Thursday, October 20, 2011

AAPS Board Candidate: Patrick Leonard

Many thanks to Patrick Leonard 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.

 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)?
Diversity: Scholars have found irrefutable evidence that integration, rather than segregation, provides positive benefits for all children regardless of racial, ethnic, social, or cultural differences. The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) prides itself on the cultural diversity of its student body. The district’s ethnic breakdown as of FY 2010 is 52.5% Caucasian; 14.5% African American; 14.2% Asian; 8.8% multi-ethnic; 5.0% Latino/Hispanic; 2.5% Arabic/Middle Eastern and 2.2% other (Office of the Deputy Superintendent for Operations, 2011).  There are sixty-four languages spoken by students in the district, which makes the AAPS one of the most diverse districts in the State of Michigan.  This allows for genuine interaction between students such as interracial dialogue, which enhances intellectual capacity and culture awareness.
The racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity is what makes the AAPS so unique and this is not replicable at many charter or private schools in the area. For instance, the cost of attending a private school will typically prevent low-income children from enrolling
Achievement: The AAPS have experienced and professional educators--81% of teachers have a master’s degree or above.  The instruction and academic programs in place for students is why the AAPS continues to annually produce high-achieving students; this year seventy-one students from Ann Arbor district high schools are National Merit semifinalists (,2011).  In addition, a 2009 report from the Detroit Free Press found that some charter schools performed “well above traditional public school, but that a majority was in the bottom half in the State’s most recent top-to-bottom ranking of all public schools (,2011). “
The AAPS has consistently produced higher assessment scores than many charter and private schools in the State.

2. What specific ideas do you have for engaging parents and taxpayers in AAPS decision-making and governance beyond the individual child/school level?
  •  Public Forums every other week at local community centers and neighborhood schools.
  • Have Round Tables with the BOE, Superintendent, community members, families, and school staff to enhance ideation and improve transparency.
  •  In a prelude to question #3, we must develop more effective communication via the internet (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.), as well as making the AAPS website interactive and user-friendly.

3. What ideas do you have for making the AAPS web site more user friendly for parents, staff, students, and taxpayers?
This was one of my first questions I brought up during the Candidates Forum with Superintendent Dr. Green.  I want parents, staff, students, and taxpayers to have access to better communicative tools, so that they are able to follow the changes taking place within the district. I feel the current website is insufficient at disseminating information to our constituents. I will work with Liz Margolis, and other administrators, to revamp the current website and create a more user-friendly platform.
As mentioned above, we can use Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube as well as provide opportunities for feedback directly on the AAPS website (Crowdsourcing). This would allow parents, staff, students, and taxpayers’ up-to-date and instant information on the AAPS district.

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?
I’m a strong advocate for the establishment of unions.
As a board member, I would like to focus on how we can work together in collective bargaining negotiations to provide the best learning environment for our students. Every AAPS employee has a major impact on the operational effectiveness of the district and is a valuable asset to our schools and community. I will approach district-union negotiations with an open-mind, but my primary goal will be to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students; this means no cuts to instruction or classroom resources. 

5. Do you generally support Rick Snyder's approach to education and education reform? NO.
Do you support any of the listed reforms that he and the legislature have made/have proposed?
NO. I don’t support his business-model approach, a philosophical belief that competition in the public sector will improve achievement. I have found that this approach has an adverse affect on student achievement, because it creates competition between teachers, teaching to the test, and only focuses on quantifiable measurements for performance evaluations.
a. Emergency Manager legislation
NO. The idea of Emergency Manager’s taking over school boards without consent and forcing districts to make changes in a dictatorial manner is undemocratic. This contradicts the fundamental democratic principle - citizenry as the foundation of government (Government of the people, for the people, and by the people--Abraham Lincoln). If State officials are overtaking elected school board members, constituents will be disengaged from local policy decisions.
b. Changes to the School Aid Fund, including funding colleges as well as K-12 education from the SAF
NO. The revisions were made to include funding colleges because higher education is part of the general operating budget; therefore, the State could appropriate these funds into their general operating budget and take them away from the k-12 School-Aid Fund. This has resulted in a $500 million reduction in k-12 funding to fund a corporate tax break (It’s obvious k-12 education is not a priority for our State).  
c. Changes to the rules around charter schools, including removal of caps on number of charter schools
d. State-driven teacher evaluation system that relies on standardized testing  
Yes, but the evaluation metric must be more comprehensive and not base teacher performance solely on student test scores, but instead on many factors that attribute to a student’s intellectual growth.
This mandate gives teachers less autonomy and does not allow for creative pedagogy.

6. At this point, would you call the privatization of transportation services a success or a failure? 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?
It’s too early to deem transportation a success or failure; however, the services have not been efficient (i.e. late buses, wrong routes, overcrowding, etc.).

The AAPS gave the WISD a very difficult task by asking them to reduce bus stops by 50% in a relatively short period of time. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with WISD regarding transportation, and they told me the dearth of time and staff resulted in a lack of proper strategic planning. I would like to continue to assess WISD’s service and see if they can be a proper fit for our district.
If faced with the same question today, here is what I would look for when considering a contractor:
  •  Hiring practices
  • Testimonials
  • Past performance evaluations
  • Number of employees
  •  Turnover rates for bus drivers
  • Historical patterns of improvement or downturn
7. What was your most influential K-12 school experience (good or bad)? How does it influence your approach to the school board?
There are many k-12 school experiences that molded me into the individual I am today; however, the most memorable was in elementary school when I became cognizant of how important integration and diversity is for school districts.  For grades k-5, I attended Lawton Elementary School, located just down the street from Pioneer High School on S. Seventh.
Every morning, the elementary school, like many schools in the district, would serve a cold breakfast between 8:30 and 8:45a.m. Although this breakfast was available to all students, it usually ended up being students on the reduced lunch program because these students would receive a free breakfast.  Many of the students on the reduced lunch program were my best friends’, so every morning I would have my mother pay for school breakfast so that I could enjoy this time with them.
This is an experience very few children have growing up in school districts today, because of the lack of integration. The interracial dialogue that I experienced during elementary school provided me with greater cultural competence. I was able to understand the intersection of race, ethnicity, and class and how children were affected in school (Of course I drew these conclusions much later in life).  I feel that having a diverse student body is one of the most important components for any school district; and the AAPS is exceptional at making sure integration is a major part of their strategic plan.


  1. I would have to agree with the comments about public vs private schools as far as diversity is concerned. Being able to work with people from many different backgrounds is essential in the work place. I would also point out the fantastic extra curricular activites that are offered in AAPS. My child has learned more in the Pioneer Theater program than in many classes. While sports have become more and more elite, some of these other programs have pulled in all kinds of kids.

  2. Anon- I couldn't agree more. I have family members that are involved in the Pioneer Theater program - these type of extra-curricular activities are essential to a child's education. On my website (, I mention having a school district that focuses on academics,the arts, and athletics, allowing students to explore their unbounded potential. If we can offer more programs and provide an adaptive curriculm to meet our students' disparate needs, I feel we will continue to improve on Ann Arbor's academic excellence.

    In regards to your last comment, this shows that the AAPS has many opportunities for students to become involved in their schools. If sports doesn't work out because of the competitiveness, I would encourage students to become involved in some other activity. These activities can provide students with some of the best learning experiences in school.

    Thanks for your response!


    Patrick L.