Thursday, May 26, 2016

Swimming Lessons

My heart aches tonight for a child I didn't know. 

Billy Dunn was about to turn 19, and he loved fishing and swimming, and he drowned in Ford Lake.

Billy knew how to swim, but I have had friends tell me how--even though they were good swimmers--they almost drowned in open water.

Billy Dunn
In fact, the Talmud (the compendium of Jewish law) says that one of the obligations of being a parent is teaching your children to swim.

Summertime is a great time for swim lessons!

Since Memorial Day is this weekend, it seems like a good time to say: Summertime is a great time for swim lessons!

Here are some options:

The Ann Arbor YMCA is offering Free SPLASH Safety Around Water classes at local pools at apartment complexes in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor this summer. Find out more here.

They also have private and group swim lessons for adults, and private and group swim lessons for kids, and private and group swim lessons for teens.

The City of Ann Arbor pools have joined the USA Swimming Foundation’s water safety initiative, Make a Splash. The USA Swimming Foundation launched Make a Splash in 2007 with the goal to teach every child to learn to swim. We aim to spread awareness of the importance to learn to swim and be safe around water. As a Make a Splash local partner, we are dedicated to providing quality swim instruction and the common goal of saving lives and getting children in better shape.

Rutherford Pool, Ypsilanti--offers four levels of swim lessons

Goldfish Swim School

One more thing--think about becoming a lifeguard or a swim teacher if you like hanging out around the pool! It's a great summer job, and you might be able to save a life.

May Billy Dunn's memory be a blessing.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spotlight, P.R., & the State of the Schools

Generally speaking, I am not a movie person.

It's rather ironic, then, that I am talking about movies twice in one week!

[The first time was last Friday, where I gave the Welcome at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice fundraising breakfast, and talked about how Sandra Bullock's character in Miss Congeniality wants world peace, and how we know we can't just want world peace, we have to act on it. Check out ICPJ here.]

Probably my favorite movie of last year was the movie Spotlight. That's the movie about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I was fascinated by the work the reporters did to uncover the story, to build the case. If you were watching, though, there was a part that horrified me. (And no, it's not what you think--of course the scandal itself is horrifying--this is more subtle.) There's a part in the movie when 9/11 happens. (And yes, that too is horrifying--but again, this is more subtle.)

What happens to the reporters working on Spotlight when 9/11 happens? They get pulled off their project. Every one of them. [In the process, they upset many of the survivors/witnesses they had interviewed.] The project, uncovering the abuse scandal, languished.

And if that was the case in 2001, that is even more the case now.

Look at what happened in Flint! If not for the dedication of an investigative reporter hired by the ACLU (not the usual path for investigative journalism, to be hired by a nonprofit), who knows when this story would have seen the light of day! After it broke, some Flint MLive reporters and Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reporters have turned their attention to the story in Flint (and they've done an excellent job)--but I imagine that in doing so, they have been pulled off some equally important story, that in turn may never see the light of day.

We need to do a better job supporting investigative journalism. The model we have is not working, and investigative journalism is critical to our democracy.

Right now we have a single, new to town, education reporter for MLive in Ann Arbor. (Welcome, Lauren Slagter.) And yet in Washtenaw County we have over 46,000 K-12 students in our county, and thousands of school teachers/staff.

Meanwhile, Monet Tiedemann has been live blogging as many of the Ann Arbor school board meetings as she can at

But that's it.

The situation is similar, or worse, in Dexter, Chelsea (they have Chelsea Update, at least), Saline, Ypsilanti...


So if you've been paying attention, you will notice that Ann Arbor school administration--and to a lesser but notable extent, Chelsea, Dexter, Saline, and Ypsilanti school administration--have been putting a lot of effort into their own P.R. machines. You can see evidence of this on twitter, and facebook;  in emailed newsletters; and on their school web sites. Each of them, in their own way, are trying to promote their districts, share the good news about their districts, draw attention to their districts. And who can blame them? Journalists are few and far between.

So last week, Jeanice Swift organized a "State of the Ann Arbor Schools" event. She had the Community High band Tempus Fugit play, she had Rep. Jeff Irwin and County Commissioner Andy LaBarre speak, and she herself spoke.
Tempus Fugit playing at the State of the Schools.
L to R: Aidan Wada-Dawson, Jonathan Lynn, Aaron Willette,
Seamus Lynch, Danny Freiband, Avery Farmer.

Rep. Jeff Irwin speaking. He had my favorite line:
"Education is economic development."

And I think that organizing this event, from the point of view of promoting the school district, was a good idea. I do hope that next year the event will be held in one of our schools, and not on the second floor of a hotel with no easy parking. I do hope that next year the event will be widely promoted to parents, PTOs, etc. In other words, I'd like to see 200 citizens in addition to the 50 or so administrators and blue ribbon panel members that were there.

In full disclosure, I left before Jeanice Swift spoke, so I'm not sure what she said exactly. But based on the handouts, I imagine she talked about happy things, like the fact that graduation rates are improving, and that she discussed some of the new district initiatives.


In case you are wondering, I don't expect Jeanice Swift, in a State of the Schools event, to dwell on issues that are significant problems, and even if she does or did, I would expect her to give a PR perspective on it, because essentially, this is a PR event.

It's reasonable to expect that not everything is hunky-dory, and that it might require someone from the outside to look in and see what's not working. 

For instance: I think it's worth mentioning that the teachers I have spoken to are still quite upset about the time consuming and (in their opinion) ridiculous evaluation process they are now required to go through; still upset about the way the school board treated them last year during contract negotiations; worried about the way contract negotiations are going this year. And--many of them are afraid to speak out, feeling they have been implicitly threatened.

The point is this: there are a lot of great things going on in the Ann Arbor schools (and in the other local districts, too). But there are also things that don't fit the narrative of a PR machine, and they don't show up in a State of the Schools event. 

We expect that we will learn about them through the media--and at this point, I'm not really sure that's possible.

So who knows what we are missing?!

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Friday, May 6, 2016

State House Burns Detroit Schools in Middle of Night Session

While we were sleeping, the State House Republicans pushed through some awful legislation that burns the Detroit schools. (In case you are wondering, the State Senate legislation is better, although in my opinion it is not better enough. But it is bipartisan.)

Pushed through. At 4:30 in the morning. That's a great time for decision-making, right?

Phone lines are open: Feel free to call House Speaker Kevin Cotter and give him a piece of your mind. Phone: 517-373-1789; Email: 

The point, people, is that we would never. ever. ever. accept what they are doing to the Detroit Schools as equitable or just or reasonable or in the students' interests in Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Okemos, East Grand Rapids...OR EVEN IN schools with a higher percentage of students of color like Southfield or Ypsilanti. 

Never. Ever. And that's because it's not equitable, just, reasonable, or in the students' interests.

[For instance--would we accept saying that all of the teachers have to apply for their jobs back, no guarantees, no union, and if they don't get them back, or don't apply, we can bring in uncertified teachers to teach our kids? I don't think so.]

And it's the same shameful thinking--death of a thousand cuts--that brings us the Flint lead crisis.

Which--in an educational sense--we will be paying for, for many years, because kids with lead poisoning will need special education services, which are mandated. [And by the way, a little shout out to all the Washtenaw County voters who said yes to the special education millage. Totally off topic, but...phew! We needed that.] Back to Detroit, where the schools probably need that money more.

What we can be proud of, folks, is the House Democratic caucus. There were some outstanding speeches. I am just sorry that some folks are either too thick skulled or too "in the pocket" of special interests (yes, I'm talking about the DeVos family agenda) to listen.

But do listen to the speeches:

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit, and former DPS teacher:

"The package today builds on that foundation of institutional racism."

Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing:

"Just because you say it's about the kids, doesn't mean it's about the kids."

Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor:

From his Facebook post:  
In the middle of the night, House Republicans rammed through a partisan package of bills created specifically to set Detroit Public Schools down a path of continued systemic financial and academic inadequacy. 
This package is intentionally designed to provide inadequate debt service toDPS, to incorporate uncertified teachers in their classrooms and to allow the continued proliferation of unchecked, low-quality schools in the City of Detroit. 
It's despicable, low-down and dirty politics to satisfy the sick desires of one family on the west side of the state. The House Republican's plan reflects that they are bought and paid for.

Last, but not least--

Seth Meyers, of Late Night with Seth Meyers, stands with Detroit teachers:

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Please Vote Yes: Washtenaw County Special Ed. Millage May 3

Tuesday May 3d the county has a special education millage on the ballot. 

It's the only thing on the ballot, and it's critical that it passes. 

It will support special education services in all of our county districts--and since special education services are mandated and have to be supported whether funded or not--we also support general education by voting yes. All of the funds will stay local.

Students up to age 26 are eligible to receive special education services. Your YES vote means public schools in Washtenaw County can support the 6,500 students who count on these services without eliminating programs that benefit ALL students. 

Unfortunately, the Washtenaw County Republican Party voted to oppose this millage. 

Please don't let the "No" votes win.

For several of our districts, it is the difference between deficit budgets and break-even budgets.

Read more here.

Support our schools--join me in voting yes!

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!