Monday, June 25, 2012

Skyline High School Math Teacher Doubles As A Track Star

The Olympic Diving Trials were on television the other afternoon and my daughter says to me, "My former* math teacher is competing at the trials. In something long distance--the marathon or something."
"The marathon?" I said.  "Do you think maybe it's the steeplechase?"
She gave me the "I don't know" shrug.
"What's his name?" I asked.
"Mr. Nowitzke."

Note the Skyline blue shirt!
Now the reason I said the steeplechase (do you even know what happens in the steeplechase?) is that I remembered something that happened. . . umm. . . about four years ago.

Four years ago, in early summer, I was invited to sit on a Community High School interview team for a new math teacher. We did three interviews. One of them was by phone. The interviewee had a good excuse, though. He was competing in the 2008 US Track and Field trials for the Olympics. In steeplechase.

So I remembered that. Nowitzke didn't get the job at Community (phone interviews are hard!), but I guess he got hired at Skyline shortly afterward. And at the 2008 trials, he came in 10th in the 3000 meter steeplechase. That 2008 phone interview is my Olympics brush with fame.

Watch the 2008 Steeplechase final here:

Nowitzke was an All-American runner at EMU
I don't think Nowitzke is the only Ann Arborite who is going or has gone to a 2012 US Olympics trial, but I'm pretty sure he's the only Ann Arbor school teacher this year! (He is also an EMU graduate; that's where he ran track and field and cross-country. So sure, Ypsilanti, you can take some credit too.)

This year, Nowitzke returned to the Olympic trials. Unfortunately, he didn't make it into the Steeplechase finals. (See the results here.) The first 14 advance and he came in 21st. Still, in my book it's pretty impressive to make it to the Olympic trials, not once, but twice.

And that's not all that is impressive. In fact, by focusing on the Olympics part, we might actually miss the most impressive part. Being a new teacher is a lot of work. Most new teachers don't have a lot of extra time during the school year. And conversely, many people who go to the Olympic trials don't even hold full-time jobs, because being an elite athlete also requires a tremendous amount of dedication and time. Juggling those two things--being a new teacher and being an elite athlete--is tremendously difficult. 

Corey Nowitzke, if you can do those two things at the same time, you can probably do anything. We expect great things from you! Today, Corey Nowitzke is probably mostly feeling sad that he didn't make it to the final heat in the steeplechase, and he won't be going to the Olympics. You can make him feel better though. Tell Corey Nowitzke that you're proud of his hard work by emailing him at

*Former, in that she is now a graduate of Skyline.
**And by the way, my daughter wasn't completely wrong about the marathon connection. Corey Nowitzke won the Detroit Free Press half-marathon in 2011.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ypsilanti and Willow Run Potential Consolidation Meetings

Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools are considering consolidating. I may write some more about the pros/cons of this sometime this summer, but for now what I want to share is the list of meetings about the proposed consolidation. There are plenty of opportunities for you to weigh in on this--and you should, especially if you are a taxpayer in either of these districts (and maybe even if you aren't, because I believe this has implications for the whole county).

I took these meetings from this article in

Joint task force meetings
  • July 10 — 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Ypsilanti (located to be announced)
  • July 30 — 5:30-7:30 p.m. location to be announced
Visioning sessions
Interactive brainstorming activities to target what members of the public identify as their hopes, aspirations and learning-experience expectations for the potential new district. These sessions will collect input from the community to set the focus of the consolidated district.

  • June 23 — 10 a.m.-noon at the Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
  • June 25 — 6-8 p.m. at the Willow Run Child Development Center
  • June 28 — 6-8 p.m. at Superior Township Hall
  • June 30 — 10 a.m.-noon at Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
  • July 9 — 6-8 p.m. Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti
Data sessions
An opportunity to examine the educational trend data — such as head count and student achievement data — for Ypsilanti and Willow Run as well as to review and provide feedback on the community vision statements developed at the earlier brainstorming sessions.

  • July 11 — 1-3 p.m. at the Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
  • July 14 — 10 a.m.-noon at Superior Township Hall
  • July 16 — 6-8 p.m. at Ypsilanti Township Hall
Strategic design retreat
A two-day retreat for delving into various options for school and district designs that would achieve the vision outlined by the community. It also will focus on the local partnerships needed to create a successful, united school system, officials said.

  • July 18-19 — 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Eastern Michigan University’s Eagle Crest Resort
Design review sessions
Community feedback can be given on the design plan developed at the retreat. School officials also said the plan will be posted on the districts’ websites and an online survey will be available for feedback, as well.

  • Aug. 6 — 6-8 p.m. at the EMU Student Center
  • Aug. 7 — 6-8 p.m. at the EMU Student Center

Sarena Shivers of the WISD strongly encourages community members to attend the two-day strategic design retreat, which will be facilitated by an outside facilitator. 

The timeline is set up this way so that a consolidation vote could potentially be on the November ballot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Horrendous Hazing At My Hometown High School

(I hope you liked the alliteration of the title. The subject, of course, is not at all funny.)

I was rather shocked when my mom told me about this. Apparently for quite a few years, in my hometown, there has been a day in the spring known as "Freshman Friday." On "Freshman Friday" the juniors would haze the eighth graders. In my hometown. Where I went to middle school and high school. Where the 7th-12th grade are in one building, with the middle school in a separate wing.

This year, the hazing came to a crescendo.

Rye, New York, Hazing Incident: High School Student Defiant in Face of Allegations - ABC News

(Maybe there is a way to embed this, but I couldn't figure out how. You will want to watch the video to get a sense of the district. My friend watched it and said, "The building looks like the Law Quad." It kind of does. The high school was built with the help of the WPA.)

This year, a student filmed (on a phone) some eighth graders (allegedly) being forced into a car. They were then (allegedly) taken to a local park where they were beaten so badly that one of them ended up in the hospital. Now three students have been charged--as adults--with felonies.

Also, as cited in the Gothamist, after the incident came to light:
According to, in 2010, Rye school officials warned parents about "Freshman Friday":
Dear Parents, Fear is in the air at Rye Middle School. There is a lot of chatter that June 4 is Freshman Friday, and eighth grade boys are fearful they are going to be attacked by balloons filled with Nair and have their bottoms smacked with paddles. It is hard to tell what is rumor and what is actually going to happen.
For several years, an odious spring tradition has taken place in Rye: junior boys paddle eighth grade boys off school grounds. In recent years we have heard of fewer instances of paddling, but the practice has not been extinguished.
Hazing is not tolerated in this community. The Rye Police Department will be on patrol tomorrow and will be on heightened alert all weekend. If you are the parent of an eighth grade boy, we suggest you encourage your son to keep a low profile this weekend. If the unthinkable should happen and you child should be on the receiving end of a hazing incident, we strongly encourage you to contact the Rye Police and help them identify the perpetrators. Together we can put an end to this dangerous tradition.
Have a safe weekend.
Ann Edwards
(Emphasis added.)

And yet. . . according to the ABC News article cited above, the Superintendent had this to say:

Edward J. Shine, superintendent of the Rye City School District, disputed the notion that "freshman Friday" is a tradition. "Some have suggested that these alleged acts are part of an annual 'tradition' at Rye High School. Let me be clear: just because a small handful of students choose to believe that this is the case, does not make it a fact," he said in a statement to parents. 
 Obviously, that is not true. Apparently, my niece (in the middle school, but not in eighth grade) has been telling her parents all year that there was a "Freshman Friday" day where juniors made eighth graders do things. And in case you are wondering, "How old is this hazing tradition?" I don't know--but to my knowledge it didn't exist when I and my siblings were in high school.

What I found most disturbing about this story is not that kids got bullied. No, what I found most disturbing is that the school administration knew about the hazing years ago, but didn't take action--except for suggesting that parents ensure their eighth grade sons "keep a low profile."
Remember. Hazing is another form of Bullying.
And these administrators need to be held accountable.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Graduation Photo Links and More

Top Scholars

AnnArbor.Com Top Scholars: I think this is the top 5% (or top 2, for the smallest schools) of every school in the county.

Graduation Photos

From Community Huron Pioneer Skyline

From AAPS News (You can subscribe to this and get it in your email inbox if you like)

AAPS News Community
AAPS News Huron
AAPS News Pioneer
AAPS News Skyline
AAPS News A2 Tech and Adult Education

Ypsilanti Graduation and Honors Ceremony (from but you need to scroll down)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Skyline Graduates Its First Class! Happiness!

Tonight was Skyline graduation. For those of us with children who graduated--and that includes the Deputy Superintendent, Robert Allen, as well as myself--it was a very happy day! The event was held in the EMU Convocation Center.  It wasn't as warm and fuzzy as the Community High School graduation I wrote about two years ago, but there were three times as many students, and the arena was much bigger. And as I wrote then, of course it was awe-some! It was my daughter!

So here is my list of interesting/fun/meaningful things about the Skyline graduation. This is mostly random, but of course #1 has to be #1.

Students walking in. The yellow banner identifies the "Small Learning Community."
1. It was the first class to graduate!!!!! This is something those kids will carry with them for  years. I know this because I have a friend whose dad was in the first graduating class of a Detroit high school. He's in his seventies now, but he can still give you lots of details about the experience. My favorite t-shirt that the students ever made was "Even the Mayans saw us coming." Of course, they didn't get to wear that t-shirt at graduation. They wore light blue caps and gowns.

The first person to walk across the stage--my daughter--sits down! (First, by virtue of a last name that starts with "A" and an assignment to the Small Learning Community that went first. In other words, by virtue of luck.)
2. Ms. Jackson had kids with different types of honors and involvement stand up. Sure, there were lots of great students who did lots of great things. But the most impressive thing to me? I was completely blown away by the number of kids who had participated in sports, and then in clubs. It was over 2/3 of the class each time! And in fact, that is one of the reasons that people voted to build a third comprehensive high school--so that kids could have more opportunities for participation!
Todd Roberts on the big screen. And. . .
3. Todd Roberts, the former Superintendent, who was here while the school was being built and for its first three years, was asked back to speak. I thought that was a nice touch for the first graduation. One quote he shared, that he attributed to a science teacher, was "Reason answers questions, and imagination asks them." That was my favorite quote of the evening. (He went on to stress the importance of asking questions. "Ask how. Ask why. Ask why not." As it happens, that is a philosophy with which I am in complete agreement. In fact, that is why I have this blog!
. . . Todd Roberts at the podium

4. I loved the class gift. If you've ever been on the first floor of Skyline, you know that the halls are long (apparently, 1/10 of a mile) and very white. There is one mural completed now, and a second mural on its way. The class gift is a third mural. One student also organized a plaque to leave at Skyline. It has a Dr. Seuss quote (of which I think this is only a part):

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. 

5. The loudest applause went to Jasper Lindsay. He's a student who is in a wheelchair, and he received honors at the academic "pinning" ceremony earlier this month. The students were on their feet and clapping, because--according to the announcer--he trained for three years to be able to walk across the stage to get his diploma. And walk he did!
Jasper Lindsay as he sits back in his wheelchair after walking across the stage!

6. I really enjoyed watching the American Sign Language interpreters. I could see two of them from where I was sitting. Is that standard? I am guessing it was by special request, but I don't know that for sure.
Note the two American Sign Language interpreters. One bottom left, and one in the corner of the stage.
7. Fifty-six percent of the class graduated with academic honors. In fact, 13 students had 4.0 averages. Is this proof there is grade inflation? Yes. (I am not sure if anyone in my graduating class of 262 students had a 4.0). Do we care? I am not sure. Maybe the number of kids graduating with academic honors can be attributed to Skyline's mastery learning approach.

The graduates!
8. Beach balls. There were three that ended up in the graduating student section. You might think that came from the students. At least two of them came directly from the audience! Parents--right in front of me--threw one of them down! Yes, I saw it with my own eyes! Next year, at the end, maybe they should hand out beach balls to the graduates--they are light, they are fun, I believe that no harm was done.
Look in the top left corner and you will see one of those beach balls!

9. Really worth noticing--Band, Choir, and Orchestra each commissioned an original piece in honor of the first graduating class. I thought that was really cool, and I hope they play them in subsequent years. I took some video of that. I just have to figure out how to upload it.

10. And then, it was over. Four years, gone in a flash. And for the seniors, it was on to the all-night senior party. Of course, that's going on now. I hope it goes well. I do know that a lot of parents worked very hard to make the all-night party memorable. And I hope a new Skyline tradition will be born.

Monday, June 4, 2012

High-Stakes Testing; Wisconsin; Muskegon Heights

(Update: I changed the headline to something that actually describes what is in this blog post, rather than "things you might want to read this week.")

High Stakes Testing Protests are Escalating. The Schools Matter blog has an interesting article with lots of links, including a national petition. Those of you who are interested in opting out of testing for the MEAP, NWEA, and other tests (and I have heard from several of you!) should not only read this article, but be sure to explore the links as well.

There is a fierce political battle going on in Wisconsin. Tomorrow is the day for Wisconsites to choose between the current governor, Scott Walker--who has been recalled over his anti-public worker and union-busting tactics and more--and Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor. You may recall that I wrote about the Wisconsin protests when I was there over a year ago--read my blog post here. Read about the current election here courtesy of the Progressive/Isthmus partnership (two Wisconsin publications), and please--tell your Wisconsin friends to get out and vote against Walker.

The Schools Matter blog is also reporting on the reporting around the privatization scheme for Philadelphia schools. You might want to read this article and visit some of the links. I know, you're wondering--well who cares what is happening in Philadelphia. . . or New Orleans. . . or New York? Well you should, because it is all part of a national movement to take a public good--PUBLIC schools--and try and squeeze money out of them for private companies to make money.

What's more, this scenario is coming soon to a school district near you--to wit, Muskegon Heights.

Muskegon Heights is a small, urban school district that is surrounded by other cities. By all "hard" measures (graduation rates, test scores, enrollment numbers) it has been a (very) poorly-performing district for a long, long time. Most recently,  its school board requested--requested!--an emergency manager. And the emergency manager, Don Weatherspoon, came in and found: failing schools; very poor prior financial management for years and years; a boatload of debt; and enrollment that has been dropping for years. You might remember that Emergency Managers have powers that the rest of us mortals (local school boards) don't have, and he said, in essence, "We're going to close this district down and re-open it under charter school management." As far as I can tell, this is not a choice that a local school district could make if they wanted to.

He also told the school district parents that he can guarantee that there will be school in the fall, but he can't guarantee there will be any extras, like band or sports. Would you want to send your child there? You can read the Michigan Education Association press release here. Not surprisingly, the MEA is incensed. Teachers lose their jobs. Union contracts are ended. Will the company that comes in as a charter school operator be a for-profit? That remains to be seen but since the majority of charter schools are run by for-profit companies, my guess would be that it will be a for-profit. As if all of that was not outrageous enough, here is the kicker (as a taxpayer)--taken from the MEA press release:

Under the plan, the district would no longer be in the practice of educating children. However, the district would keep its projected $14.48 million debt, and the new charter company will start out debt-free and receive state aid payments.
As EM, Weatherspoon has the authority to act as the charter authorizer and appoint the board for the new charter system. He will also decide what building and materials could be offered to the charter company. He says the rest will be “put on the market and gotten rid of.”
In other words--Muskegon Heights will now have a school board that they didn't elect and cannot remove. Yet the taxpayers will still be on the hook for the debt. I believe there is no bankruptcy for school districts (if there were, that might have solved this problem a while ago), and I'm not sure how the debt gets paid off or what it means. I do know this though--Muskegon Heights fits every definition of a failing district. Nonetheless, this is not a good solution for public education.