Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy News

Before break, some happy news.

Congratulations to Adams Elementary in Ypsilanti for making Adequate Yearly Progress two years in a row. I'm not a big fan of testing, but I'd much rather have our local schools making AYP than not making it.

And did you know the Ypsilanti Public Schools Foundation now has a ReSale shop? Not only is it a 501(c)3 organization that you can donate to, but YPS students and families that need clothes and household goods can shop free there. And so can YPS teachers, looking for classroom supplies. What a great idea!

Congratulations to the Dexter school board and administration for being brave enough to admit that they need more time to plan a transition to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and plan the switch back to semesters from trimesters. (And hey, their reasoning looks a lot like mine! Great minds think alike:)

Congratulations to Saline Schools for a relatively user-friendly web site and to their Superintendent for his interesting blog. (The Saline Schools twitter regularly too.)

Congratulations to Pioneer and Huron high schools for taking a step toward equity by offering the PSAT in the middle of the week, and not on Saturday; and congratulations to all of AAPS for eliminating the fee for taking the PSAT. I'll bet a lot more kids took the PSAT! (Not only is that the qualifier for National Merit awards, but it also means those students will get more information about colleges and scholarships.)

Congratulations to Judy and Manfred Schmidt for being honored for all of their work on behalf of the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area. If you're looking for a nice walk over break, this could be the one for you! There are about 5 miles of trails there. I linked to this lovely article about the woods once before. You can park in the school parking lot, and enter the park right behind Scarlett.

Congratulations to Ann Arbor Open for another lovely Multicultural Festival. It's my favorite (school) day of the year, as you might remember from this post I wrote last year (now it's an oldie but a goodie).

I'm not sure if I will be blogging over break, or not, but...I hope you get some time off.

Happy 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Overheard: Busing Problems

The bloom is off the rose.
That idea that if you "consolidate" busing you'll save boatloads of cash and you won't have problems, well...
First there was the decision the Ypsilanti school board made that the Ypsilanti schools had to spend up to $180,000 on non-WISD buses to solve chronic problems with buses being late. That came two months into the school year.
(And that is not a school district that is rolling in dough.)

Now this past week I heard about some problems in the Ann Arbor district, and they are mighty troubling.

Guess what? On some routes, buses in Ann Arbor are still late almost every day.
(And parents are being told by principals, it is out of my hands. Call the WISD.)

I'm told that minutes in the day count.  They do, right?

But much worse than that, I overheard a parent ask a principal, in a public meeting,
"What should I do about bullying on the bus?"

And the principal said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Well if it is between two students from the same school, tell the school. If it is kids from different schools, that is a difficult problem. You should still tell us and maybe we can help, but really you need to call the WISD."

And to make matters even worse, the parent said later to me--and was echoed by others--
"We call and we call the WISD, and nobody ever calls us back." and
"The bus drivers on the routes change frequently, and they either don't know the kids' names or don't really care."
(Does that have to do with them getting paid less, or is it just because the WISD doesn't know how to schedule drivers consistently on the same routes?)

Where is it?
How much are we saving?
Is it worth it?
How many bullying incidents are not being prevented?

It's time for an evaluation.
It's time to make the WISD publicly accountable.
I'd like to it just a matter of time to "work out the kinks?"
If that's the case, let's identify them and work them out!
Or is it that we were sold a boatload of hogwash, and the bus drivers got sold down the river?
And if that's the case, how can we rectify the situation?

Monday, December 13, 2010


I was standing at the counter at Nicola's Books, and I heard someone ask a staff person, "I'm looking for a book for an eight-year-old boy..." which just set me off onto a rumination of kids' books.

This past year, I discovered two fantasy series I liked. I'm not pretending they are new, just that I hadn't read the Charlie Bone series of books (Jenny Nimmo) or the Garth Nix series Keys to the Kingdom.

Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered a new kids' mysteries author: Diane Stanley. (Try The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy.) They are different, but almost as good as, Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes mystery series, or Blue Balliet's art and architecture mysteries, like Chasing Vermeer. (Calling them art and architecture mysteries makes them sound lame, and they are so seriously the antithesis of lame).

Then I started thinking about The Secret Garden, The Moffats, and the book I read about fifty times in high school, The Hobbit (yes, a book can be a classic and fantasy too).

Historical Fiction
I was standing in line at Nicola's buying Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for my 11-year-old, who said, when I gave it to him, "I heard that's a good book." (I wonder who he heard that from?)

You could also try Avi's Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? (a lighter story about the radio), or Linda Sue Park's book about the Japanese take over of Korea during WWII, When My Name Was Keoko.

Realistic Fiction
If you liked Harriet the Spy (which I will confess I did not), you will probably like Madeleine George's book Looks. At least, my husband told me the characters reminded him of the characters in Harriet the Spy. It is called realistic fiction because it has that real middle school/high school feeling--in other words, not everybody is nice...

Ever and always, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
Or if you want a really great anthology, try A Child's Anthology of Poetry, edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword.

Why am I telling you this? In case you end up at Nicola's like me, looking for that perfect book...

The Worst Job Ever?

OK, I admit that the poll I had up this week about the importance of principals was a little bit of a setup, and not at all scientific. Nonetheless, I was surprised that 100% of the people who answered think principals are important to schools and school culture.

When I first started thinking about schools, I didn't think principals were important at all. In my high school, the principal was practically invisible! Years later, after I had visited hundreds of schools and classrooms, and eaten lunch in many teachers' lounges, I realized that principals were important in setting the school's tone.

So anyway, when I was in graduate school in education I mentioned to a friend who had been teaching for about ten years--first in Michigan, then in Florida--that I thought I might like to be a principal someday.

"Are you kidding me?" she said. "That is the worst job ever!" (I will interject here to point out that I think she was using hyperbole...I don't really think she believes it is the worst job ever.)

She continued, "You have to answer to the administration, you have to answer to the parents, you have to answer to the teachers, and you have no power!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ann Arbor Open Principal Update

Today everyone who had written to the administrative staff or Board of Education about this issue got the following email:

Dear [Ruth],

Thank you for taking the time to write and express your concern about
the leadership changes at Ann Arbor Open.  I do appreciate our
involved parents and want to assure you that I, and my administrative
team, take the leadership of all of our instructional programs very
seriously and do value input from our parents and staff.

This response is being sent to everyone who has contacted me regarding
the administrative changes at Ann Arbor Open.  I understand your
concern for continuity and "fit" with respect to this program.  We are
very appreciative that Ms. Kit Flynn will bridge the transition
between Ms. Zikmund-Fisher and Ms. Woodworth during January and will
remain an active supportive member of the AA Open staff.  From our
conversations with Ms. Flynn and Ms. Woodworth we are very confident
that Ms. Flynn and Ms. Woodworth will successfully collaborate
throughout the second semester on behalf of Ann Arbor Open students
and families.  Ms. Woodworth is extremely excited about this
opportunity to serve the Ann Arbor Open community and we are confident
that she will attend to the students, staff and parents with the same
dedication and care that she demonstrated while at Pioneer High.

Ms. Dickinson-Kelley and I anticipate consistency to continue into the
fall of 2011 as we both have the highest regard for Ms. Flynn's
leadership skills and would like to see her demonstrate her
considerable talent on behalf of Ann Arbor Open students, faculty and
families for many years to come.  We do have to work out some
logistics before we can make any long-range announcements specific to
the fall of 2011.  I ask for your continued support and trust as we
move forward with these administrative changes.

Again, thank you for your interest and concern.

Robert Allen
Interim Superintendent

My commentary: If it turns out to be true, it will all be good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

UPDATED: It's the Principal of the Thing

Ann Arbor Open parents received an email today from Naomi Zikmund-Fisher, the Ann Arbor Open principal, saying that she is taking a leave of absence for the 2011 calendar year (January to December) to finish graduate school.

Of course the next question is: who is the interim principal?
The email continues:
For the month of January, Kit Flynn [Ann Arbor Open media specialist] will be filling in as Interim Principal.  Kit has served well in this position many times before and I am very grateful to her for her willingness to step up once again.  We are extraordinarily fortunate to have someone so skilled and so willing to help on our staff.

At the end of first semester, Tamber Woodworth will become the Interim Principal for the remainder of the school year.  Tamber is currently the Interim Principal at Pioneer High School.  As you may have heard, Pioneer Principal Michael White is returning from military duty in January, and Tamber is retiring in June.  This leaves her available to fill our vacancy beginning at the end of January.  The district will then make a decision about an Interim Principal for the fall months.
(Emphasis added.) 
So, hey...what is wrong with this picture?

First, as far as Ann Arbor Open staff goes...
I'm happy that Naomi Zikmund-Fisher has the opportunity to take a leave of absence to go back to school. In addition, I think Kit Flynn is an amazing media specialist (I'm very serious about this) and a very competent administrator--and, as Naomi points out, she has filled in as interim principal in the past.

However, if you're following along, you will recognize that this plan requires--not one, not two, but three principals in one year.

As far as Tamber Woodworth is concerned...I don't know her, but I'm sure she's a capable principal. But she's already announced a June retirement date, and she can't leave her current position until the end of the first semester, when Michael White returns to Pioneer.

In fact, it is the principle of the thing: There is no reason that any school in the district--barring a series of unfortunate medical leaves--should have three principals in one year!

Unfortunately, it doesn't serve our students or teachers well to have three interim principals. I have another idea. Let's find Ann Arbor Open an interim principal who can serve in that position for a full calendar year. I am quite sure that the district can find a worthy position for Tamber Woodworth.

Is that too much to ask?

We should, after all, have some principles, but only one principal.

UPDATE 12/5/2010

Over the weekend, Ann Arbor Open parents got another letter, this time from Tamber Woodworth. It explains her interest in alternative education, and I believe she is sincere. (I also have talked to some friends who thought she did a good job at Pioneer.) The letter also explains:
Unfortunately, I will have to honor a statutory time-limited extension of my retirement, under which I must conclude my employment by June 30.
So, that explains why she needs to leave this June--she accepted the early retirement offer from last spring.

In other words, this letter from the school administration misses the point: it's not about whether Tamber Woodworth can convince parents that she would be a good interim principal. She cannot serve through December because she is required to retire and that cannot be changed.

No school should have three principals in a calendar year.

To share that view with the administration, write:

Superintendent Robert Allen: or 994-2230
Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Services Leeann Dickinson Kelly: or 994-2209
Board of Education (all in one fell swoop!):

Tell them that one interim principal is enough!

Thurston Pond, Millers Creek

Because I promised myself that I would try to keep this blog positive (and to balance my next post, which will be critical), I thought I would share the cool work that is going on around a tributary of the Huron River known as Millers Creek.

I read about it in the Huron River Watershed Council newsletter.

Runoff and erosion during storm events have created a situation where the water quality of the creek has been greatly degraded. In fact, Thurston Pond, which is part of the Thurston Nature Center, right by Thurston Elementary School, got so degraded that it could no longer be used by the AAPS Environmental Education field trips! (It is still a beautiful little nature center and pond, though, which you can read about here.)

So--Huron River Watershed Council has spearheaded an effort to clean up the water quality of Millers Creek. So far, it seems to be fairly successful.

I would just like to highlight the involvement of the Thurston Elementary PTO, which is a project partner, and the students of Thurston Elementary.

From the Millers Creek web site:

From the Huron River Watershed Council web site:

Thurston School Rain Garden

Thurston School students from the third grade and school neighbors helped Millers Creek by capturing rainwater in a school rain garden. HRWC and JFNew provided planning and design work, site prep, plant materials and educational signs and in June of 2009 we converted a grassy depression that was receiving rainwater runoff from the school's roof into a 1,400 square foot rain garden. The site's heavy clays were replaced with a rich porous soil and then planted with water-loving native plants. As a result, the rain that runs off the school roof now flows through the garden, infiltrates through the soil and is taken up by the plants.