Monday, February 28, 2011

Superintendent Search, And More

I got this in my inbox from the Ann Arbor Public Schools today about the AAPS superintendent search:

A questions and answer session with the candidates and the community will be held on Friday, March 4th from 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. in Pioneer High School's cafeteria annex. 
You are welcome to attend the Board's final interview with the candidates on Saturday, March 5th beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Balas Main Conference Room, located at 2555 S. State Street in Ann Arbor.
Please contact the board office at 994-2232 or visit the website at for  more information.
If you want to read about the finalists, the Ann Arbor Chronicle has a nice summary/profile of them.

Update 3/1/2011: And then there were two--finalist Shelley Redinger has accepted another job.

Apparently, the site visits to the finalists' home districts had to be cancelled because of the weather last week. They have not been rescheduled and there are no plans to do so. I find this troubling--if it was important before, isn't it important now?

In other AAPS news, the Ann Arbor Public Schools finally have a new revised web site. You can find it at And I'm curious, what do you think of it so far? Feel free to comment on it below!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Public Workers Are...

...the people in your neighborhood!

I made plans a couple of months ago to come to Madison, Wisconsin for a bar mitzvah, never expecting to be caught up in some amazing, peaceful protests at the Capitol. These photos don't really do the event justice, but it was amazing. There were TONS of teachers there. I don't know if the teachers' union (WEAC) or AFSCME (the main public workers' union in the state) is bigger, but both were well-represented. The night before the bar mitzvah, at the out-of-towners' Shabbat dinner, there were 12 adults. Over half of them were public workers: a city attorney, a reading teacher, a county employee, two state employees, two federal employees. All have advanced degrees.

It made me wonder: do you know who the public workers in your neighborhood are?

It's not about the money. The Wisconsin bill is an anti-union bill that would strip workers of collective bargaining rights, and he tried to push this through in less than a week--I guess he thought, "Why use democratic process if you don't have to?" The great irony to me is that speakers were holding up Michigan's Republican governor as a model of a governor who wasn't taking on the unions.Yet what does Gov. Snyder's budget proposal actually mean? Nothing good for public workers, civil servants, that's for sure.

This is a view of the Firefighters for Labor marching through the inside of the Capitol. It's significant because Gov. Walker proposed to exempt firefighters and police officers from the collective bargaining provisions of the law. Apparently, WEAC opposed Scott Walker in the election. The police and firefighters unions didn't. But the police and firefighters are supportive of the activists at the Capitol--and the activists were very appreciative of their presence. (You can't hear the cheering in the photo.)  Right now there's only ONE Republican Senator in the Wisconsin Senate who is willing to say, out loud, that he believes in collective bargaining. Do they know who their public workers are?

My friend said to me, "My kids' schools have been closed for three days. But the kids have been down at the Capitol and it's been a great civics lesson."

Which brings us back to Michigan.
Mark Maynard has a lovely post on the impact of Rick Snyder's budget on Ypsilanti and cities like it.

Here's what Glen S. has to say in that post:
Rick Snyder really IS a political genius, I suddenly realized yesterday.

Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker — who has ignited a national firestorm over his strident and quite overt efforts to bust unions, slash pensions and other benefits, and generally dismantle what’s left of any opportunity for Wisconsin’s public sector workers to enjoy a modest, middle-class lifestyle — Snyder has a smarter, but much more insidious plan.
By dramatically slashing revenue-sharing, per-pupil student aid, and other forms of basic support for Michigan’s struggling cities, school districts, etc., to such a degree that unprecedented restructuring clearly will be necessary, Snyder is, in effect, “outsourcing” the dirty work of breaking unions, reneging on promised pension benefits, etc., to locally-elected city councils, school boards, county commissions, etc.
This way, over the next two years — while hundreds of individual Michigan cities, townships, counties and school districts are all busy fighting their own individual battles with their own individual workers and unions — Snyder will appear to be keeping his hands clean from all of the local budget “unpleasantness,” — while he continues to promote himself as as a genial, and business-minded “one tough nerd,” whose only agenda is promoting “shared sacrifice.”
The Object Lesson for me is that the real enemy of the public worker is not any particular governor. The real enemy is Apathy. How many public, unionized workers, voted for anti-union candidates? How many failed to vote? How many workers--private or public--don't realize that their weekends off, their 40-hour workweek, their environmental safeguards--are due to unions?

This is the civics lesson that we need.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Community High's lottery results have been posted. It's a game of chance.

Reports are that tomorrow morning (2/16) at 11 a.m., when Gov. Snyder unveils his budget, he'll be unveiling 4% cuts in public school per-pupil funding. Is that a game of chance? I don't think so, but there sure will be losers. It's bad news for struggling schools and let's face it, all schools will be struggling. When your school's classes have 38 students in a class, and the rooms are too crowded to fit all the desks, you will know why.

Which brings me to the P-16 question. You know, should we be funding preschool through college? Because I've also heard that part of the proposal is taking money for community colleges from the School Aid Fun. And my answer is: yes, we should fund P-16, but not at the expense of the mandated K-12 education.

After school break, I'm hoping to get to the subject I know you've been waiting for: evaluating our local charter schools. So let me say this--I don't have any direct experience with any of the charters--although I do have indirect experiences with some of them (in other words, some of my friends have used them). If you want to send me a summary of some of your direct experiences with local (county) charter schools, to share, let me know.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sports News

The Dexter school district fires their athletic director and football coach.

The ACLU of Michigan is warning the Downriver League that women's and men's basketball need to treated equally (remember: Title IX).

If you're interested, I wrote about Title IX, and how the Michigan High School Athletic Association had to be forced to abide by it, here.

Oh, and Skyline varsity boys' basketball beat Pioneer at the buzzer. I guess the Skyline students are growing up...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Betting (on the Superintendent Choice)

My friend sent me an email, asking me to "handicap" the AAPS Superintendent interviews based only on their names and school districts:
William DeFrance (Eaton Rapids Public Schools, Michigan); Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania.); Paul Long (Pennsbury School District, Pennsylvania); Michael Munoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon); and Manuel Rodriguez (Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland).
Really, I said? I don't know anything about them.
No, he said--blind speculation is more fun.

So--based solely on their school district locations, I chose as finalists the candidates from Eaton Rapids and Des Moines. ("Oh," my friend said. "Home court advantage." Well, yeah, kind of.)

But it's a good thing there's going to be some more due diligence about them.

Read about the candidates here. I've got to say that after reading about them, they don't seem worthy of the big jump in pay that the board voted to give them in order to get AAPS the very best candidates. But see what you think for yourself.

Better yet, if you have the (substantial amount of) time required to go to the interviews this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, that is fabulous. (Feel free to share your comments after the interviews here.) The schedule for the interviews can be found here. All interviews will be held at the Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk Drive. 

Finalists will be brought back the week of February 28th, and the public will get to ask questions then.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Down for the Count

Yup, it's back...count day for schools. Really, there is greater count day and lesser count day...proportionally, fall count day "counts" more than winter count day.

And so I wonder about one district in particular. Is it, in fact, going to be down for the count? If so, that would be a consistent trend for more than ten years. I'm talking about Willow Run.

Ten years ago, Willow Run schools had 3,153 students.
In Fall 2010, Willow Run schools had 1,632 students.
Between Fall 2009 and Fall 2010, approximately 100 fewer students are enrolled in the Willow Run schools. And that number includes nearly 100 students who are enrolled in the Washtenaw ISD Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth program.

In September 2010, Willow Run High School had 62 twelfth-grade students, down by more than half from two years ago. There were 95 ninth-grade students. It's hard to see how that is sustainable. If I assume that the students who are the most motivated to stay in school are most likely to want higher education and challenging classes, it seems like they would also be most likely to jump ship to the Early College Alliance, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, a charter school or another school district. With continuously falling enrollment, it becomes hard to field sports teams or offer advanced classes (or remedial classes!)

This is also the district whose turnaround plan for its high school was not accepted by the Michigan Department of Education. Nor did MDE ask the district to do some minor tweaking (Ypsilanti High School's status). No, their plan got "changes required" status. That may be because their first proposal didn't meet the "turnaround" requirements.

According to state law, a district has to have a high school. So really, the life of a school district all rises and falls at the high school level. The turnaround proposal was required because Willow Run High School was designated as a failing school.

If you ask me, the big shockers in the original turnaround proposal (read it here) were these two things:
1. There are more students at every grade of the high school who live in the district but choose to go to a school outside the district, than there are students who live in the district and go to Willow Run High School
even more shocking--way, way more shocking--
2. The average student in the high school missed the equivalent of 16 days of school, but
teacher attendance patterns are not all that different than student attendance patterns in terms of overall absences.  There were 32 teaching staff in 2009-10 and there were 740 days of absences.  This works out to an average of 23 days per staff member.  Some of these absences were due to conferences, school business and other professional reasons.

Think there are some morale issues in the Willow Run schools? Willow Run school teachers don't get paid much, either. The starting salary for someone with a BA is a little over $33,300.

So--what's to be done? Right now, consolidation would require both consolidating districts to vote yes. And honestly, if it were your district consolidating with Willow Run, would you vote yes? What is the plus?

(Read more about the difficulties of consolidating here. Actually, there would be a financial plus for Lincoln Schools, but a major financial disincentive for Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor.)

If the Willow Run district wants to be forward thinking, perhaps it's time to think about a structured dissolution. At least, that's what I think. But my vote doesn't count (at least, not in Willow Run)--nor, I point out, should it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In the News

MEAP "proficiency" cutoff scores are being revised. Think it will help...ANYTHING?

The Myths of International Comparisons (yes, it's also about test-taking).

Dexter Schools are thinking about all-day kindergarten.

Whitmore Lake student Jesse Burkitt dies in a car accident.

Kids Count is out. Kids Count is "part of a broad national effort to measure the well-being of children at the state and local levels, and use that information to shape efforts to improve the lives of children." You can find the data center here. Nearly 30% of Washtenaw County kids are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. (Random factoid pulled from Kids Count; really, not so random--it's a good indicator of poverty and near-poverty.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Work & Money

Steve Norton (of Michigan Parents for Schools) pointed out this timely issue briefing by the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute:
Are Michigan Public Employees Over-Compensated? (The report says no.)
Obviously, that's been the subject of much discussion over the past couple of weeks. Rick Snyder's administration came out with a report last week saying yes, they are.

In any case, this week Mary Morgan reports in the Ann Arbor Chronicle on the recent Washtenaw County Commissioners' (and top staff/elected officials) retreat. Since employee compensation is over 70% of the cost of most organizations--including the county--obviously what county employees get paid is relevant to the discussion.

Given what is going on with public schools, I found this description of what Catherine McClary (County Treasurer) had to say most interesting:

McClary described how she grew up in Ypsilanti and Augusta Township. Both of her parents were public school teachers – they weren’t paid well, she noted, because teachers weren’t unionized at the time. Her dad moonlighted as a bus driver because those jobs were unionized and he could earn more. Her earliest memories were going door to door to solicit support for a school millage.
 And now, the bus drivers in some districts are unionized...for the WISD they are trying to organize...teachers at public school districts are unionized, but for the most part public charter school teachers and private school teachers are not.

I'm not currently a union member (I have been a member of two different unions in the past), but I'm grateful for the unions that gave us a five-day work week, safe working conditions, and living wages.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Deja Vu

I woke up yesterday morning to WEMU reporting that a young woman had been stabbed outside of Ypsilanti High School. And then I come to find out from this article that a young woman's "boyfriend" lured her to a remote location after she told him she might be pregnant, and left her for dead. It's a good thing that some people still walk outside in the cold weather.It appears that this woman will survive.

And now, I've been blogging long enough (though not really all that long) that this reminds me of last year's death of Huron High School student Anna Marie List.

In March of 2009 I wrote this piece about Dating Violence. There is help in town, you know. Safe House Center's number  is 734-995-5444. Ozone House's 24-hour line (for teens) is 734-662-2222.

Domestic violence organizations talk about power and control, and the "wheel" below is modified for teens, but based on the work of a domestic violence organization in Duluth, MN. If you know of a relationship that seems to involve a lot of tension around power and control, you can call the Safe House Center hotline for advice on how to intervene.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


For Tyne Mosbey and Jake Rachford, recent Community High School graduates who lost their lives in a house fire this past week. May their memories be a blessing.

I will post links to their obituaries if/when they become available.

2/2/2011: Here is Jake Rachford's obituary and funeral information.
2/3/2011 and 2/4/2011: Here is Tyne Mosbey's obituary and  funeral and visitation information