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.


  1. In the Work and Money post (here), commenter YpsiAnon asks what the difference is between Ypsilanti and Willow Run, and I answer it but I forgot one important thing: Ypsilanti has a town, a focal point, that really would like the schools to be successful. Willow Run is a diffuse set of neighborhoods where the largest focal point is really the schools themselves.

  2. Excellent observation about the lack of a focal point in WR. I hadn't really thought of that. Then again, why is that not a problem for Lincoln?

    - YpsiAnon

  3. Well, Lincoln's got its own problems, but it does have a) more homeowners and b) less poverty. I would imagine those are mitigating factors.