Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Teachers: Paragon or Pariah?

Friday, I got an email from my sister at one in the afternoon.
"Lynn's kids were at that school. They are safe."

One of my sister's oldest friends has kids at Sandy Hook Elementary. They survived. The fact that I actually knew someone with kids at the school changed my relationship to the tragedy. Made it more personal, and less distant.

This weekend--like many of you, I am quite sure--I have spent quite a bit of time reading about Sandy Hook Elementary. And I have been thinking about the adults, all people who worked in the schools, with children.

I've been thinking about some of the ways we have talked about teachers and other school staff. In fact, I even heard one of the Sandy Hook parents say something along these lines in an NPR interview today. In lifting up one of the teachers who was murdered, she said something like this, "She wasn't one of those teachers who was done at 3 p.m. She always went the extra mile."

Speaking to teachers around here, many of them are feeling under attack and undervalued. Yet here we see the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook lauded as heroes and wonderful teachers. [Don't get me wrong--they were heroes. But their heroic action has to do with the way they protected their students, and not how they taught their students.] Were they also all above-average teachers? [I have no idea. Is Newtown Lake Wobegon?]

In hindsight, everyone says yes. The truth is, even though a lot of so-called educational reformers are busy slamming teachers, it has been my experience that most people I know like and value their kids' teachers.

Now I wonder, is this more proof of the feminist analysis that says that in public discourse, women [and most teachers are women] are either put on a pedestal (described as a Madonna) or vilified (described as a whore).

If you haven't done so already this year, take a moment to thank your school's teachers, administrators, custodians, "lunch ladies." This doesn't require money--a handwritten note or even an email will do.

And if you like to make resolutions, might I suggest this one? Next year, pledge not to put school staff on pedestals as paragons of virtue, or vilify them as pariahs. Next year, pledge to treat them as the people with jobs that most of them are, people who are trying to do a good job and may sometimes fall short. Next year, pledge to thank them more, and support them when you can.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Back to Local News: Ypsilanti/Willow Run

It sometimes happens that I don't get to write about what I want. Limited time on my part, and the dramatic state legislative agenda have sapped my time and energy.

And yet--things keep happening locally. 

Tomorrow (Monday 12/17) at 6:30 p.m. there is another joint Willow Run/Ypsilanti school board meeting. This is the board for the consolidated district, although technically at this point there are two identical boards, one for Ypsilanti and one for Willow Run. (I know--confusing, right? This is scheduled to change July 1, when the consolidated district officially begins, and the board will represent the consolidated district.)

Contact information for the new board can be found here:

In any case--a couple of weeks ago, after the second meeting of the combined Board of Education, Karen Siegel (the former* head of the teachers' union) sent out an email to the teachers, a portion of which is excerpted below. The meeting began with a financial presentation about Ypsilanti's finances. The audit was clean (that's good), the Ypsilanti deficit's 2012 increase was due in part to reduced state aid and in part to declining enrollment.

Siegel then notes that the "surprise" discussion came during the Michigan Association of School Boards presentation. They were there to explain what services they would provide for a Superintendent search. That is because the board needs to choose a superintendent for the consolidated district.

Writes Siegel,
During the Q & A portion of the MASB presentation, Trustee Myers asks if the board can favor an internal candidate. 
 She continues,
Mark Wilde, former, long time WR board member has been recording the meetings.  He posts them on Youtube.  However, it is NOT easy to find them on youtube.   I have posted the links to the videos below.  You can also get the links on the FACEBOOK page, "Willow Run Community Schools."  The link for the FACEBOOK page is
I didn't know that anyone was taping the meetings, and I immediately went and "liked" the page that is linked above. I hope you will do that too. You can find all of the videos through the Willow Run facebook page, and I'm only linking the ones related to the superintendent search below.
Video 4 of 8
*MASB presentation continues.*
*Around 6:11 the board questions and comments for MASB rep. begins*
Video 5 of 8

*at 1:19, MASB cautions the board about making the superintendent
search too rushed and trading off speed for quality of search.*
*AT 2:25 the questions and comments about hiring INTERNAL CANDIDATES
begins.  Trustee Myers asks the question, stay tuned for Trustee
Raglin and Trustee Garrett's comments at 5:16 (Garrett) and 6:48
(Raglin).  Stay tuned all the way through to 7:42 for the full
commentary on this issue.
Video 6 of 8

*MASB suggests doing a staff & community survey to see if there is
support for an internal candidate.*

So, here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, the superintendent issue is the first *big* thing the board has to tackle. And Willow Run, in particular, has been burned by choosing the wrong superintendent before. In fact, they are still being haunted by their (most recently former) Superintendent.

Doris Hope-Jackson was terminated by the Willow Run School District and she sued. The case went to arbitration where, according to Danielle Arndt's December 10, 2012 article in

[Hope-Jackson's] claims [against the district and former board president Sheri Washington] included allegations of breach of employee contract, verbal assault, retaliation, misconduct, the misappropriation of funds, a spurned lesbian advance, harassment, defamation of character and more.
The arbitrator did not agree with the majority of the school board’s reasons for firing Hope-Jackson, court documents show, but ruled in favor of the district in the end. He found the board’s decision to terminate Hope-Jackson was not retaliatory in nature and was not arbitrary and capricious.
 But wait, there's more! In arbitration, 

Documents filed in Circuit Court on Nov. 27 show that Washington paid Hope-Jackson $12,500 in sanctions, which arbitrator Fred M. Mester ordered after holding Washington in contempt of court during the arbitration proceedings on April 20.
That day, Washington was found to be lying under oath about her status as the administrator of the website This website frequently posted articles bashing Hope-Jackson under the anonymous pen names of “Administrator” and “Staff Writer.”
For lying under oath, Washington was forced to pay Hope-Jackson’s reasonable attorney fees and arbitration fees.
There are more details about the arbitration outcomes here.
As if that is not enough, there's even more! 

Additionally, Willow Run’s attorney filed a “motion to compel” in Circuit Court on Nov. 19. The motion asks the court to require that Hope-Jackson immediately return certain files, records and communications pertaining to students and parents in the Willow Run district, which Hope-Jackson retained after being fired.
Hope-Jackson testified to having these documents on Feb. 24, according to court filings.
So you can see why the issue of hiring a current superintendent is a sensitive topic. After all, so far it seems like Laura Lisiscki (Willow Run superintendent) and Dedrick Martin (Ypsilanti superintendent) are sane, and not thieves (remember former Willow Run superintendent Douglas Benit?). What more could you ask for?

Sure, I'm being facetious. You could ask for a lot more to make this consolidation a success--skills that the current superintendents may or may not have. And the issue is also sensitive because the Superintendent of the WISD, Scott Menzel, has said that all teachers will need to reapply for their jobs, and that there will most likely be cuts.

Remember, at the end of June the two districts will close, and thus their contracts with teachers, principals, etc. will all also end. I don't believe either of the teachers' unions took a position on the merger, and this is probably why: on the one hand, if they didn't merge, the districts would likely collapse of their own weight; on the other hand, if they did merge, teachers were not (and are not) guaranteed their jobs.

So there are a lot of employees watching the Superintendent discussion--and all of the other discussions of the new school board--very closely. And I'm sure there are a lot of teachers, and other employees, on the job market. In fact, that's just what happened with Karen Siegel, the (now former) teachers' union president, and an English and Theater teacher at Ypsilanti High School. She has just taken a new job in the Plymouth-Canton school district.

It also seems likely that many of the most motivated and talented employees (not just teachers, but social workers, administrative staff, etc.) will be the first to leave--which spells trouble, unless the school board can quickly move to set up the "application/interview/re-hire" process in a way that is reassuring.

In any case, I'd encourage you to go to the consolidated school board meeting, Monday 12/17, 6:30 p.m. at Ypsilanti High School. They will be hearing from another group that does superintendent searches. And if you can't make it, I hope it will be taped and available via the Willow Run facebook page.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Education Bills Are Still in Committee: Keep the Pressure On!

Yes, there are the Right to Work protests tomorrow, Tuesday 12/11/12.  But meanwhile, from Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools:

"There is a House Education meeting TOMORROW [Tuesday 12/11/12] at 8:15 a.m., in the House Appropriations room in the Capitol building, where HB 6004 is on the agenda, and another meeting at the normal time and place (9:15am in the HOB) for Wednesday [12/12/12], with the same two bills on the agenda." (I'm not sure if you can watch on Michigan House TV or not, but here is the link.)
If you are going to the RTW protests, think about going FIRST to the House Appropriations Room, and then to the protests outside. Assuming you can get into the Capitol.
Meanwhile, for the rest of you--please email the entire House Education Committee. Thank those who are opposing these bills currently, and ask the rest to join them. I have some links with talking points, and below that, the email addresses.

Links with talking points: 

And last, but not least, there is a new group, Michigan for Quality Schools, opposing these education bills, and they can be found at the web site Their slogan? Stop Experimenting With Our Children: Proven Education Reforms Only! Now that's a slogan I can get behind.
Here are the email addresses of the House Education Committee:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Despair. Hope. Chanukah.

It has been a rough week in the political arena. The push for privatization of public education. . . the ramming through of the freedom to freeload (a.k.a. right to work) legislation. . . and some other bills that have gotten less attention around reproductive rights (see the ACLU of Michigan letter), foster care/adoption, and the removal of benefits for people caring for disabled relatives (see the Michigan League for Human Services blog), well. . . it's a bit much.

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. And you might know that we Jews light a menorah that has eight candles or oil lamps (well, nine, actually--one is a "helper" candle), each one representing one of the nights.  As with most Jewish rituals, there are rabbinic arguments that have defined the rituals. In the case of the Chanukah lights, two famous rabbis disagreed. Shammai said that you should start on night #1 by lighting all of the lights, and each night subtract a light. Hillel  said that you should start on night #1 with one light, and each night add a light.

If you have ever heard of Hillel and Shammai, then you probably already know that they had many arguments. These are recorded in the compendium of Jewish law and stories called the Talmud. Nearly all of the time, Hillel won. (Shammai only won twice.) Hillel won in the case of the Chanukah lights--we start with one light and add one each day. And his reasoning makes sense to me, too--that we should always strive to increase light in the world.

If you were to read some of the other Hillel/Shammai discussions, what would probably strike you is that Hillel was very much a creative problem-solver; and ultimately, his decisions carried the day.

This week, I'm trying not to despair. I'm trying to be hopeful. I'm trying to believe that in the long run, the people who believe in the value of public education and in the value of democracy will win. Just like Hillel.

If you need inspiration, I've got Peter Paul and Mary's "Light One Candle" at the end for inspiration. (The version I found on youtube is rather sappy. I'm just warning you :). As they say, "Light one candle for the strength that we need, to never become our own foe. . . Light one candle for all we believe in, that anger not tear us apart. . . don't let the lights go out!"

If you support workers' rights, you're being asked to wear red on Monday.

If you are able to attend the rallies in Lansing on Tuesday about the workers' rights, reproductive rights, and the legislative process, I've received several facebook event invitations. You can drive directly to Lansing or you can get on the bus with other like-minded people. 

Leave from the Ann Arbor Education Association offices at 7:30 in the morning (get there at 7:15).

Start at 8 a.m. at Lansing Center and march to the Capitol to be there at 9:30 a.m..

Join Planned Parenthood Advocates at the Capitol at 9:30 a.m.

Oh, and one more thing. If you would like to strategize with Ann Arbor school board member Andy Thomas, he's got an open "coffee hour," also on Tuesday, December 11th, from 7-8 p.m. at Sweetwaters Cafe, 123 W. Washington St. in Ann Arbor.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How A (Zombie) Bill Becomes A Law in Michigan, Featuring Schoolhouse Rock

Here is what we say happens through the legislative process:

from Schoolhouse Rock, "I'm Just A Bill."

But in Michigan, the Republican leadership in the legislature apparently does not want to follow any regular bill-making process. Instead, in order to avoid committee hearings, discussions, or the required five-day waiting period, for the so-called "right to work" legislation, the Republican leadership did a "full text substitute," replacing some appropriations bill language with entirely different language. I saw someone on facebook calling this a "Zombie Law!" [I like calling the legislation "freedom to freeload" legislation myself, since it basically says you don't have to pay dues to a union that represents you, even though the union is doing the work of negotiating on your behalf.]

I feel that Rep. Dillon's speech gets to the heart of the matter. This is a travesty of the democratic process.

Need a class assignment?
Students: Compare and contrast the process explained in the Schoolhouse Rock video with the process described in Rep. Dillon's speech. 

 Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, speaks on the floor of the Michigan House on 12/6/2012.

*Further, because it is tied to an appropriations bill, citizens are barred from pursuing a referendum.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Opposition Rising and More

Let's start out with some good news. These terrible education bills have not passed (yet), so let us keep the pressure on! One friend wrote me, "The world is falling apart!" OK, that might be a little hyperbolic, but there is definitely cause for concern.
How to keep the pressure on? Write; call; sign the petition to "Stop the Takeover of Public Education in Michigan." (No--that's not the "Stop Overtesting Our Kids" petition, although you can sign that one too! I've been temporarily diverted from stopping overtesting to keeping public education public.)

There is a new facebook page, "Save Michigan's Public Schools." What is really nice about this page is that there are lots and lots of superintendent and school board letters and statements of opposition. You can get some really good ideas of what to say if you want to personalize things. Or just get inspired, remember that you are not alone, don't despair, and give a "like" to some of the statements!

It's nice to see opposition from superintendents and school board members from all parts of the state, including some Republican strongholds. I noticed letters from Tuscola County (the Thumb); Calhoun County; Genesee County; Macomb County; Oakland County (Bloomfield Hills' Superintendent Rob Glass's letter to parents and taxpayers is terrific): Washtenaw County (Chelsea, Milan, Dexter, Ypsilanti, Whitmore Lake, Lincoln Consolidated and Ann Arbor for sure--there may have been others); the State Board of Education; and more.

A Michigan coalition is also opposing the fact that the EAA (which has only been around for three months!) is the only Michigan "school district" that is a finalist in the "Race to the Top" (which, as I've said before, is truly a race to the bottom, but unfortunately it is one that comes with funding).

Save Michigan's Public Schools has also posted the 302 page Michigan Public Education Finance Act Draft Legislation (and I'm linking to it) in case you are looking for some light reading [joke!]. This would replace our current school aid legislation, but it would make things much worse, not better.

Here is why:
"In a nutshell, the proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act (which would replace the existing School Aid Act of 1979) erases school attendance boundaries, allowing students to take their assigned chunk of funding and use it anywhere
they like (if the receiving school agrees), including taking courses in multiple locations. The legislation also throws a big, juicy bone to the Wild West of on-line education, reinforces test-based 'performance,' and gives students $2500 per semester for early graduation." (Nancy Flanagan in EdWeek, in a blog post titled, "What's the Matter with Michigan?"
Dr. Vickie Markavitch, Superintendent of the Oakland Schools (I think of the Oakland Intermediate School District) has an excellent video on the subject of the pending legislation, and I encourage you to: a) watch it and b) share it.

UPDATE:  Also, there is this--

Michigan for Quality Schools
Supporting proven education reform
What: A news conference unveiling new coalition of education, parent and business leaders opposed to continued experiments on Michigan children and supporting proven education reform.
When: 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3
Where: Room 424, Michigan Capitol
Who: Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools, Michigan Association of School Boards Executive Director Kathy Hayes, State Board of Education President John Austin, Michigan Association of School Administrators Executive Director William Mayes and others.
Why: To reject efforts to experiment with Michigan children by ending locally controlled school systems and introduce a for-profit education system in Michigan.
To support proven quality reforms by examining policies of states with a track record of success in Gov. Snyder’s education dashboard metrics.To call for public hearings across Michigan to expose these issues to the parents of Michigan, not shove them through the lame duck session of the Legislature with minimal debate.
A wide coalition of varied interests have been galvanized by campaigns to pass major education experiments in the lame duck legislature, including bills to allow for-profit education companies to cherry pick students and to give the still-unproven Education Achievement Authority the ability to create an unlimited number of schools without regard to quality. The organization also opposes the Oxford Foundations’ plan to gamble with Michigan students, which would end locally controlled school districts.
For more information contact David Waymire at Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, 517-485-6600