Ann Arbor Learning Community is a non-profit public K-8 school that opened in the fall of 1998, and is located at 3980 Research Park Drive in Ann Arbor, MI. Find them online at http://www.annarborlearningcommunity.org.
In AALC's fall 2010 (unaudited) student count they had 270 students, but they believe they have space to grow to 320 students in their current site. That number--270--has been fairly steady for a couple of years, and it appears there is a waitlist so maybe they are not trying to grow. There are many more students in the K-5 years than in the middle school years. Their "Dean" is Ticheal Jones. (Using terms like "dean" is one way that charter schools try to appear more like private schools than public schools.) I like that their web site is uncluttered and easy to navigate.
In Michigan, charter schools need to have an institution of higher learning that holds the school's charter. In AALC's case, that is Eastern Michigan University, which has re-authorized their charter through 2013. The EMU Board of Regents appoints their board members, who are:
Jason Johnson, President
Valerie Mates, Vice-President
Simon Whitelocke, Treasurer
Mary Packard, Secretary
Joe Capuano, Member
Ted Layher, Member
(I cannot tell if these are mostly parents, or mostly local people.)
The school sees themselves as part of the progressive education movement, and their classrooms are multi-grade--like Ann Arbor Open (an AAPS school), Summers-Knoll (private) and Honey Creek Charter School, all of which also seem themselves as part of progressive education. According to the AALC web site, this is their philosophy:
Ann Arbor Learning Community is committed to the rigorous development of student intellect, curiosity and cooperation with a focus on helping students value themselves, their peers and their community. A safe and nurturing environment supports the social and emotional development of children, which is fundamental for effective student learning. Our learning community – made up of students, teachers, staff and families working together -- affirms and supports a variety of learning styles and believes that students require multiple opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of concepts. Student’s understanding of how they learn empowers them. In our pursuit we promote participatory learning that is experiential, student-centered, developmentally based and individualized to student’s particular learning styles and strengths.The EMU Reauthorization Resolution (3/20/2008) notes that:
The Ann Arbor Learning Community provides a student-centered, integrated curriculum. Its strong, basic core curriculum consists of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies supported by a stimulating, hands-on thematic approach of environmental education.As the authorizer, EMU is the fiscal agent but
As fiscal agent, the University Board assumes no responsibility for the financial condition of the Academy. The University Board is not liable for any debt or liability incuned by or on behalf of the Academy Board, or for any expenditure approved by or on behalf of the Academy Board.In its role as authorizer and fiscal agent, EMU gets 3% of of the state school aid. EMU gets the aid, and then forwards the other 97% within 10 days of receipt.
Does AALC rent or own their building? They rent. Right now they pay close to $40,000/month for the building (around 26,000 sf) and their lease goes through 2015.
How do they hire teachers? They work through a for-profit educational administration company, CS Partners LLC, and they pay them 3% of their per-pupil allowance from the state.
What kind of calendar do they follow? Currently, they are on the WISD's Common Calendar that the other school districts use.
Read the Charter and the Reauthorization Agreement
I learned those facts because their charter is on file with EMU, and you can read the whole thing here.
You can also read the re-authorization agreement that the EMU Board of Regents passed. Their charter has been renewed until June 30, 2013.
On GreatSchools.net, AALC's 2010 MEAP passing scores were pretty good: 96% 3d grade math, 81% 3d grade reading. (In comparison, here are two nearby Ann Arbor Public Schools: Lawton--97% and 99%; Pittsfield 84% and 88%.)
In 2009, 5% of the students qualified for Free or Reduced Price Lunch (13% Lawton; 47% Pittsfield), and the school was not nearly as diverse as our two comparison schools of Lawton and Pittsfield.
Also on GreatSchools.net, AALC got a 6 out of 10 rating, and community reviews give them a 3 out of 5. The reviews are a mixed bag (which is true of lots of schools)--they imply that there has been a significant amount of turnover in teaching/administrative staff over the past few years; that some kids love it and learn a lot and others don't do well academically; and that the teachers are uneven in terms of the strength of their teaching.
- White 78% (Lawton 57%; Pittsfield 47%)
- African American 14% (Lawton 10%; Pittsfield 18%)
- Asian 6% (Lawton 34%; Pittsfield 12%)
- Hispanic 2%(Lawton 2%; Pittsfield 12%)
- Native American less than 1% (the same for all of them)
The reviews state that many of the board members are parents. (I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. I definitely prefer a locally-"owned" charter model than one that is controlled from far away.) What does concern me is that only the past three months of minutes are available on the web site, and no supporting documentation (say, for example, proposed budgets) appear to be available. In addition, the latest information says that "the board is meeting on April 21," which has obviously passed. There is no notice posted for a May or June meeting. The AALC is subject to the Open Meetings Act so they should be posting their meeting notices.
From their January 2011 minutes, I understand that they did a survey of parents asking how parents found AALC, what they like and don't like, and this is the summary:
1. Why they chose AALC: Top reason "community;" second reason "better option than local public school."
2. How they heard about AALC: Word of mouth.
3. What they like: mixed responses: small classes, teachers having a voice.
4. How can we improve? The summary response here was "most were not new things." I'd say that's rather unhelpful information to the casual reader! I'd hope that the board got better information.
(I've heard that there is a fair amount of turnover among students there as they hit the intermediate and middle grades, and I wonder if that is true, and if so, is it related to "how can we improve?")
The EMU Reauthorization Resolution notes that AALC continues to have students do well on the MEAP; meet Adequate Yearly Progress on the No Child Left Behind Act, and was recognized in the 2006-2007 year by the Michigan Association for Public School Academies for "Closing the Gap" in the area of Outstanding Academic Achievement.
Please feel free to share your experiences with the school in the comments section.