Sunday, July 29, 2012

Skyline High School and the Shortest Poem in the English Language

At the end of this school year I went to the Skyline "Pinning" Ceremony. The "pinning" ceremony is where honors students get their honors pins. The speaker for the event was a well-loved Skyline teacher--Collin Ganio. I really enjoyed the speech, and I thought you would too. So I contacted Mr. Ganio--who teaches Latin and etymology--and asked for permission to publish it. Permission given!

Permission given, with the caveat that I mention that the story about Ali's speech to the graduating class was originally told by the sportswriter George Plimpton.  He tells it in the film When We Were Kings, and I've put the youtube link (if you want to see Plimpton tell it) at the very bottom of this post.

The Shortest Poem in the English Language
by Collin Ganio

Good evening, everyone.  Those of you who know me know that I love words.  I really do.  I honestly think they’re the most powerful tool humanity has ever created.  Words have started wars, words have ended wars, and—when we’ve gotten really lucky—words have averted wars altogether.  I love it when people use words well.  And whenever I hear someone using words poorly, it makes me throw up in my mouth just a little.  If you know me, you also know I love telling you stories, so here’s one last one for you.

Muhammad Ali—there was an amazing wordsmith.  You know, he struggled with dyslexia, but rhymed with ease.  He composed extemporaneous poetry about his upcoming fights all the time.  One of my favorites: “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale.  I’ve handcuffed lightning an’ thrown thunder in jail.  Yesterday I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.  I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”  There are plenty of others. Just go google ‘em and you can find ‘em easily.
Muhammad Ali bust portrait by Ira Rosenberg. Available from the Library of Congress.
His most thought-provoking poem (for me, at least) is also the shortest poem in the English language.  Harvard had invited him to come speak to their graduating class.  He gave a great speech about how he had not had access to their education, and how the new graduates should take the opportunity that they had been given to go out and change the world.  At the end of his speech, as the applause died down, someone yelled “Give us a poem!”
He looked out at the class of graduating seniors, people very different from him in so many ways.  He gestured to himself and said “Me.”  Then he opened his arms to include all the students and said “WE.”  The crowd went wild.
What a poem!  Two simple pronouns, without even a verb.  Four letters in all.  The first letters of each word are just reflections of one another.  Is the second word the opposite of the first word, or just a reflection of it?  The meaning of this poem is so much greater than the poem itself, when you think about it.
We’re all part of Generation ME—anyone born in the 1970’s, 80’s, or 90’s is a part of this generation—and we’ve been taught largely that the self is the most important thing out there.  “What’s in this for ME?  How does this benefit ME?  What am I going to get out of this?  How is this going to help ME succeed?”  And the internet, which theoretically broadens our social horizons to include a global community, ironically tends to focus on the self—Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter are all, ultimately, in a way, tools for the narcissistic.
With two little words used so simply, Ali suggested that this world might be a happier place if we spent less time thinking about me and more time thinking about we.  I issue the same challenge to you—think less about Myspace and more about Ourspace.  Use your agile minds and big hearts—ask the deep questions—in order to make this world better not just for yourselves, but for everyone around you.  I mean, think about it—if everyone worked to better a community for their fellow citizens, then we might not spend a lot of time working to make our own lives better, but we might not need to, since everyone around us would be doing that for us. 

And wouldn’t that be a hell of a thing?  Thank you.  Good night.

Thank you, Mr. Ganio!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Ypsilantian Discusses the Possible Schools Consolidation

I asked, "But Ypsilantians, what do you think? Would you vote for consolidation?" and YpsiAnon answered. Here's a guest post.

Would I vote for consolidation?  My thoughts on this have evolved from “What’s the point?” to “It might be good but it will never happen,” to “I can see the benefits.”  Actually, I am one step beyond that now, thinking, “We really need this, and I hope it’s not too late.” 

Most of us could see the path the school districts’ budgets were taking (and I don’t just mean Ypsi’s or Willow Run’s).  In the last two years, the increase in the rate of speed of hit upon hit, coming from all directions, could not have been foreseen, even to the most cynical. Ypsi has tried to live up to the promises of its deficit elimination plan, which is all about cutting the budget, while at the same time trying to bolster its academics, which is all about adding new costs.  There is a constant conflict between these two demands.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the state would push “pause” on the debt repayment, while the district could establish the new educational programs that could retain and even draw in pupils?

What the state seems to be offering, instead, is the chance to slow down the repayment of the debt, extending it from two years to possibly twenty.  It is offering a three-year moratorium on the establishment of any new charter schools in the area so that the new, combined district has a chance to get established before competition increases.  (Unfortunately, two or three new charters started last year, and one or two more are coming this year.)  It is dangling up to $10 million (likely much less) in consolidation funding (and it will surely be a costly endeavor).  These things could delay or, hopefully, prevent a takeover by an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM).  (By the way, to those who like to say that an EFM is a satisfactory solution, I remind them that EFMs are only about the budgets, not the academics.)

In exchange, our new “unified” district (the term the WISD uses) needs to develop a new educational model, which is going to include students from birth to age 20.  We are already in the process of changing our systems in order to improve student achievement, and need to expand this anyway so as to avoid a takeover by an Educational Achievement Authority (EAA).

Those are the basics.

Obviously, both Ypsilanti and Willow Run districts need make big changes, and they need to make them soon.  Do we want to undertake these efforts separately, with no support from the state, or together, with state support?  We have common needs and common goals.  To me, it makes sense to join forces, combine the resources we do have, and throw ourselves into solving these problems in a unified way.  Long shot?  Maybe.  But I’d prefer to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, if we do, indeed, have to go out.

- YpsiAnon

Friday, July 20, 2012

Athletics: Equity and Cost Between Ann Arbor High Schools

Last year, for a blog post I wrote about administrative positions in Ann Arbor schools, I requested data from the 2005-2006 year and the 2010-2011 year. In the post, Administrative Cuts: Easy to Be Hard, I discussed the changes that occurred over those five years.

In 2005-2006, Skyline did not exist, and when it opened, Skyline High School was allocated an Athletic Coordinator (not an assistant principal level position, but a lower-level position), while Huron and Pioneer had Athletic Directors (which are assistant principal level positions).

I was told at the time (which was just before Pat Green started), by Liz Margolis, the AAPS Director of Communications, that the plan was to move to a single Athletic Director/two Athletic Coordinators format, after one of the current Athletic Directors retired. Obviously, this would be a cost savings.

Well, one of the athletic directors just retired.

In an article about administrator-level changes, Danielle Arndt writes,

"Pioneer’s athletic director, Lorin Cartwright, also retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Cartwright worked for the district for 32 years, Margolis said. She made $103,690 last year, the top of the pay scale for her position, which starts at $91,965.
An interim athletic director will be appointed next week. Like the high school principal’s position, the interim will carry out the athletic director’s duties for the “foreseeable future," Margolis said. Officials are looking both from within and from outside the school district for a replacement, she added."

I wondered if perhaps Danielle Arndt had misunderstood, and the position was actually going to be filled at the athletic coordinator level.

So of course I had to ask: Did Danielle misunderstand what the position is? Or, if not, what happened to the plan? 

And I got back the answer, "As is common with new leadership, plans change. I understand the plan is being reviewed."

So I asked, "Of course--that is understandable. What is the timeline for reviewing that plan? And what permutations are being considered? Would, for instance, the district considering raising John Young's level to be athletic director, giving the district three ADs?"

Liz Margolis' response: "I am  not sure of the timeline. I know the Pioneer AD position is set for interviews this Friday. I am unaware of any plan to create the position at Skyline as an Athletic Director position but if that did occur ( and I have no idea if this will or will not), the job would have to be posted for applicants. There are different requirements for this person including administration qualifications."

So I asked, "Thanks--so can you find out: a. If there is an actual thought out "plan" regarding the levels of athletic direction at the three schools? And if so, what that plan is?"

Liz Margolis' response: "Based on the posting  I would say the plan is to hire an AD at Pioneer and maintain the AC at Skyline. I will ask Alesia Flye if this has changed."


I am still waiting to hear back, but it's only been a couple of days. Based on what I know though, the supposed (new) plan doesn't seem reasonable. My concerns relate to both equity and cost.

The original plan, to maintain one athletic director and two athletic coordinators, was clearly based on cost. Athletic coordinators cost less, so there would be a savings. Other local school districts have adopted this approach--for instance, Plymouth-Canton. At the time (last year), my main beef with this idea was that maybe it should happen immediately, and not at some hypothetical time in the future.

The current "plan," to maintain athletic director-level positions at Pioneer and Huron, but not at Skyline, doesn't make any sense at all. The schools are essentially the same size now. Why should Pioneer and Huron get athletic director positions, but not Skyline? With similarly-sized schools and programs, shouldn't the work be equivalent? Speaking as a (former) Skyline parent, what would be the equity in bringing in a new person to Pioneer at the AD level (and keeping the Huron staff person at the AD level) but keeping the Skyline staff person at the AC level?

My third concern is this: was there an actual, real-life, thought-out decision to scratch the earlier plan? Or was there just an automatic "let's fill the position" reaction when Lorin Cartwright decided at the last minute to retire?  With both Pat Green and Alesia Flye being brand new to the district, did anyone even realize (and share) that there had been a plan to stick with a single Athletic Director position?

How is it possible to read about this sequence of events, and then not laugh at the headline in today's, "Ann Arbor school board to set goals: zero-based budgeting will be top priority." In zero-based budgeting you have to justify the rationale for your expenses. Where is the rationale?

I'm not an expert at what athletic directors and coordinators do, or whether cost or equity is more important in this case, so I can't tell you what is the right decision: three athletic directors at three schools; or one "lead" athletic director, and two athletic coordinators assigned to the other two schools.  What I do know, though, is that a plan with two athletic directors and one athletic coordinator serves neither equity nor cost savings, and should not be pursued.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

School Supplies

I happened to be on line at one of our big box stores last week, and in front of me were some people buying school supplies. School supplies! In early July! I mean, really?! I'm usually the person at the store the day after school has started!

It reminded me of something that happened mid-year. I was cleaning out a shelf, and I found a surfeit of pencils. So I asked my son if he needed some for school.
"Oh no," he said.
"Really? You don't need them? You still have plenty of pencils from the ones I got at the beginning of the year?"
"No," he said.
"Then how do you get pencils?" I asked.
"Oh," he said, "I just find them on the floor!"

Perhaps your children are not quite as enterprising as my son.

Seriously, I do have money for school supplies. But not everybody does, and if you can't afford them, the beginning of school is stressful. Washtenaw County employees are trying to fill a school bus with school supplies. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 30th-August 3, the school bus can be found in front of the Target store, 3749 Carpenter Road, Pittsfield Township. Supplies will be given to Washtenaw County kids who need them.

If you miss that drive, many of the local shelters collect school supplies (and other supplies too) year-round.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Calling All Ypsi Area Readers: Your Time and Thoughts Are Needed

Ypsilanti-area readers: Whether you live in Ypsilanti/Willow Run, or you are a staff person in one of the districts, now is the time to learn about, and put your two cents in about the proposed consolidation of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts.

Yes, I know it's Art Fair, and I know it's the work day, but on the 18th and 19th (Wednesday and Thursday) there is a strategic planning retreat at Eagle Crest (8:30-3:30 p.m.) and I think it would be well worth your while to be there.

According to this article:
Download a copy of the preliminary data report here or visit the new task force website,, for more information about the consolidation effort.
An updated data portrait will be uploaded to the site Tuesday [note: yes, that is tomorrow] following the last session. Naomi Norman, director of assessment, planning and research for the WISD, said the public gave some very good suggestions during the first session and she will be adding some additional data to the report as a result.

 I recommend that you download the preliminary data report (or, better yet, the updated data report). The preliminary data report does not give very much new information.

We already knew that both districts have proud histories.
We already knew that the academic performance in both schools is well below the county averages. (The poverty rates are well above the county averages, too, but they don't talk about that.)
We already knew that although Ypsi kids choose to go to Willow Run, and Willow Run kids choose to go to Ypsilanti, more Willow Run kids choose to go to Ypsi.
[I didn't know that you can find the information about where kids are choosing to go at the website]
We already knew that both school districts are in deficit--Willow Run has been in deficit longer, and their downward enrollment trend has been going on longer.

I didn't know that Ypsilanti's high school enrollment trajectory has been going up.
I didn't know that the majority of kids in both districts who do graduate at least start college.

In the data report, they don't talk about any implications of consolidating. [Should they? The one area where I think maybe they should have, is if they were to share data about other districts that have consolidated. How has it worked for those other districts?]

I'm not going to the two-day retreat. I don't live in either district, and I don't (rightly) get a vote.
But if you ask me today, there is nothing that would make me vote for this--if I had a vote.
I do think that Ypsilanti is much the stronger district than Willow Run, but I wouldn't describe it as strong. So why tie two weak districts together? If they need partners, they should look for stronger ones.
Also--and this is a big deal--I understand that if they combine, they get an average per-pupil foundation allowance. That means their combined allowance would be lower, on a per-pupil basis. And since Ypsilanti has both the higher allowance and the higher enrollment, they would lose a lot of money.
I have said before that I think the Willow Run district should dissolve. The Willow Run school board's "last ditch" budget has them closing their high school. If I understand correctly, that would effectively close the district (a district is required to have a high school). On the other hand, they can choose to combine a high school without closing the district (and, I believe, without a vote). They could, for instance, send all the Willow Run kids to Ypsi High without consolidating the districts. That seems like a better option. But that's just me.

More discussion:

Mark Maynard: What the WISD got wrong in the marketing of their Ypsilanti, Willow Run consolidation plans

Mark Maynard interview with WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel about the proposed consolidation

[NB: What I like about Mark Maynard is that he obviously really cares about Ypsilanti and he is willing to share information and thoughts. Just realize that he lets his commenters more or less have free rein. There are some really great comments, and some that I could do without. . . Still worth a read, though. Who else is covering Ypsilanti?]

But Ypsilantians, what do you think? Would you vote for consolidation?