Many thanks to Ahmar Iqbal for responding to the questionnaire. If you have further questions for him, you can put them in the comments and perhaps he will answer them. I believe all of the candidates are also willing to answer questions independently if you send them an email or make a phone call to them.
Questions for School Board Candidates
1. To parents who are wavering between sending their child to the Ann Arbor Public Schools and a charter or private school, what would you say to convince them to try the Ann Arbor Public Schools (besides that they would save money if they are considering private school)?
Regardless of how many or for what reasons, Ann Arbor residents living in the AAPS district choose a charter, private or home schooling option, we should examine their reasons. Obviously this is customer research, especially if we have a very good product that is being passed for a higher priced option.
In my discussions with many of these parents, class size was the main reason. This year, I was alarmed to find my son is among 39 students in his 7th grade social studies class. Therefore, I think one of the main policies to win back AAPS families is to hire more teachers. Perhaps a commitment that all funds realized by increased enrollment will be used in hiring teachers. So if 500 students leave charter or private schools for AAPS, we will realize additional revenue of almost $4.5 million.
Other reasons should also be explored such as curriculum choice, specific programs, etc. Finally, AAPS needs to more direct in comparisons with its competitors in regards to its success, diversity and curriculum strength.
2. What specific ideas do you have for engaging parents and taxpayers in AAPS decision-making and governance beyond the individual child/school level?
Increasing all forms of engagement is a key to more transparent, open discourse and responsible management of our school system. As a school board trustee, I am just that -- a “trustee” who is trusted by the community and taxpayers. I am accountable to the community and taxpayer, but also to parents and students who “trust” the school board’s judgment to ensure the best possible education for all our students.
All levels of administration and the school board should regularly engage students, parents and the community at large through regular office hours and open discussion forums. Perhaps a monthly “coffee hour.”
Meeting with key community institutions such as the U of M, city and county government as well as chamber of commerce and AA Spark should be done on a quarterly basis to coordinate our impact on the community at large.
As a school board trustee, I will also propose that the school board meetings be rotated among the various schools for better outreach and increased participation. Of course, these “field board meetings” should continue to be broadcast live.
In the past, there were active committees including the safe school transportation committee made up of municipal safety staff, parents, administrators, etc. and those should be re-instated.
3. What ideas do you have for making the AAPS web site more user friendly for parents, staff, students, and taxpayers?
AAPS website is many time overwhelming. There should be a permanent standing community committee (parents, students, teachers, admin, etc.) who should regularly meet to engage the community on enhancing the website's effectiveness. The web site and similar e mail / internet communications are critical for easy, efficient and effective discourse with the community, particularly parents and students.
We should have a benchmark of websites that are perceived to be more effective and emulate those as well as explore how to simplify the web site experience. Currently AAPS website is not mobile phone friendly and often not updated regularly. We need to make the website a true central portal.
4. Describe your personal approach to district-union negotiations, not just for teachers but also for administrators, custodial staff, etc.. What is your primary goal?
It's all about the kids and how to give them the best education. That is how I would like to proceed with any school related issue including staff / teacher negotiations.
5. Do you generally support Rick Snyder's approach to education and education reform? (This is a yes/no question.) Do you support any of the listed reforms that he and the legislature have made/have proposed? (These are also yes/no questions, and the specific reforms are listed below--add a note as to why you do or don't support that reform if you would like.)
[Editor’s Note: I asked Ahmar for yes/no answers to these questions, but he wrote me that: “Policies for which you are seeking feedback are more complicated than a straight yes or no answer. Obviously these are state level issues and as a school board trustee, we have to focus on managing our resources with the programs desired by the community and of course stipulated by law and regulations.”]
a. Emergency Manager legislation
The revised legislation introduces a warning system and milestones which hopefully will avoid situations to instill an emergency manager.
b. Changes to the School Aid Fund, including funding colleges as well as K-12 education from the SAF
I disagree how the school aid fund after Proposal A was recently shared with funding public community colleges and universities. Colleges and universities can charge (and increase) tuition as well as are volunteer institutions, whereas K-12 does not have such options. The School Aid Fund should only be used for K-12 funding and I have shared my opinion explicitly with our legislators.
c. Changes to the rules around charter schools, including removal of caps on number of charter schools
This legislation is under discussion and I do not have a complete understanding of the proposals.
d. State-driven teacher evaluation system that relies on standardized testing
This past summer the passage of the teacher tenure laws provides a performance evaluation of how students are being educated, however, the specific evaluation is under discussion. In fact, AAPS should be part of the lead in engaging the committee that will be proposing the performance evaluation.
6. At this point, would you call the privatization of transportation services a success or a failure? [NOTE: This refers to the decision to give transportation services to the WISD, not to the level of service chosen last spring.] If faced with the same question today (should transportation be privatized, and if so to whom), what kind of a decision would you make, and based on what information?
Lack of information (especially on how much was saved) on outsourcing transportation to WISD makes it hard to evaluate the service. One area that WISD has not done well is communications and engagement, but perhaps that is not there responsibility. I have an issue with the process of the outsourcing in this case, which seems like AAPS BOE saying "just take it" and not having a protocol and expectations on how to measure success.
Effective planning is critical for services, especially those worthy of outsourcing. Measuring their benefit under various scenarios is also required.
Identifying the “need” and exhausting alternatives is the first step of examining an outsourcing feasibility initiative. The service must be driven by a “need” which if not fulfilled will compromise our school system’s ability to deliver excellent education. There should be a detail road map outlining the service plan. The plan should include a year by year measurable benefit and not simply outline where funds will be allocated.
7. What was your most influential K-12 school experience (good or bad)? How does it influence your approach to the school board? (Please choose only one experience!)
Caring teachers. In fifth grade, I was on safety patrol and flag boy, so when my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Manikas, learned that even though I was active in school activities and was not attending the week long 5th grade camp, she reached out to me and then my parents. As immigrants, my parents were not familiar with school camp and felt uncomfortable due to our culture and faith to send me to camp. My parents were concerned about our religious dietary rules, social engagement, etc. Mrs. Manikas basically made it impossible for my parent to say no and even offered to cook herself if there was any food related issue.
I ended up going to Camp Tamarack, which turned out to operated by the Jewish community and therefore because of the camp's kosher diet, there were no dietary restrictions. I ended up doing a lot of things for the first time in camp such as canoeing, listening to an owl and making a stick fire. It was possible because of Mrs. Manikas' care and going out of her way to comfort my parents' concerns.