Monday, September 1, 2014

"Nothing Ever Happens With Schools In the Summer"

Although it's true that with the advent of school I always feel like a Mack Truck has hit me, the idea that nothing ever happens with schools in the summer is completely deceptive.

It reminds me of a book we used to read to our kids when they were little:
Ellen Raskin's Nothing Ever Happens On My Block.

In that book, a kid bemoans that nothing ever happens on his block. Meanwhile...


Consider what has happened this summer in Ann Arbor alone:

1. Three high schools have new principals--Huron, Community, and Pioneer. Given that Skyline got a new principal last year (as did Pioneer, actually--twice), we can understand this as a major changing of the guard! Many more elementary and middle schools have new principals.

2. There were a lot of retirements (given salary cuts, I don't find that at all surprising) and a new World Languages Initiative, so it's not surprising there was lots of hiring of teachers as well. Even after all the budget cuts, Ann Arbor pays more than some school districts (like Ypsilanti) and is perceived as having more opportunities (because of its size), and so many of the teachers are coming from other schools or charters.

3. The new Ann Arbor STEAM school was. . . picking up steam and getting ready to roll. You can follow them on Twitter, if you do that, at @a2steam.

4. For the second time in two years, a big contingent of administrators and teachers went to Singapore. Jenna Bacolor, the Director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, blogged about it: post #1, post #2, post #3.

5. Jeanice Swift hit her one-year anniversary as Ann Arbor superintendent--generally, I think, to positive reviews. [And if you have an issue with something she does, or if you want to offer some praise, I suggest you email her directly at I have found her to be remarkably responsive to emails. In fact, I'm not exactly sure when she sleeps.]

6. We have enlisted 10. Yes. TEN. candidates for Ann Arbor school board. For four positions. I think that's fantastic!

7. The school board began and intensified very serious discussions about annexing Whitmore Lake schools.

And then there's Ypsilanti: 

Meanwhile, Ypsilanti Community Schools--only a year old--has lots of new staff, including a new athletic director and band director (those two things, I think will make a lot of people happy); has a new superintendent (who was the old Willow Run superintendent, and the assistant superintendent last year)--Laura M. ; has 18 candidates for 7 school board positions; reconfigured some schools, and had Holmes Elementary try a year-round "balanced calendar" schedule.

And statewide: 

1. The Detroit Free Press ran a blockbuster series of articles on charter schools. Really, it gives me hope for investigative journalism.

2. This caused the State Board of Education and Superintendent to finally promise to take some action on regulating charter schools--finally! You can look at it as "too little, too late" or "better late than never."

3. A new organization, Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change, got started. It is "Devoted to raising awareness & taking action to refocus our state's resources on our students and communities." This past week, they had a rally in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor's own Superintendent Jeanice Swift, Representative Jeff Irwin, teacher Quinn Straessel, some Ann Arbor students, and several others were speakers. And several school board candidates were there. I had put out a call for someone to take pictures, and many thanks to Jack Panitch for sending me some! As it happens, I was able to stop by for a few minutes, and found a great spirit there. I also found they were giving out free ice cream sandwiches--and with that, they surely won over my heart (well, more like my stomach. . . )!

Photo by Jack Panitch

Quinn Straessel, Ann Arbor teacher and
one of the initiators of M-TAC. Photo by Jack Panitch.

I really like the context of the historic sign in the background,
"Residential Life in Mid-19th Century Ann Arbor," with the
"Public School=Democracy" sign. Photo by Jack Panitch.

Ann Arbor Superintendent Jeanice Swift promised in her job interview
that she would be willing to engage with the state legislature
to advocatefor adequate public school funding, and here she is
speaking at the M-TAC rally. Photo by Jack Panitch.

Photo by Jack Panitch.


Tomorrow is the first day of school for many kids in Michigan.

It is also--sad to say--the last day of publication for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I did have a few columns in the Chronicle (and experienced some wonderful editing at their hands), but that's not why I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss them for their attention to local news. We need more of that. For a while they covered the Ann Arbor school board in detail, but then they couldn't do that any more, which was too bad, but really--we need that coverage not just for Ann Arbor, but for every school board and charter school in this nation. Awareness. Reporting. Transparency. 

Is it then that the Chronicle is the end? 


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time? (William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Don't count on it. Shakespeare could be a real killjoy. I believe that something new, and good, will come along. But Ann Arbor Chronicle, we will miss you!

It's fitting, to me, that on the penultimate day of the publication of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, David Erik Nelson--another Chronicle columnist--wrote a lovely essay about the meaning and need for our public schools, and about some Ann Arbor schools history. 

As a thanks to Mary Morgan and Dave Askins, take a few minutes to read David Erik Nelson's article, and remind yourself what it is, exactly, that teachers do--and why, though your child may say that "nothing" happens in school this year, something probably will. 

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