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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ann Arbor School Board Candidate Websites

I've listed these Ann Arbor school board candidates alphabetically by last name, with links to their websites. Some of the websites are really nice!  By which I mean, well-developed, easy on the eyes, and informative. I wonder if, in past years, school board candidates even created websites.

If you read the information on these web sites, and you have questions for one or all of the candidates, put them in the comments. I'm going to send them some questions (and post the answers, I hope) in October.

If I know they have a twitter account I have also listed it below--just in case you want to follow them.

Albert Howard
(Yes, I know it says he is running for President; I guess you can run for school board and President at the same time. It is the same person, I checked.)
Follow Albert on twitter: @AlbertHowardUSA

Ahmar Iqbal

Patrick Leonard
Follow Patrick on twitter: @PatrickL2012

Simone Lightfoot

Larry Murphy

Andy Thomas




Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two questions

Two questions I've been asked lately:

1." Can you recommend any favorite parenting books for early elementary, late elementary, and middle school parents?" (This question came from a parent looking for suggestions.)

2. "Can you recommend good places for me to share my thoughts with voters and promote my school board candidacy?" (This question came from a school board candidate.)

Feel free to put your ideas in the comments below. Thanks!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shopping this weekend?

Perhaps you need some winter clothes for the changing seasons? This is a great opportunity to support the Ann Arbor schools as well as practice the "thrifty" (get it? it's a "thrift" shop!) value of reuse.

It's the first-ever "Stuff-a-Bag"Warehouse Clothing Sale 
at the PTO Thrift Shop!
Sunday, September 25th, 2011 from 11am-5pm
The Thrift Shop provides the bag -- plus a huge inventory of "as is" clothing --while shoppers select and “stuff-a-bag" from what's on our warehouse sales tables.
It's only $5 per bag so the more you stuff, the more you save!
With over 1000 bags of unsorted clothing and other apparel in all sizes, seasons, colors and conditions, the tables will be restocked throughout the day -- this overstock must go!
$5/bag – includes the tax! Cash ONLY sales in the warehouse! No coupons or discounts apply. All sales final! And Pilar’s Cart will be on site -- try a tamale for lunch!
Find out more about the Thrift Shop at: www.a2ptothriftshop.org.

And by the way...in separate, recreational news, the Thrift Shop of Ypsilanti will be having a special fundraiser for Rutherford Pool on October 15th, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 14 South Washington Street Ypsilanti, MI 48197, 734–483-1226, http://www.thriftshopofypsilanti.org/.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Meet the WISD Board

The WISD works with the area's school districts & charter schools.



I believe that I've mentioned here before, that as the Washtenaw Intermediate School District amasses more control over county-wide projects, we ("the people") ought to be taking a closer look at just who is running the place, and exactly what they are doing. For instance--if you've got complaints in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti about how they are running transportation, well...contact the WISD board.

You might be surprised to know that there was an "election" in June, and two board members were re-elected to six-year terms. I put election in quotes because the election is very indirect. The school districts send representatives to a group that does the electing of members who are nominated by the school district. In other words, unless you are a school district representative (an appointed position), you did not get to elect anybody. Thus it probably won't surprise you to find that all of the WISD board members previously served on local school boards--and that's not, in my opinion, necessarily a bad thing.

I do get a little squeamish when I see that several of the board members have been on the WISD board for over 16 years, and both of the board members who were elected in June were actually re-elected. . . and the terms are six years long! By the way, I'm not a fan of term limits, but I am a fan of consciously trying to bring in diversity and new blood into organizations. And right now, the shortest period of time that any board member has served on the board is six years. And the board is not a large board. So, in essence, we have a very small group of people (only five members) who have been in their positions for a long period of time, making decisions that are having an increasingly large impact on all of the school districts and students in the county. I think this should be examined, because ultimately I don't think it's a good way for an organization to function. (Sure, there are women on the board, so the term "old boys network" might not apply exactly, but I think you know what I mean.)

And that is not meant to imply that any of the board members are doing a bad job. But it is time to start paying attention to the WISD.

So, to start us off, here is the WISD board. Read closely--one is currently teaching! One served on more than one school board, in addition to the WISD! One serves on the Michigan Association of School Boards Board of Directors!

From left to right: Gregory A. Peoples, Mary Jane Tramontin, Mark Van Bogelen, Dayle K. Wright, Diane B. Hockett

Mary Jane Tramontin, WISD Board Treasurer
Current Occupation: Fourth Grade Teacher, Pleasant Ridge Elementary
Employer: Saline Area Schools
Local Board Service: Ann Arbor, for three years from 1989 – 1992
I’ve been a member of the WISD Board since January of 1994 (17 years).

Mark Van Bogelen, WISD Board Trustee
Current Occupation: General Merchandise Manager
Employer: Meijer
Local Board Service: Manchester Community Schools for four years, serving as Trea-
surer part of that time.
I’ve been a member of the WISD Board since 1994 (17 years).

Gregory A. Peoples, WISD Board President
Current Occupation: University Ombudsman
Employer: Eastern Michigan University
Local Board Service: Willow Run Board: 1987-1994 and Lincoln Board: 1996-2004,
serving as the President of Lincoln’s Board for four years
I’ve been a member of the WISD Board since 1993 (18 years).
This is also my third year of service on the Michigan Association of School Boards Board
of Directors. This year I am serving as the Vice President.

Dayle K. Wright, WISD Board Vice President
Current Occupation: Registered Dietician
Employer: Allegiance Health
Local Board Service: Chelsea from 1994-2006, having served two years as President,
along with serving as Vice President and Secretary.
I’ve been a member of the WISD Board since 2005 (6 years).

Diane B. Hockett, WISD Board Secretary
Current Occupation: Project Manager
Employer: Eastern Michigan University
Institute for Children, Families & Communities
Local Board Service: Ann Arbor Public Schools for six years, having served as Vice
President for two of those years.
I’ve been a member of the WISD Board since 2001 (10 years).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Transportation...Again

Lots of questions still remain about busing in the Ann Arbor school district.

1. Who to call for complaints?
Answer: Robert Allen (Deputy Superintendent and former Interim Superintendent) says that people with complaints about transportation can call his office: 994-2250.

2. Why am I getting reports of 4 kids to a seat on certain bus routes?

3. Why am I getting reports that kids who live beyond the 1-1/2 mile walk zone cannot get buses because no routes have been assigned to them?

4. Is it true that special education kids who need assistance getting into the buildings are not getting assistance because the "bus drivers don't have enough time?"

5. When will the WISD provide information on how much the district actually saved last year; and what it costs to get additional bus stops or buses?

6. After all is said and done--what is the plan for evaluating these transportation troubles, and who will be involved in the evaluation? [Hint: I hope there will be some non-school-board-member parents involved.] As my ninth grade math teacher was fond of saying, "It's o.k. to make mistakes, but it's better to make different mistakes every time."

Overheard in a school office, one administrative staff to another after hearing yet another complaint about the buses:

"Everybody hates transportation now."

I had to interject, "Well, people don't hate the bus drivers."

"No," the staff person agreed. "People don't hate the bus drivers."

Does 2+2=4? (This is not a math question)

But Bogin added courses like antimanipulation, which was intended to give children tools to decipher commercial or political messages. He taught a required class called myshleniye, which means “thinking,” as in critical thinking. It was based in part on the work of a dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky, who argued that there were three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you had to use all three.
When I asked Bogin to explain Shchedrovitsky, he asked a question. “Does 2 + 2 = 4? No! Because two cats plus two sausages is what? Two cats. Two drops of water plus two drops of water? One drop of water.”
This is an excerpt from a thought-provoking New York Times article, My Family's Experiment in Extreme Schooling, by Clifford J. Levy. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pass this jobs bill and...

. . . hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people will have the hope and dignity of a summer job next year.  (President Obama's Jobs Speech, 9/9/11)

As soon as President Obama said that, I flashed back to this memory:

In 1983, I scored a summer job working for the Parks Council in New York City.  I was a "supervisor" of two team leaders and 24 high school students for a CETA jobs program. There were 20 African-American kids and 4 Latino/Latina kids; the team leaders were a Latino community college student and an African-American student from Howard University. I was the only white person, for the first time in my life.

Do you remember CETA? It was the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a federal program that offered people with low incomes, as well as the long-term unemployed, with jobs and job training programs in the public and non-profit centers.

I think because I was white, I got assigned to the tony southern end of Central Park. Some of the other New York City parks were not so nice, and they had longer commutes from my house. At lunchtime I could sit by myself, or with my boyfriend, and watch Dustin Hoffman eat his lunch with his friends. Yes, he would come to the park too.

The animals had been removed from the Central Park Zoo by 1983.
Our headquarters were in the Central Park Zoo, which was mostly closed for renovation in 1982--a good thing since the original animal stalls were truly prison cells. There is a nice history of the zoo here. The only animals that I remember still being at the zoo were the sea lions. (Photo taken from here.)

The kids taught me slang--"I've got my main squeeze and my two side squeeze"--as well as why we couldn't rake leaves in certain areas (rats). I'm not sure what I taught them. . .

But one day we were on a field trip and one of the girls came up to me. She had just finished 10th grade and she was probably the most diligent worker in the group. Her mother was from Jamaica and worked as a nurse's aide.

"I was thinking," she said to me, "that maybe I could become an LPN [Licensed Practical Nurse]."
"Great!" I said. "That's a great idea!"

But in my heart, I thought, "Why be an LPN? You're smart enough to be an RN or a BSN. In fact, why not be a doctor? You're smart enough to be a doctor."

I didn't say that to her though.

Why didn't I say that to her? Well, probably partly because I was only 20. I couldn't even give myself career advice.
But probably also because I wasn't trained to have Great Expectations from poor black kids.

I wasn't trained. I don't honestly think it's a good excuse. Part of the achievement gap comes from the unconscious assumptions that we make and pass on to others, even when we are trying to do the right thing, and even when we are working on an "employment and training" program.

CETA wasn't perfect, but it did offer those kids jobs, and it did mostly keep them out of trouble that summer.

I hope that Obama gets to pass a good strong jobs bill.


And I hope--I really hope--that someone else told that kid she could be a doctor.

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Praise of Scrip

Since it's the beginning of the year, and I know that pretty soon all those Parent Teacher Organizations and athletic teams are going to be looking for ways to make a little money, I want to shine a spotlight on scrip.
Scrip programs are programs where you buy gift cards at face value for something you would need anyway, but you buy the gift cards from the scrip coordinator at your school or nonprofit. The school buys them at a discount rate, so they get a percentage of the total. So, for example, you know that you are going to be eating out, buying groceries, getting gas, or getting winter coats.

In our example today, let's say that the scrip nets the school 5%.
You order:
$50 in scrip for Lands' End
$50 in scrip for Marathon gas
$50 in scrip for People's Food Coop
$50 in scrip for Applebee's
At the end of the day, you spent $200 on things you would have spent money for anyway--and the school has made $10.

It took me a long time to realize how easy this was to do--and even longer to realize that I should especially be buying scrip for gas! I have to say that I have seen lots of schools and nonprofits try scrip, but very few really apply themselves to selling scrip as if it were worth the time and money.

What does it take to make thousands of dollars for your school?
Well, first of all, it takes a dedicated person or two.

What you need is a dedicated math-nut who loves the job.

The best scrip store manager in town is very likely the scrip store manager at Ann Arbor Open. Ann Arbor Open raised thousands of dollars from scrip last year. I asked Vanessa what it takes, and she said that "what you need is a dedicated math-nut who loves the job."  Seriously, I think that most schools probably do have a math-nut or two available. In other words, there is a technical aspect to the job.

There are two other things that I think are important. First, you need to develop a system to get the scrip orders to the people, and the scrip manager--or his or her assistants--needs to be available at certain times or places. That might mean showing up at school events to sell scrip.

In addition to presence at events, you need to have a P.R. presence--can you download the order forms from the school web site? Are there articles in the school newsletter? Although I was already buying movie scrip (great for kid birthday presents) and grocery scrip, it wasn't until the third or fourth time that I saw "gas station scrip" mentioned in the school newsletter that it occurred to me that I actually buy quite a lot of gas.

Vanessa does some of her promotions by writing poems, and I'm not going to do that today, but I will try a tongue-twister....

Sally Sells Scrip Smashingly at the School Scrip Store.

By the way, Vanessa says that there is no "magic solution." She believes you can be successful with a math-nut, a system, some scrip stock, and some presence/awareness in the school community, but she has generously offered to give advice to those of you who are thinking about dipping your toes into the Sea of Scrip. You can email her at aaoccscrip (at) gmail.com.

Seriously, it is much easier to buy scrip for things I would buy anyway, than it is to sell chocolate.

Try it, you'll like it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Please Take Action: Michigan Parents for Schools legislative alert

Have you been wondering what can you do for your schools? We do not need to stand idly by as legislators work to destroy our public school systems--we can take action! I am printing Steve Norton's legislative alert in its entirety because I think it is so important, and I ask you to share this with others as well. At the bottom of every post there is a little greyed-in blox that allows you to share the post via email, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Google Bzz, and even Google Plus! I am asking you to a) use the Michigan Parents for Schools advocacy system, or your own email or letterhead, to send your senators a message and b) share this information with others. Your schools will thank you.

Also: If you have questions about these, put them in the comments and I will ask Steve to reply to them.

Legislative alert: "Charter school package" could dramatically undermine our schools

Dear supporters of public education,
Much-anticipated legislation was introduced today that would dramatically reshape the public school landscape in Michigan. We cannot afford to wait and see how the legislative process works itself out - we must start making our voices heard now.
Use the Michigan Parents for Schools advocacy system to contact your Senator!
The four-bill package, driven by co-sponsor Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Claire), was just made available to the public today - coinciding with the start of hearings on these bills in the Senate Education committee.
The bills can only be described as an assault on traditional public schools in this state. Based on a preliminary review of the bill texts, the proposed legislation would:
  • remove the overall cap on charter schools in the state;
  • create a new class of charter schools, "conversion schools," which can be created at the instigation of the teachers or parents of a traditional public school;
  • remove limits on the number of recently-introduced "cyber schools;"
  • require school districts to accept non-resident students under "schools of choice" if they have the capacity;
  • allow traditional school districts to privatize their teaching staff (contract with independent organizations to provide classroom teachers rather than employ them directly); 
  • ensure that charters and similar schools authorized by public school districts would not be covered by any existing collective bargaining agreements.
The sponsors of the legislation claim that these measures will drive increased achievement in our schools. At MIPFS, we are hard pressed not to see this as an effort to do school reform "on the cheap," thoughtlessly applying the doctrine of competition rather than working to ensure that every school can provide its students with a quality education.
Under the current system, "competition" for students does not drive excellence; it simply steals resources from already-struggling schools. Charter schools, originally a venue for experimentation in education, are now being put forward as the "solution" for those families who have the time and resources to actively support their child's education. Tens of thousands of children who do not have that kind of support system will be left to fend for themselves in declining traditional districts. Communities, instead of joining together in their common commitment to educate their children, will be segmented into multiple educational enclaves - eroding our communities, worsening inequality and encouraging re-segregation.
We will have more details as the days go by. In the meantime, we encourage you to use our advocacy system to let your Senator know how you feel about these proposals!

Steve Norton
Executive Director
 
Preliminary details on the bills:
SB 618, sponsored by Sen. Pavlov: changes to charter school rules, and teacher hiring for all districts
Charter schools:
The bill eliminates caps on the number of charters that can be authorized by community colleges and state universities, and removes the geographical restrictions on those authorized by community colleges as well as restrictions on charters inside Detroit Public Schools
The bill also removes the requirements that charters authorized by school districts must be part of the same collective bargaining agreements as other school employees
Teacher hiring:
The bill would allow school districts to contract with outside entities (for-profit corporations, non-profits, labor unions, etc) to provide teachers. By implication, these teachers would only be covered by a collective bargaining agreement if they had negotiated one with the intermediate employer. Teachers hired in this fashion would probably also not be part of the state teacher pensions (MPSERS) system, as is currently the case with charter schools.

SB 619, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp.): changes to "cyber school" rules
Bill removes limits on the number of "cyber" schools which can be authorized, and eliminates the original requirement that these school target "urban and at-risk student populations" as well as limits on total enrollment

SB 620, sponsored by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc): conversion schools
  • Creates a new class of charter schools which are existing traditional public schools being "converted" into a charter
  • A majority of the teachers or parents at a school may ask for such status, and if denied they can petition to place the question on the ballot
  • Conversion schools can receive capital and operating revenues the same as other schools in the district
  • Employees of conversion schools are not covered by existing collective bargaining agreements
SB 621, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Hansen (R-Hart): payment for public services to non-public school students
Changes the rules on what districts may provide services to non-public school students; if the local district does not want to provide a service, any other district in the same ISD can provide those services and receive state aid for doing so (had been only contiguous districts).
Requires districts to accept non-resident students under schools of choice, if the district determines that it has available capacity. Removes restrictions on SOC that used to restrict it to within an ISD. Does not change the rule that per-pupil allowance is the lower of original or chosen district.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Arne Duncan & Co. visit Ann Arbor, New Tech

Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, is on a Midwest tour. He'll be visiting Ann Arbor on Thursday, September 8th, 2011. 

As this note from Dean of the School of Education Deborah Ball states,
He, along with a faculty panel, will discuss ways to promote excellence in America's classrooms, particularly for underserved students, and the roles for different sectors—e.g., the Federal government, states, higher education, entrepreneurs—in leveraging effective improvement. This moderated discussion will be followed by plenty of time for Q&A from the audience.
The event will take place in the Prechter Laboratory (room 2202) from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I hope you will come to hear from and share your thoughts with this important national education leader. Space will be limited, so please arrive early. (Emphases added.)
The good news is, this is open to the public! The Prechter Laboratory is in the School of Education building, 610 E. University, Ann Arbor. If you go, please share with Secretary Duncan your feelings about using tests as a primary means to assess children and teachers; about the failures of No Child Left Behind; about small class sizes; about supporting teachers. Tell him what you think about his version of "educational reform." And if you go, I would love it if you would write about the experience in the comments.

                                                             *          *           *

Meanwhile, on the other side of our county (just a few miles away, really), his senior advisor--Greg Darnieder--will be visiting Ypsilanti's New Tech High School, which is housed in the former Ardis Elementary building. According to the Ypsilanti Schools press release,
In July 2011, the Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis site received National Demonstration Site Status—based on its high fidelity of implementation—making it eligible to host national attendees for Executive Tours for the New Tech Network, a non-profit organization that works with schools and communities to implement innovative high schools.
I understand that the state's Superintendent of Schools, Michael Flanagan, will also be at New Tech, along with several other dignitaries. 

If you are there, I'd encourage you to share your thoughts with the Superintendent of Schools and with Arne Duncan's senior advisor.

Labor Day: $245,000

Today is Labor Day, a time to remember all workers.
Today, I'd like to thank our teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, custodial staff, bus drivers, after-school support, administrative staff, and all other workers who make our schools run smoothly.

Tomorrow, school starts, and in the Ann Arbor schools, Dr. Patricia Green--our new superintendent--has her "first day of school." (Yes, she started in the summer.)

To date, a lot of attention has been paid to her salary: $245,000--and I agree with the many of you who say that she's being paid too much.

But I'd ask you to step back a moment, and really try to judge her on the work that she does in the coming year, and not on her salary. Even though I know that is hard to do. Her job is hard enough--don't make it harder because of what she is being paid.

I ask you to do this because of one simple fact: Patricia Green did not set the parameters of her salary--the school board did, at the suggestion of a national search firm. If you don't like what they did, then tell them that; and if you don't like their larger body of work, go ahead and vote in new school board members in November. Tell the remaining school board members why you chose to vote for new people.

And I'd like you to imagine this:
Suppose that you were working as an engineer for $75,000 a year, and you decided to apply for a job that you thought would pay a little bit more--perhaps $90,000 a year--and might offer you a new challenge. Plus, you were already eligible for retirement at your old job. When you make it to the round of interviews, you find out that if you are hired, they want to pay you $125,000. They think that it will be hard to give you raises in the next few years, so they would rather pay you up front.

What exactly would you do? Would you say,
A. "Oh no, I think you should only pay me $90,000 a year?"
Or would you say,
B. "Yes, I can work for $125,000."

Dr. Green chose B, and I think that most of us would have done so as well.

Do judge Patricia Green on her body of work.

To you, Dr. Green, I have these words of advice: Really listen to your constituents--a lot of the time they know more of what is going on than you will.  Show up at meetings and be present in the community Putting up videos and sending deputies to community meetings is no substitute for your presence. Although I had occasional disagreements with Todd Roberts and with interim superintendent Robert Allen (mostly I thought they did very well), I really appreciated that they were out in the community, coming to curricular events and parent meetings, budget meetings filled with critical parents and teachers, sporting events and events like the Science Olympiad.


When is retraction the right decision?

Yesterday, I wrote a post criticizing our new superintendent for saying that she didn't have a position on school prayer. This was based on a summary of a meeting that I read in the Ann Arbor Journal. The idea that a person with years in educational administration didn't have a position on school prayer seemed so unlikely that I actually titled the post, "Did she really say that?"

Then I got an email from Liz Margolis, AAPS Communications Director, saying that the summary was incorrect. I updated the post with Liz Margolis' comments.

Later that night, I got a comment on the post from Ahmar Iqbal, one of the school board candidates, saying that the summary was incorrect, and essentially affirming what Liz Margolis had said.

At this point, I started wondering--should I pull this post? I'm not really sure about the protocols here, because I'm relatively new to blogging. I think it's one thing to leave a post up if you make a mistake that has a small bearing on the post--but if the main point is completely incorrect, then it seems to me it should be completely retracted.

(I admit that I was a little saddened by the idea of retracting a post--especially since I had put in some great vocabulary words! Words like obsequious and crestfallen! But just because I think I wrote something intelligent and funny doesn't mean that it shouldn't be retracted.)

Although some news organizations seem to have taken the point of view that once a post is posted, it can never be retracted, it can only be "corrected," not everyone agrees. In the science world, retractions from scientific journals happen frequently enough that there is now a blog, Retraction Watch, dedicated to identifying how and why scientific papers get retracted. Common reasons for retraction include falsification of data, plagiarism, and mistaken analysis of data. In fact, Retraction Watch just made it onto one of my favorite NPR shows, On the Media. You can find the link to that discussion here.

Obviously, my posts are not scientific papers, but at this point I had begun thinking that what had happened was akin to "mistaken analysis" and should be retracted. After all: was it my fault for relying on a secondary source (a news report) and not a primary source (being there)?

And then, this morning, I got on the computer and saw another comment. This comment is from Albert Howard, another school board candidate, and--in fact--the one who asked the question. And his recollection supports (more or less) the version in the Ann Arbor Journal. [The Journal, by the way, has not--as yet--posted a correction.]

So at this point, I think the conversation embedded in the original post itself is interesting. It brings up a lot of issues around recollection and reportage, or--as my husband said to me--the nuance of the conversation. I wasn't at the meeting, so I can't give you my first-person memory.

Recently, in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Dave Askins wrote about conflicting memories of another meeting (Column: Video Replay Review for City Council). He wrote:
At issue is whether two seasons ago, back in February 2009, city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford recommended to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority that the DDA have a policy to maintain a minimum fund balance as a reserve, and specifically, whether a minimum reserve amount was specified. . . 
The remarks made by Crawford – which everyone seems to recall (albeit differently) – took place in plain view on the public field of play, at the Feb. 17, 2009 city council meeting. (Emphasis added.)
Askins argues that--just as we do in many sports--we should go to the video replay for a definitive account. Since in the business of blogging about the schools, I surely am an armchair quarterback, I absolutely agree.

I'm quite sure this "orientation" meeting wasn't videotaped--it wasn't a school board meeting (although regular school board meetings are.) So we now have four accounts of the same discussion. I honestly think the discussion of what happened is at least as interesting as what actually happened, so I've decided that I'm not going to retract the original post (for now--new evidence could arise!). Instead, I invite you to read it with the understanding that several people can be in the same meeting and hear different things. What does that mean for our process? I also invite you to comment on this post, or the other one.

Let's also not forget: this meeting, to provide necessary background to new school board candidates, was a good idea on the part of the school district, and I hope they continue it any time there is a contested election.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

UPDATED: School Prayer: Did she really say that?**

I just noticed this Ann Arbor Journal article, ANN ARBOR: School board candidates meet with cabinet staff, ask questions at forum, that came out on August 24th, 2011, while I was away. Many thanks to the Ann Arbor Journal for covering this meeting.

It starts out,
School board candidates Patrick Leonard, Lawrence Murphy, Albert Howard and Ahmar Iqbal met the Ann Arbor Public Schools cabinet staff and asked questions Aug. 23.
The "cabinet staff" refers to the top paid professionals in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The idea was to help the school board candidates get oriented.

One of the candidate's questions were summarized:
[Albert] Howard had some religious questions to ask of the board, as well. Howard asked David Cosma if "the AAPS (would) be willing to add the Bible as a historical book to their teaching curriculum," to which Cosma stated that Michigan law allowed the Bible to be taught as a historical document, but the decision to teach the Bible was not his decision.
I think the article is referring to David Comsa, who is the district's legal counsel. There actually are English classes in the district that teach small bits of the Bible as literature.  I'm not sure if there are also history classes using it.

Here's the doozy, though--are you ready for it?
Howard also asked [Patricia] Green if she supported prayer in school, to which she replied she didn't have a position and would uphold what the board decided. (Emphasis added.)
Really? Patricia Green--the new AAPS superintendent--has been an educator for many, many years. She's been a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, a principal, and a teacher. She has a PhD in Educational Philosophy, and she doesn't have a position on school prayer?

Here are the descriptive words* that I've come up with to describe the possible reasons for her response.
1. This is a load of malarkey. In other words, she's selling the school board candidates--and us--a load of b.s.
2. She's being disingenuous. In other words, she is not telling the truth.
3. She's obfuscating. In other words, she's hiding her true feelings behind a veil of impartiality.
4. She's being obsequious. In other words, she wants the new school board candidates to feel that they can do whatever they want.

If any of these are true, my confidence in her is diminished. In other words, I feel less confident.

On the other hand--what if it is true that she doesn't have a position on school prayer? That is even scarier to me. Anyone who has had leadership positions in multiple school districts should be expected to have a position on school prayer.
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UPDATE: Liz Margolis, the AAPS Communications Director, sent me the following email after I had already published this post: 
The report was inaccurate. When Mr. Howard asked Dr. Green how she felt about prayer in school it came right after he asked David Comsa the same questions. Dr. Green followed up David Comsa's response that she didn't have a position because she would follow the law. It was not meant as a way to ditch the subject at all but rather a way to address a question which she believes the law dictates.
The Ann Arbor Journal has not yet posted a correction, but if they do, I will share it. 
If Liz Margolis' account is correct, I feel relief that our new superintendent said something more reasonable. I wasn't there, but if anyone else who was there would like to share their observations of what happened at the meeting, feel free to do that in the comments. 

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Not only that, but I am pretty sure that the Ann Arbor school board and school leadership has discussed this before. There may even be a position on record. I couldn't find out for sure, because the Ann Arbor schools web site is pretty much impossible to search nowadays.
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 More Update: Liz Margolis also promises to share past Ann Arbor school board policies and discussions about school prayer--if any exist--and if so, I will post them as well, in a separate post. 
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I was, however, able to dig up the religious calendar policy (because I already knew it existed), and it infers in this paragraph--which I very much like--that school prayer would not be welcomed:
We are a diverse community reflecting many traditions and perspectives. If each of us is sensitive to both the direct and subtle ways we demonstrate respect and appreciation for these differences, we will each be a positive force in providing a multi-cultural education for our students.
Alternatively, Patricia Green could have turned to one of the other cabinet members, and said, "I don't know if there already is a policy in place--can anyone with a longer history with the district answer this question?" 
Or she could have shared her (real) position.
Or she could have shared the process for the district to come up with a position, if there isn't one.
Or she could have said something like, "There is a very long history of litigation around school prayer issues and the case law on this is fairly well-settled." Perhaps she could have even referred Mr. Howard to some of the cases, such as Engel v. Vitale."
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Update: Per Liz Margolis she did something like the last choice.
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In any case, I can tell you that I am chagrined, crestfallen, dissatisfied, disappointed, disgruntled, and--yes--vexed and confounded by her response. Or not, if the update is correct.

*Hey, high school students and parents of high school students: these could be good ACT/SAT words! Look them up if you don't know them!

**All of this assumes that Dr. Green's response was accurately recorded--which is the assumption that I generally make with our local news reporters. Please see the updates in this post. They do confound this assumption, and, in fact, the whole post.

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