they should be expanded. Why should we discriminate based on a group characteristic? And, as the invitation notes, it is a safety issue. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) youth are often harassed and discriminated against. By supporting a non-discrimination policy, the board would be saying that they will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or queer bashing.

I have personal experience of this. One of my closest friends in 9th grade had a brother who could not go to our high school, because of harassment based on his gender identity and sexual orientation. (I didn't have the words for it then. I just knew that he was a boy, but dressed like a girl, but liked boys.) So this note is for Bobby.

I find it morally reprehensible that decades later schools would dither about putting an expanded non-discrimination policy on the books.

So, here are the details:
September 13th, 5-7 p.m.
Liberty School, Room 33
7265 Saline Ann Arbor Rd
Saline, MI
And if you can't go, you should still feel free to contact the Board of Education members and let them know what you think!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yeah!!!

Willow Run school board fires former superintendent Doris Hope-Jackson.

Events This Week! SISS, Physicals

The Black Parents Association and the NAACP (I believe) are sponsoring a reception for the incoming SISS Director. (That is the person in charge of special education for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The acronym stands for Student Intervention and Support Services.) You may recall that Ann Arbor had a disproportionate number of African-American special education students labeled as cognitively-impaired. (That, by the way, is not unique to Ann Arbor, and changes have been made, but that does explain the interest.)

In any case, if the intersection of special education and the achievement gap interest you, you can meet the new SISS Director, Elaine Brown, at an informal reception Wed. September 8th from 3:30-6:30pm at the David Byrd Center on Lohr Rd.

Sports Physicals: If your middle school children need sports physicals, they are being offered tonight, Tuesday 9/7 at Scarlett Middle School, and tomorrow night, Wednesday 9/8 at Slauson Middle School--both evenings they will be offered from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Foolish Consistency

If not for Ms. Grumet, my 10th grade English teacher, a conversation today would not have reminded me of the American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In honor of Ms. Grumet, and of Mr. Emerson himself, here is the passage I thought of, because it covers a multitude of sins.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. -- ` Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood .' -- Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance," 1841

Emerson, you know, thought a lot of himself. I shall ask you, instead, to forgive my inconsistencies.

The Post-Labor Day Start

At the end of September, 2005, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed into law the requirement that Michigan schools start after Labor Day. Essentially, this was done to encourage that last week of tourism. Here are the bill details. I find it interesting that International Baccalaureate schools, and year-round schools, are exempt.

And really, I have nothing against a post-Labor Day start. I always started school after Labor Day growing up. Although--before the legislators took action--I did really enjoy it when my kids' schools started the week before Labor Day, on a Tuesday, with Friday off (that was a previous legislative attempt to encourage tourism)--that gave us a three-day week, and then a four-day week...and if the timing worked out, Rosh Hashana would be the following week and I would really get to ease my way back into the school life. Usually, I feel like a Mack Truck has hit me in early September.

So, as I said, I don't particularly mind that school starts after Labor Day, except that I've noticed that those legislators are all for local control, independent minds, etc...except when they aren't, which seems to be kind of frequent.

Anyway, I have fall plans for this blog, but in the meantime, there is the start of school, and Rosh Hashana this week. Don't expect much. (Although--expect nothing, and maybe you will be happy with what you get!)
It's also the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, at the same time as Rosh Hashana. (I think they overlap. I wonder how many school absences there will be.)
So--a few things:
If you want to see the Ann Arbor Public Schools calendar, including the religious holidays, here is where it is.

And to my Jewish readers, Shana Tova--may you have a happy and sweet New Year.
And to my Muslim readers, Eid Mubarak--may you have a blessed festival.

By the way--if you are wondering about my son's start at college, he says, "College is fun!" (That was before classes started.) After classes started, he thanked his Community High School philosophy/English teacher, Brian Miller, for assigning Credo. Apparently, that was the first thing he was assigned in his Introduction to Ethics class.

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