Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Literacy: MiLitPlan, ESL

State Literacy Initiative:
The Michigan Department of Education is drafting a statewide literacy plan called MiLitPlan. They are forming a review team that begins work this fall. If you would like to join the review team, please find an application attached. [I got this through a health listserve, so I don't think you need to be a literacy "expert," but you should have some interest/skills.] The deadline for reviewer applications is August 4th.
The purpose of this letter is to inform you about the Michigan statewide literacy plan (MiLitPlan) that was initiated in May 2010. . . We would like to invite you to be part of the review process for the MiLitPlan. . . If you are interested in joining the review group for the MiLitPlan, please complete the attached form and email it to Connie McCall at or fax to (517) 241-0247 by August 4th, 2010 (more information below).
Thank you in advance for your interest in working on the MiLitPlan. We look forward to your input and support for this important statewide literacy initiative. If you have questions about the attached information form or general questions about the MiLitPlan, please contact Connie McCall at the email address above or by telephone at (517) 335-3678. If you have any further questions about the MiLitPlan, please contact Ruth Isaia at, or by telephone at (517) 373-2590.
English As A Second Language (ESL) Welcome Fair:
Hosted By: Ann Arbor ESL Community Advisory Board (a group I didn't even know existed!)
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
12-3 PM
Skyline High School
Second Floor Commons
2552 North Maple
Learn About Ann Arbor’s Community Resources & Services Health, Wellness, Safety, Sports, Recreation, Education, Tutoring, Pre-School, Childcare, Libraries, Transportation, and MORE!

The Ann Arbor Public Schools will also be administering the Michigan English Language Proficiency Assessment at Skyline High School to potentially eligible ESL students between 10 AM and 4 PM for students entering grades 6-12. Sign up in your child’s school office. Details will also be on the Ann Arbor Public School’s

ESL Website-
Last year I did hear about a foreign student who was automatically placed in the lowest English because school staff made the assumption that his English was poor. As it happens, his English was fairly fluent. An intervention by a relative was required to set the school straight. School staff are supposed to give you an assessment test, even if you join the school in the middle of the year...

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Law of the Sea

Tonight, I was driving and listening to a segment of The World (the PRI show, The World) where they were discussing the progress President Obama is making (very slow, indeed) at getting the Senate to advise and consent on treaties. Apparently the U.S. has a habit of having diplomats agree to a treaty, and then the U.S. essentially lives by the terms of the treaty, but we don't actually ratify it.

Case in point? The Law of the Sea.
Wait a second...THAT hasn't been ratified?

In eleventh grade I had a social studies teacher who taught an elective class on The United Nations and International Diplomacy: The Law of the Sea. (That was not its exact name--but it was something close.) Mr. Sax deeply believed in democratic values and thought that the Law of the Sea was extremely important both for the environment and the world. Although I think he might be right about that, at the time it seemed somewhat esoteric to me, and certainly not worth getting as excited about it as he clearly was. [He was an idealist. I believe he was disappointed that Esperanto had not succeeded.]
The Law of the Sea treaty was written in the 1970s and early 1980s, and revised again in the 1990s. This is, in fact, one of those treaties that we have not ratified, but have been abiding...but if the U.S. doesn't ratify the treaty, then we are not officially a party to the treaty.

In any case, that story on The World transported me back to a subject that I hadn't thought about since eleventh grade. Was it worth learning about? I don't know. It was fun to recognize it today.

The other item Mr. Sax insisted that we learn has been more useful to me. He insisted that we learn to fold the newspaper so that it could be read while riding on the train or subway without getting it in your neighbor's face. (And of course, he meant The New York Times, because what other newspaper would be worth doing this for?) Now that I found useful--at least when I lived in the New York area.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Disappointment and Creativity

David Jesse at reports today that the Ann Arbor school board approved changes in the teacher contract, and voted unanimously to consolidate busing.

Regarding the teacher contract, kudos to the negotiators. It really is a creative collaboration.

However--the teacher contract makes the vote to consolidate bussing--which means that workers lose their jobs with no guarantee of re-hire, or even of seniority preference in hiring--all the more disappointing.

It's not disappointing because of the school board vote. That is the end of the process, the tail wagging the dog. It is disappointing because it is clear--based on the teacher contract--that the district has the capacity to develop creative agreements that serve workers well. Yet in the case of the transportation workers, they chose not to do so. I don't know why.

It is even more disappointing that notification to the workers--according to the comments on from's reporting, and not from the district. That is, truly, a crying shame.

How Do You Brand That?

A couple of weeks ago, on a post I labeled The Great Experiment, I got this (anonymous) comment: 
There is another related quote in Sunday AA.Com from WISD superintendent Bill Miller. He talks about schools having to distinguish themselves and market their brand. This frightens me tremendously as I have already observed this going on both in a charter school and in AAPS high school. No one wants to be branded as "the school for average kids, the school for kids with social/learning problems, the school for kids whose parents don't care". Everyone wants to be the school/program/teacher for the advanced and there is a huge temptation to devote more and more resources to the students that can perform at the elite level. I hope that every parent that experiences this phenomenon speaks up and continues to speak up until the concerns are addressed (that may take a great deal of persistence).
I think this is a really interesting comment, given that the way our state statutes are written, your local public school is considered the default, and expected to serve everybody. How do you market that? It's much easier to market a specific idea.

For instance, I hate the Ann Arbor Public Schools "Excellence" campaign. A picture of a smiling teacher with smiling kids? How does that prove excellence? What are the chances my child would get that teacher anyway?
I like the Ypsilanti Public Schools "Strong from start to finish" campaign, because it communicates a specific idea. However, based on graduation rates, I think there are probably holes in that education, at least for some students.

In that sense, private schools have an easier time of it.

For instance, take Huron Valley Catholic. Their ad on a board on West Stadium drew my attention because (I can't remember the slogan right now) it uses the word "heart" and connects learning with warmth and emotion. I like that it immediately conveys a sense of the school. Their web site uses a different slogan, "Passion for learning, passion for Christ." That, too, conveys a sense of focus. Parents should know immediately if they would like to investigate further.

On the other hand, Huron Valley Catholic gets to choose who comes in their doors, and their admissions policy states,
1. Student must have a C+ or better (or equivalent) grade average in academic subjects during the past two years, with no failing grades (or equivalent), and an acceptable conduct/behavioral evaluation.
2. All new students entering grades 1 through 8 must take a math and reading test. Kindergarten students must take a readiness test as part of Kindergarten roundup. Students must score no more than one grade level lower than current grade. For example, a student in the 7th grade, 5th month of school should be able to perform at a minimum of 6th grade, 5th month level.
(Emphases added.)
Note, I am not calling out Huron Valley Catholic about their requirements regarding behavior and grade level achievement. Lots of private schools have the same kinds of requirements. I'm just pointing out that it makes it unlikely that they will be educating a lot of kids with trouble learning because of learning disabilities, or poor prior educational circumstances, or severe attention deficit problems.  I'm just pointing out that public schools don't get to pass on those kids.

And yet, a public school campaign that started "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..." would probably not work. (Apologies to the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus, but you get the point.)

Which leads me to this question: What, exactly, is the brand that public schools are trying to achieve? On the one hand, my experiences with Community High School lead me to believe that a lot of people want a school with a "brand." I personally don't need a brand, but I like the idea of having a choice of schools. In Ann Arbor, I would love to see an arts magnet, I would love to see an immersion language magnet, I would love to see a science magnet. On the other hand, the mandate of the public schools is to serve the public. And don't we hope that all public schools will be excellent?
Really, how do you brand that?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Supica Family: Lawton, Slauson, Pioneer

Some of you may have heard the sad news that two members of the Supica family were killed (daughter Samantha and mother Theresa) and two teenage daughters were injured. Here is the article about the deaths, which occurred on the way to a field hockey event. Updated 3:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.: The two injured sisters are named Sydney and Shelby Sloane, and they Sydney played field hockey for Pioneer High School this past year.

UPDATE 6/26/2010: Obituary for Theresa and Samantha Supica

UPDATE 6/25/10
Funeral services will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, July 3d, at Knox Presbyterian Church, 2065 S. Wagner Road, with private interment. The family will receive friends on July 3d from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools is responding with a gathering and crisis team. Here is the information from Slauson principal Dr. Curtis:
To bring the communities of Lawton, Slauson and Pioneer together during this time of grief, a gathering is scheduled for tonight, Tuesday, June 22 at Slauson on the front deck from 7pm – 8:30pm. We will have district crisis team members available for support as well as cards and paper to send support to the Supica family.

I will add more information as I find out more.

Updated 10 p.m.
Here is another article.

Donation information:
Please consider a donation to the Supica Benefit Trust by going to and click on HHH Forms, Donation Forms, and in the "Comments or Special Request" box, enter "c/o Supica Benefit Trust". Donors of $50 or greater will receive an official tax receipt later in the year.
Checks are also welcome. Make your check out to Hockey Has Heart c/o the "Supica Benefit Trust" and send or drop off the check at the TCF Bank on W. Stadium and Pauline or any TCF location.
TCF Bank
1900 Pauline Boulevard
Ann Arbor, MI 48103-5002

Friday, June 18, 2010

School's Out!

Summertime, and the living is easy... Have a great break!
Read about the Welsh poet W.H. Davies here.

School's Out
Girls scream,
    Boys shout;
Dogs bark,
    School's out.
Cats run,
    Horses shy;
Into trees
    Birds fly.
Babes wake
If they can,
    Tramps hide.
Old man,
    Hobble home;
Merry mites,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Six Questions, Fewer Answers

1. Is the Michigan Department of Education completely inept?
First comes the report that Ypsilanti High School has scored in the bottom 5% of all high schools in the state. Based on what I've seen, that didn't make any sense to me--and what about Willow Run? Their graduation rates are terrible. And then, three hours (yes, hours) before a big "transformation" grant is due, they are told that they are not eligible. Why? Um, they are not actually in the bottom 5% of all schools in the state. Generally, that's good news. But three hours? Ineptness, yes.
2. Why didn't more teachers take advantage of the early retirement offer?
(Multiple choice answer.)
A. The deal didn't give teachers a lot of time to decide.
B. The incentive wasn't that great.
C. The incentive came with a really big negative. If you accepted it, you couldn't come back as a part-time teacher (a common practice in several local districts), or as a curriculum adviser, or even as a baseball coach, without losing pension income during the time period you were actually working.
D. All of the above.
3. Will the state legislature take surplus money from the School Aid Fund?
Oh, you thought that money was earmarked for schools? It turns out that it is earmarked for "education." Any education--including community colleges and higher education. I do want us to support higher education, but not from this fund. It may not be a technical misappropriation, but it is truly a violation of people's understanding of the fund. [It's right up there with the fact that the state legislature took money out of the fund for matching political campaigns.] After all, K-12 education is mandatory. College is desirable, but it's not mandated. Short answer: Your guess is as good as mine.
4. Why does get you to the Ann Arbor Public Schools web site; and gets you to the Ann Arbor Public Schools web site; but gets you to "Problem Loading Page?"
Educated guess: because there is a problem with the web site.
5. Will Willow Run finally fire Doris Hope-Jackson, former Superintendent?  And Willow Run High School is in the bottom 5% of high schools in the state. What are they going to do about that?
I don't know, and I don't know.
6. What was my favorite advice to date in the Three Things That Could Improve Michigan on WUOM? (Admittedly, I haven't heard all of them.)
My favorite advice to date came from Josie Parker, Director of the Ann Arbor District Library. "Be curious," she said. I think that's a great idea.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saturday Night's Fun: Skyline Soccer, MHSAA, and Title IX

 My Saturday Night
The Skyline women's soccer team made it to the District 2 regionals and I went to see my daughter's friend play. Saturday night, at Trenton High School, this group of 9th and 10th graders played a Livonia Ladywood team (grades 9-12) that included at least one all-stater. Skyline lost, 1-0. Their best chances to score came in the last 15 minutes.  Read all about it here (with video). 
(The team runs the field--out to the bleachers and back--at the end of the game.)

Watching the game sent me down Memory Lane. I was in high school in the years post-Title IX.
Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
Many people have never heard of Title IX.  Most people who know about Title IX think it applies only to sports, but athletics is only one of 10 key areas addressed by the law. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology. (From
From a Sports Perspective
What a difference a few years make! When I was in middle school, all the girls (grades 7-12--the middle school was separate, but attached to the high school) were consigned to the small gym. All the boys (grades 7-12) got the big and beautiful gym. By the time I got to high school, the powers-that-be were beginning to implement Title IX (it took them a few years). By 1976, the middle school students got the small gym, and the high school students got the big gym. Did that mean more juggling of space? You bet. And with physical education four days a week, for four years, space got tight. That is, actually, how I learned to juggle--in the wrestling room. They made it work though, and juggling space just seemed normal.
In retrospect, the physical education department at my high school seemed to want to make Title IX work--but they had a lot of catch-up to do. There were hardly any girls' after-school sports at the time. And that's probably why, when my friends Denise and Anne lobbied for a girls' soccer team (we weren't called "women's" soccer), they let us form one. So as a senior, I was on the first girls' soccer team for our high school.
Then and Now
Here are a couple of differences between then and now: the skill level of the Skyline players is vastly vastly better, and the women's game is much more physical. It was fun to watch.
Another thing that was different--and completely, totally, outstandingly cool? The men's soccer team showed up as the cheer section--with face paint and school colors. And they brought the mascot!

If we had made it to regionals back in 1980, I think we would have gotten the parents. But the boys' team? No way! (Yes, of course the parents were there Saturday night. My favorite parent line was from a parent who didn't think the ref was being fair: "Ref, you're missing a great game here!") Digression: Did you know that the chant "Go Blue" works for Skyline as well as UM?

MHSAA: Dumb Decisions, and Where Does My Money Go?
The game cost $5 per ticket to get in (I spent $15), and the tickets are stamped MHSAA: Michigan High School Athletic Association. MHSAA is, essentially, the statewide high school sports organization. I believe all of the local schools that field sports teams are members, and I'm including private, parochial, and charter schools (e.g., Greenhills, Gabriel Richard, and Central Academy).
If you want, you can think of it as a monopoly. On the one hand, maybe a monopoly makes sense for coordination purposes.
On the other hand, MHSAA spent the last ten-or-so years strenuously fighting a Title IX challenge. Remember, school districts around the state support MHSAA with their dollars (our tax dollars), and I certainly didn't support the MHSAA fight. So I started thinking about the lawsuit.

Here is the very quick summary:
Communities for Equity, a Grand-Rapids-based group, sued MHSAA over the placement of sports seasons. It's not illegal to have (for instance) one season of basketball in the fall or spring, and a different season in the winter--and obviously that makes it easier to schedule gym time. However, in Michigan, the "worse" or non-traditional season was always given to the women's sports season. Under Title IX, the discriminatory practice--always giving women the less desirable season--is illegal. So--Communities for Equity sued, and won. MHSAA appealed, and lost. Appealed, and lost. . . The lawsuit went on for nine years (!). In the end, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
During those nine years (that is nine graduating classes), other states' high school athletic associations had the same issue. But instead of pursuing ongoing legal action, and racking up millions of dollars in legal fees, those states' athletic associations changed their practice. In the end: Michigan had to align their seasons the same way that 49 other states had already done. (That's right, we were LAST to adopt a practice everyone else had already done.) As far as I'm concerned, that was the right thing to do--but it would have been the right thing to do many years earlier. Hey people, you were a little late to the party!
Further--if it were up to me, I would have changed the MHSAA leadership a long time ago. What were they thinking, fighting this for so many years? What's more, they are still whining about the change. Want some cheese with that whine?

From a Detroit News article written 2/25/2010,
 "I don't think people are much happier about it today then they were when the court ruling was made," said John "Jack" Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA, which opposed changes to the seasons.
WAIT A SECOND. Who is "people?" I'm people. And I am VERY HAPPY about the change.

Then the article quotes Connie Engel:
Engel, who lives in Grand Rapids, is one of the founders of the Communities of Equity, the group that sued the MHSAA in 1998 for what it described as discriminatory scheduling practices at the convenience of boys sports.
"Looking through the eyes of Title IX, gate receipts can't be a persuasive factor," she said. "It isn't anything about the public, it's about the children's legal rights to be treated without discrimination. I just opened the newspaper Saturday morning and there were two big spreads on each side with boys and girls basketball."
It was MHSAA's own damn fault that they ended up with a huge legal bill at the end. They didn't need to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court. They could have changed their practice. After the final ruling stood, MHSAA started moaning and groaning. They said that they might need to file for bankruptcy. They said they might need to assess all of the high schools in the association a special (and very large) assessment.
So I wondered, after I noticed that my ticket money was going to MHSAA, what ever happened to that legal bill? It was hard to find out.
You know that iPhone commercial, "There's an app for that?" Well, it turns out that--almost whatever you are looking for--"There's a blog for that." In this case, had the answer. (They have several posts on the case. If you are interested, click on the Michigan tag.)

In summary, instead of paying $7 million all at once, MHSAA is paying less and paying gradually, with final payments coming in 2014. And they can't get out of paying by filing for bankruptcy. The details of the agreement were originally covered by the Downriver News-Herald. (Which brings me back to the soccer game, I guess, since Trenton is Downriver.) What's surprising to me is how little news follow-up there was of this huge story that affects thousands of student-athletes--and all the Michigan high schools--every year.

In the Billie Jean King/Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova era, Virginia Slims supported the women's tennis tour, with the tag line "You've come a long way, baby."
We sure have. But we have a long way to go.
Read more about Title IX and athletics at and at

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tiger: The Lighter Side

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
(William Blake, The Tiger)

Headlining a chapter in my daughter's math book is a picture of Tiger Woods. You know, it's the attempt to introduce relevance. As if Tiger sits down with his calculator to analyze the best angles for hitting balls on the golf course.

"Mom," she said. "Look at this picture. I'll bet they wouldn't include that picture if they were writing this textbook now."

I'll bet they wouldn't. Math teachers are just not as interested in angles of repose. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Great Experiment

A few years ago, one of my friends was bemoaning to another that there is no real socialism, or even socialist leanings, in the U.S. anymore.
"Yes there is," the second friend said. "The public schools are our great socialist experiment."

I thought about this over the weekend.
David Jesse wrote an extended piece in about schools of choice, and about how more people are choosing different schools than their district-bounded schools. (The headlines there, by the way, are ridiculous. For instance: "Schools of choice takes financial toll on Washtenaw County school districts." Simply untrue--it's taken a toll on some, and been the saving grace of others.)

And in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, they referenced the socialist blog The World Socialist Web Site, which discusses the proposed transportation consolidation (about which I have written plenty!) and says,
WISD officials have said that those not hired back will lose their pensions. This component of the proposal is aimed at forcing older, better-compensated workers to retire rather than re-apply. Many older bus workers have signaled that they will take early retirement if the plan is enacted.
But I digress (at least from the starting point of this post--the point about the transportation consolidation is very valid). The WSWS post also says, "In reality, there is ample money for education, but it is a question of what class controls it."

I don't actually know if we should call public education the great socialist experiment. If it was or is, I think we could do a lot better.
I don't know if we should call public education the great democratic experiment. If it was or is, I think we could do a lot better.

But in order for a publicly-financed system to be a success, you have to have buy-in. You get buy in when our values and financial system align with local control, because then we see the results, and we live with the results. You get buy in when the majority of the local kids go to the local schools.

Schools have to have investment. There's a part of me that thinks the class analysis is correct. You can't have an anti-millage campaign winning, at least in part, because of financing from a wealthy local corporation.

When we set the control of funding at the state, not local, level...
When we make it advantageous for people to choose to leave their local public schools...

We take away the rationale for taxpayers--most of whom don't have kids--and most of whom are not wealthy--to support the local schools.

And there goes the Great Socialist Experiment.
And there goes the Great Democratic Experiment.
There goes the Great ---- Experiment.
There goes the ------ -------- Experiment.
There goes the ------- -------- --------.
There goes ----- ------ -------- -------.
There ---- ------ ------ -------- -------.
------- ---- ------ ------ -------- -------.

With apologies to B*I*N*G*O.

What Work Is: For the Bus Drivers

For the bus drivers, a favorite poem of mine, by Philip Levine.

This one, by Graeme King, is a poem that is a little more fun. It's also for the bus drivers.

Philip Levine, by the way, is a native Michigander (Detroiter) and a Pulitzer-prize winning poet. Graeme King is an Australian poet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meeting Agenda Posted

And here it is: tonight's meeting agenda. Transportation consolidation is a first briefing. Note at bottom, "Meeting will not be videotaped."

What is the Agenda?

Tonight, Friday night, the AAPS Board is having a meeting at 5 p.m.
A regular meeting.
The agenda is still not posted.
I actually have no idea as to whether the agendas are typically posted in advance. I assumed that they are, but I have never looked before.
I also assumed that there was an Open Meetings Act requirement to post agendas in advance (24 hours? 48 hours?). As far as I can tell, there's no requirement about posting agendas in the OMA.
On the AAPS web site, I also couldn't find any evidence that there is an AAPS board policy about posting the agenda.
If the board typically posts the agenda in advance, then I would like to know why they didn't post this one.
If the board doesn't typically post the agenda in advance, then I would like to know why not.

Often you can't find things you want to find on the AAPS web site, but I will say this: if there is no requirement from the Open Meetings Act to post agendas, then the AAPS School Board--and every other school board--should make it board policy to post agendas at least 24 hours in advance. They can always be amended.

Failure to post agendas can only be interpreted, by parents and taxpayers like myself, as a way to depress attendance and reduce transparency. And this is even more true in a case like this, where the meeting is scheduled for
Friday at 5 p.m.
And where the meeting is an additional meeting.
You could call the lack of an agenda sneaky. Or misguided.
In any case, we are back to the issue that keeps repeating: Transparency.
Process is important. 
And agenda has two meanings: 1) The agenda for the meeting is posted and 2) We will try to move this agenda forward.

I think that the meeting is going to discuss transportation consolidation, but I don't have any proof of that. So when I ask, "What is the agenda?" I am asking both the simple question of "What is on the list to discuss for the evening?" and the more complex and less transparent question of "If there is no agenda posted, does that mean that someone has a particular agenda that they are trying to push?" In the case of transportation, my guess is that the administration does have an agenda they are trying to push, and they are trying to keep it out of the public eye by not posting the agenda.

I suggest you send your comments, on both transparency and transportation, to the Board of Education at

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Community High School Graduation: May You Have Many Such Joyous Occasions

Written on 6/2/2010
Last night, my son graduated high school. Many people have asked me, "What was the Community High School graduation like?" Of course, it was AWE-some. It was my son!

Seriously, it was awesome in many ways, not just because it was my son, and if you want to see the video, you can, because it is going to be on CTN (Channel 19)! (It was two-and-a-half hours long; watch the first 30-40 minutes and you will get a very good feeling for the night.) Premier: Friday, 6/4/2010, 7 p.m. Replays: 6/5, 2 p.m.; 6/6/, 9 a.m.; 6/8, 11 a.m. or call 734-794-6150 for more times.

At my high school graduation (public school in the New York City suburbs), we girls wore long white dresses and the boys wore white dinner jackets. We had voted against caps and gowns. The ceremony was held on the football field (inside the track). Those of us in the top 10% (I was 19/26, there were 262 students in my graduating class) sat in rank order. Luckily, one of my best friends was right next to me. The rest of the class sat alphabetically. The superintendent and principal were supremely boring. The student council president gave an insipid speech about rainbows. We were called across the stage one by one. And that's the way it was. Even today, except for the lack of cap and gowns, I think there are an awful lot of graduation ceremonies exactly like mine.

Not so at Community's graduation.

In complete randomness of order (well, not complete randomness--number 10 was chosen to be last), here are ten things I really liked about the Community High School graduation:

1. It was not random. It was very well-planned out, with musical interludes, a cartoon movie and a slide show, and even a stretch break. I was told it would be 2-1/2 hours, and it was.

2. The kids. The dress was very mixed, from jeans to suits to caps and gowns.  For the caps and gowns, well--CHS has the rainbow zebra as its mascot, so any color of cap and gown matched. I loved the variety. There were a lot of kids I had known from my son's preschool and from Ann Arbor Open. Some of them looked exactly the same, and others were unrecognizably different (grown!).

3. The Awards: My daughter pointed out to me that most of the graduating class got recognized in the program. Sure, they had the typical "excellence" awards, but they also gave awards for "Perseverance in the study of mathematics," which went to students who stuck with math for all four years, and for PERSONAL fitness (achieving personal goals) and for personal FITNESS (excellence in conditioning).

4. Could there be a more magnificent place to hold a graduation than Rackham Auditorium? It was full of proud parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. I know it would be too small for the graduating classes of the larger schools, but the ambience was magnificent.

5. Both Todd Roberts (Superintendent) and Jen Hein (Dean) did a good job. Their speeches were short and to the point. Dean Jen recognized the retiring teachers. Their resumes are impressive! Todd Roberts focused on the students' accomplishments, and he made a small mistake, but it was okay (and funny). I'll tell you why in a minute.

6. Thirty seconds. That's the amount of time each student got to speak. Students stuck to their thirty seconds. There was a lot of thanking, particularly of moms, often of teachers, occasionally of dads. There was a lot of quoting: Dr. Seuss, Yogi Berra ("When you come to a fork, take it"), Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and more. There was a quote in an eastern European language (Russian? Polish?). There were thank yous in Gaelic and Ojibway. There were exchange students speaking.  ("When I got here, I wondered, this can't be school. Is this summer camp?!") There were some stories. One student said, "My game plan when I started high school was to drop out after my sophomore year. But because of Community, my game plan changed. I'm going to college next year, and I am very happy to say that." There were a few songs. Specific memories. There were ideas: that at Community High one didn't feel one had to change one's personality; that at Community High you could find that you loved ........ (fill in the blank): literature, science, nerdiness, a particular person; that teachers at Community High lived to teach; that forum rocked. There were students who said they didn't think they would finish school, but they had made it. And they were proud. Honestly, I don't think that at my graduation most of us would have had such nice things to say.

7. There was Todd Roberts' very small error. One of the members of the Mock Trial team took his 30 seconds to say, "Todd Roberts is a very modest man. I am not a modest man. Our mock trial team didn't compete in the state championship, we won the state championship!" The crowd roared. And laughed. That Mock Trial team is proud--and competitive.

8. Statistics. I like them. According to the booklet, 122 students graduated. I think all but 3 or 4 were there. The counselors processed 423 college applications, and they reported that students were offered nearly $3,000,000 in merit scholarships. I thought that was a typo! My husband pointed out that if a student applied to 4 schools and got awarded $10,000/year in merit awards from all four, that would be (4 x $40,000) $160,000. So even though that student is only going to one school, and can only accept one offer, they still report all four offers. Still, I think that is pretty impressive. Also impressive? Fourteen students going to the University of Michigan. Twenty going to Washtenaw. Lots of kids going to small midwestern colleges (Kalamazoo, Beloit, Siena Heights, Albion, Oberlin, Denison). Students at Wayne State, MSU, University of Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Bowling Green...and a few going to east coast powerhouses. Most have plans to go to college.

9. Of course the slide show (baby pictures and grown up pictures) was fun, but my favorite part of the slide show was that they included the retiring teachers in it, with their baby/little kid pictures.

10. Forums do rock. Forum is the class that everyone at Community takes for four years. Forum is way more than a home room. If you are lucky, you get the same forum teacher all four years. With your forum, you go on field trips; you fundraise; you discuss. As a freshman, your forum teacher (not the counselor, generally) helps you plan your schedule. Forum leaders frequently serve as the first stop for other teachers, if a student is having trouble; and a first stop for parents, who need information about a developing situation; and a first ear for students. In other words, they divert a lot of work away from the counselors, and often they develop enduring relationships with their students. If there is one thing, I believe, that is completely transportable from Community to the other, larger, schools, and that would make a huge difference in the lives of students and the experience of high school--it is forum. (That explanation, by the way, was not a digression. That was the object lesson of the evening.) Students got introduced, not alphabetically, but by forum. The forum leaders handed out the diplomas, introduced each student, stood next to each student, hugged each student. And it was clear that there was a lot of love going on in those forums, between and among students and students, between and among students and teachers. There was the love.

Was there joy? You bet. Everybody loves a diploma, even the kids who are sad to leave.
May you have many such joyous occasions in your lives.

Ann Arbor: Meetings, Transportation, Strategic Planning, Loss

The Ann Arbor Board of Education has two "regular" board meetings, as well as the performance committee meeting, scheduled for the next 10 days. It is unusual to have two full board meetings so close to each other. (And they also had a board meeting on May 26th, which you can read about in detail in the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

There are no agendas posted at this point, but I am assuming that the issue of transportation consolidation is going to be on at least one of those agendas...which one? Meetings are not usually scheduled for Friday at 5. [Update 6/2/10 7:40 p.m. The agenda for Friday is still not posted, but I've been told to expect that the focus will be on transportation/consolidation.]
There is also a Performance Committee meeting scheduled and, since the Ann Arbor Chronicle article says that Superintendent Todd Roberts is going to be evaluated in June, I am thinking that process will start at the Performance Committee meeting.

1. 6/4/2010, Friday, 5 p.m., AAPS Board Meeting, Balas Main Conference Room (this is the non-regular, or added, "regular" meeting)
2. 6/9/2010, Wednesday, 7 p.m., AAPS Board Meeting, Ann Arbor District Library 4th Floor Meeting Room
3. 6/10/2010, Thursday, 6 p.m., Performance Committee, Balas Superintendents' Conference Room (This doesn't say executive session, but then again the agenda is not yet posted. Evaluations are generally done--at least partially--in executive session.

Remember, if you have something to say, you can a) be there for public comment; b) mail or email comments specifying they should be considered public comment for the meeting; or c) email the entire Board of Education in one fell swoop at

Tell them what you think about consolidation. Tell them what you think about Todd Roberts' work.

And here are a couple of other things to think about:
1. Larry Simpson, who is the head of the special education division (known as Student Intervention and Support Services), is retiring. Who will take over for him? According to the Chronicle article, there have been 5 administrators of special education in 13 years, and Simpson's tenure (4 years) is the longest. Obviously, that is a problem.
2. If you went to the winter budget meetings and, like me, signed up to be part of a strategic planning subcommittee, you might have been wondering what happened to those lists. Did they get lost? They were supposed to start in May, and now the board is discussing whether they should get started over the summer or in the fall. Are they trying to avoid engaging the public? It seems like it is "never" a good time. Summer is busy, fall is busy, then we get into December, and--well, my goodness--everyone knows that December is busy.
Listen up, school board and staff--the best time to start strategic planning is now. Strategic planning does not have to be intimately tied to the 2011-2012 budget, because strategic planning is long-term. It is not budget planning.
3. Buried (no pun intended) in the Ann Arbor Chronicle report is a mention of the death of Pioneer student Jasmine Thomas. As far as I could tell, there was no other reporting of her death. You can read her obituary here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ypsilanti Meetings: New Tech High School, Transportation

New Tech High School in Ypsilanti
Tonight, 6/1/2010, and tomorrow, 6/2/2010, are the final parent meetings for the New Tech High School at Ardis. The meetings are at the Ypsilanti High School Media Center (2095 Packard Rd.) at 6 p.m. Enrollment is only open to freshmen. If you are looking for a school of choice (and you are not in the Ypsilanti School District), there are 25 slots available for non-Ypsilanti students.
There are 40+ New Tech High Schools around the country, and 5 are opening in Michigan this coming year. Here is some information about the New Tech programs.

Side note:
Don't you think it is interesting that the high schools have essentially incorporated slang into their names? Technically, shouldn't it be New Technology High School? Is Tech even a word?

Transportation Meeting (Consolidation Discussion & Decision)
The Ypsilanti School Board will have a special meeting on June 7 to discuss the proposed county-wide bus consolidation plan that is being championed by the WISD. [Note: this is not even posted on the YPSD web site calendar, so I don't know the time and place. I will update with that.] I have written about the transportation consolidation issue before (here is my last post on the subject), and this is one area where the devil truly is in the details. At this point, I wouldn't support it. How do you spell M*E*S*S? Ifenough districts do sign on (they need 5, and I think they need Ann Arbor), there is sure to be a mess this summer. Part of the plan involves laying off all of the drivers, and rehiring a portion of them. In the process, all of the unions get dissolved, and the drivers end up with huge pay cuts. At this point, Willow Run is the only district to have voted for the plan to date, and now the Willow Run bus drivers' union has asked (as is their right) to bargain with the school district to see if they can come to an agreement. So the summer is likely to be taken up with school districts bargaining with transportation units, while simultaneously planning for two scenarios. There is, by the way, a SOLUTION. It's called: MORE TIME. Take a year to plan this out properly, with parents and workers (not just administrators) at the table too.