Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Of Water Street Seed Bombing, Ypsi MIddle School, & the State of Michigan's Education

Mark Maynard has organized a "seed bombing" of the Water Street property in Ypsilanti. For tomorrow--May Day!

May Day of course has multiple meanings:
The first day of May
A festive holiday
A day for labor equality
A distress call

What's nice about this Mark Maynard post is that it addresses the first day of May, the festive-ness of the day, and a distress call for the State of Education in our State.

Mark starts this post like this:

I skipped breakfast this morning and headed over with Jeff Clark to make seed bombs with 7th and 8th graders at Ypsi Middle School. It was an incredible experience. The kids were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and just all-around awesome. And, thanks to their hard work, we now have over 500 seed bombs prepared for Wednesday’s big May Day event… I just wish that I could start every day discussing the environment, native plants, and community activism with energetic young people. It was seriously inspiring… And, it looks like some of them will be peddling their bikes over on Wednesday, so that they can join us as we collectively work to reintroduce native species on Water Street, and transform a desolate, weed-filled wasteland along Michigan Avenue into a thriving commons. Here are a few photos.

He continues:
It’s worth noting, I think, that these kids very much wanted to come as a group to Water Street to walk the site, help remove invasive species, and see what we were planning firsthand. Unfortunately, however, due to budget cuts, and the district’s reliance on private buses, they couldn’t make it. (I’m told that they would have had to pay $300 to use a bus for the day.) So, we did the best that we could to make them a part of the process, given the parameters. Last week, we shot video of the site and sent it to their teacher, so that they could get a sense of what we were doing, and, today, Jeff and I went into their classroom to show them how to make seed bombs, while talking with them about everything from the history of May Day to colony collapse.

Given the feel good nature of this post, this probably isn’t the right place for me to launch into a tirade about the systematic defunding of public education in Michigan, but I really do think it’s criminal that these kids, and their incredible teacher, Tonia Porterfield, lack the ability to even make it across town to work on a project that would tie together so much of what they’re learning about in the classroom, from the real life application of math (in laying out the site), to the importance of species diversification.  
 Read the rest of the post, and see all the photos, here.  

Check out the Ypsilanti May Day schedule here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

But Is It Working?

One of the proposed casualties in the administration's list of budget cuts are the district's 10 FTE of reading intervention specialists. The reading intervention specialist positions (mostly .5 FTE each in the district's elementary schools, I believe) were established several years ago to identify elementary school children who were reading below grade level, and to provide more intensive support to them to help them catch up to their grade level.

In my opinion, this is extremely important work. Probably the most important thing that schools can do is make sure that students read well.

So my question is this: Is the reading intervention program working? Is it pulling kids up to grade level?

I know that we don't have a research study set up, with cases and controls, but if those at-risk students were not catching up before, and they are now, then we can likely attribute the success to the reading intervention specialists.

And if they are succeeding, where we have not before? This is not a cut that I want to consider.

And if they are not succeeding? Then we should have cut that program in any case (and probably we should have cut it earlier), with or without any budget cut discussions.

Is this program working? Shouldn't that be part of the discussion?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Is, and What Is Happening With, the "Education Achievement Authority?"

Kudos to Michigan Radio for some excellent work on education in Michigan in general, and an excellent series on the Education Achievement Authority in particular.

First, you might want to listen to

The Education Achievement Authority, Part I: An Introduction to Michigan's "Reform District"
"In this first of a three-part series, Michigan Radio takes a look at the Education Achievement Authority--which could be coming soon to a school near you."

The Education Achievement Authority, Part II: A Tale of two EAA Schools
"Governor Snyder is leading a controversial effort to create a statewide district for those struggling schools. Right now, that district—formally known as the Education Achievement Authority, or EAA--is doing a kind of pilot year in Detroit. How well is that working out?  The answer to that question depends very much on who you ask."

The Education Achievement Authority, Part III: True Reform, or a Questionable Experiment?
"In the eyes of Governor Snyder and its champions, the EAA is the best way to assure that schools don’t linger in failure for years on end. In the eyes of critics, it’s already a failed experiment that threatens the very heart of public education in Michigan. In the final installment of a three-part series, Michigan Radio takes a look at both sides and what the future might hold."

Learn more about Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton's Freedom of Information Act request to the EAA: 

Jack Lessenberry's Op-Ed on Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton's initiative (Michigan Radio)

Cynthia Canty's interview with Ellen Cogen Lipton (Michigan Radio)

Here is Ellen Cogen Lipton's own write-up about her request on the Bridge Michigan web site.

And guess what? She finally got the FOIA'd documents! 
You can find them all here

And I LOVE this post by Jack Lessenberry: 

Jack Lessenberry's Op-Ed: Education for Education's Sake
"What Flanagan said that bothered me so much was this. 'Most of us in education have grown up with an ethic that was something like this: Education for Education’s Sake. That’s just silly.' Well, excuse me, Dr. Flanagan, but no, it’s not silly. There’s nothing wrong with education for education’s sake—if that means teaching people how to think, and how to learn."

In my opinion, that's what we're fighting for!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Michigan's Government Gives Skunks a Bad Name

I know, you're thinking, "How is it possible for Michigan's government to give skunks a bad name?" After all, everybody knows that skunks give off that awful smell when threatened. And everybody knows that saying "He's a real skunk" is an insult. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a skunk is a person who is regarded as obnoxious or despicable. 

But Chad Livengood* of the Detroit News reported on April 19, 2013 that 

A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.
The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a "skunk works" project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a "value school" that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.
The news article goes on to say that 

The group had one educator, Paul Galbenski, an Oakland Schools business teacher and Michigan's 2011 Educator of the Year, but he left the group.
"It really kind of looked like for me that they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system," Galbenski said. "That's when I started questioning my involvement."
Records show the group has strived to remain secretive, even adopting the "skunk works" alias, which dates to defense contractor Lockheed Martin's secret development of fighter planes during World War II.
In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use "alternative" email accounts. Records show Behen [Ed. Note: David Behen, Snyder's Chief Information Officer**], Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond. (Emphasis added.)
That's right, just because it's "easier," Michigan's Chief Information Officer is using private email addresses to correspond on circumventing our state constitution. [The Michigan Constitution says public monies can't be directed toward private schools.]  

Behen said he and the other four state employees are mostly working after-hours on the project with Friday evening and Saturday meetings.
Isn't weekend work standard for cabinet-level employees in government?
"Why are we using private email addresses? Because it's just easier," Behen said. "There's nothing secret or anything about this."
[Ed. note: secretary of the Mackinac Center's Board of Directors and author of the Oxford Plan] said the other participants are justified in using private emails.***
  "Well, they should," he said. "It's not a government project." "Isn't a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?" he asked rhetorically. 
I don't know much about the reference to the "skunk works" referred to in terms of Lockheed Martin and WWII fighter planes, but I do know something about some of the other definitions of skunk, the definitions of skunk as a verb. To wit, from the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (referenced at : 
  1. v. Slang To defeat overwhelmingly, especially by keeping from scoring.
  1. v. To cheat (someone).
  1. v. To fail to pay (an amount due).
In other words, members of this secret group--and by extension, the top levels of Michigan's government--are hoping to skunk us [and let's be clear--by us I mean supporters of public education, education of the people, by the people, and for the people]. 

They are hoping to skunk us, by defeating us overwhelmingly and keeping us from being proactive.

They are hoping to skunk us, by cheating us out of funds due to public education.

They are hoping to skunk us, by failing to pay public schools their due

Taken from the Missouri Dept. of Conservation web site.

And in a way, they have already halfway succeeded, cutting out $1.8 billion in school aid funds since Governor Snyder came to office, and making all school districts across the state feel extremely pinched, budget-wise.

So I do feel that this group is giving skunks a really bad name. After all, when does a skunk release that malodorous vapor? When they feel threatened. They do that to keep predators from attacking, not to harm others

The "skunk works" people? They are more akin to demons than skunks.

*Kudos to Chad Livengood for some excellent investigative reporting.

**David Behen used to be Washtenaw County Deputy Administrator.

***And I'm really hoping somebody will be putting in FOIA requests for all these private emails that members of Governor Snyder's staff are using for public activity.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Checking for Plagiarism

Last year, a friend of mine who was doing adjunct teaching at Eastern Michigan University posted on Facebook that in a class of 30 students who had just turned in papers, she had realized that five of them (5!!!) had turned in papers that they found on the internet. At least some of them downloaded the same paper! All of them had B or better averages before they turned in their final papers...

In any case, plagiarism is a problem, whether you teach middle school, high school, or college, and the Electric Educator (John Sowash) has a post with some suggested tools for checking for plagiarism.

He writes,

A free, simple, alternative that I have been using for several years is "The Plagiarism Checker" from Paste in a bunch of text from a suspect paper and The Plagiarism Checker will quickly perform a Google search of multiple portions of the submitted text."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Budget Forums: Three Down, One to Go

The school board is holding budget forums, open to all. I went to the Clague budget forum. I got a report on the Slauson forum. There was one this week at the library that I haven't heard about, and the last one is on Saturday 4/20/13, 9-11 a.m., Scarlett Middle School. If you haven't gone yet,
think about going to this one!

Both at Clague and at Slauson, common discussion items included:

1) The importance of keeping class sizes from getting larger;

2) The importance of keeping Community and Roberto Clemente. Especially there was discussion about Roberto Clemente, and I'm quoting from a comment I got on this recent blog post:
I attended the budget forum at Slauson last week, and quite a few people spoke about some issues related to moving the Clemente program into Pioneer. One of them is the use separate entrance idea raising specters of "separate but equal" segregation. Another is the fact that the wing they are proposing to use is already used, so those classes will be displaced, increasing class sizes at Pioneer and/or eliminating some electives. All these people thought Clemente was valuable but that Pioneer was not the best location. 
Interestingly (in light of the critique of central admin arising from your superintendant survey), the board members seemed completely taken off guard by these critiques. It seems they had accepted the building evaluation report at face value, but nobody had bothered to talk to Pioneer staff to see if that vision met up with lived reality.
Back to your analysis: the thing that strikes me about the "off the bus routes" component of the vision is that Pioneer seems the worst location to achieve that goal! You can ditch school and walk to all sorts of 'interesting' places from there, and catch numerous buses. Skyline, on the other hand (which was being offered as a better alternative b/c of less overcrowding) is relatively isolated. Isn't the only bus that serves it, the special bus (18A?) that goes out there because students need transportation? Even Huron is more isolated than Pioneer. 
3) A few people brought up the importance of maintaining transportation services, particularly for low-income kids. For instance, without bus service, how would kids get from Carrot Way (north side) or Scio Farms (west side) to school?

4) Appreciation for the teachers and other staff that agreed to compensation reductions.

5) Revenues: The board members spent far too much time, in my opinion, discussing the AAPS Educational Foundation. (That's a topic for another blog post.)

But other possibilities discussed included:

6) a county-wide enhancement millage. One failed last time (although it passed in Ann Arbor, it did not pass county-wide.

7) at the Clague discussion someone brought up the possibility of a recreation millage. That could be just proposed in Ann Arbor. Saline has one.

Well, neither of those millages will be passed in time for this year's budget.

As far as cuts go, things I heard (and remember--it's been a couple of weeks) were:
--go back through past years' suggestions
--take a look at cuts other districts have made to see if they would be appropriate for us; why reinvent the wheel?
--cut administration
--engage principals and teachers in their ideas for cuts
--cut testing

There also was some discussion of whether Ann Arbor gives "extra" special education services (beyond the minimum required) and should reduce them to save money. I don't have any kids with IEPs, but parents who do, I suggest that you weigh in on this!

I felt a big piece of the discussion is this: what are you willing to give up to protect class sizes and transportation?

Does anyone want to write in the comments what was discussed at the library meeting?
Do go on Saturday to share your ideas.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finding a New Superintendent: A Four-Legged Stool

If you want to know what other people think we should look for in a new Superintendent, take a look at these survey results. I agree with 80-90%% of the comments there.

For myself, I've been visualizing what I want in a Superintendent. And I've been visualizing a four-legged stool.

Yes, I drew this myself. It took forever!

For the next Superintendent, I think we need:

1. Obviously, we are looking someone with educational leadership/curricular knowledge. I personally am looking for someone who is concerned with supporting teachers and principals and who seeks feedback from them. I am looking for someone who is not interested in testing as a goal (for the purposes of evaluating students or teachers), but rather sees standardized testing as something to be limited. I'm not interested in another Broad-trained Superintendent. I never wrote about how Pat Green was trained as a Broad Superintendent (or what that means), although I had plans to do so. In fact at the time she applied I had no idea what that meant, but now I do, and you can read a little bit about Broad Superintendents here and here.

2. Second, we should be looking for someone with good communication skills. We need someone who speaks and writes well; who will spend time in the schools; and who wants to be open, accessible, honest and transparent to parents and taxpayers. [No, they don't have to do whatever people want; but when there is a disagreement they have to be able to articulate and explain.]

3. Third, at this critical time, we need someone with excellent financial skills. AAPS is a large organization, and we need someone who is comfortable managing large budgets and, even more critically, comfortable with leading longer-term financial planning.

4. Last, and definitely not least, I think we need someone who is familiar with Michigan politics. We need someone who understands Michigan's current educational climate and has experienced it. We need someone who is willing to lead as a political advocate for Ann Arbor schools and all public school districts in the state. We need someone to say that our districts are worth funding well. We need someone to say that (for instance) the education bills around the EAA and teacher evaluation, currently in the state legislature, are misguided and poorly-thought out. In this regard, Clarkston Superintendent Rod Rock, Oakland ISD Superintendent Vickie Markavitch, or Bloomfield Hills Superindent Robert Glass (who by the way, came from the Dexter schools) are modeling the kind of behavior I'd like to see from our next Superintendent.

So--anything else?

What about internal candidates? A few names have been suggested to me, of both current Ann Arbor staff and recently retired staff people. I guess if the board wants an interim person, then a recently retired person with a lot of experience might be good--especially if they had retired from Ann Arbor, because right now the "cabinet" is pretty green. Also, if we were to find a good candidate for the permanent position who was very local--internal to the district as a staff person or parent already--I think that would make the transition easier. If Saline's experience is any guide, an internal candidate would likely stay longer and be more successful. And if the candidate is not internal, let's at least look locally!

But minimally, I think the board should at least start with the intention of hiring a Superintendent who has been working in Michigan. I would suggest we only expand that geographic boundary if an initial search didn't turn up good candidates. Remember, it only takes one good candidate. [These folk tales make the same point poetically.]

Finally, let's talk about pay.

I'd like to see the board offer a salary range, rather than a fixed amount. Let's have that range start around $160,000, and top out where Pat Green's salary is, $245,000. I know, $160,000 is less than Todd Roberts was getting three years ago, but all that does is allow the board to be a big shot and not pay at the bottom of the range. And also, let's be careful about what goes in the Superintendent's contract, too.

What other criteria are on your mind?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Part IV: My Commentary on the Superintendent Resignation

First of all, if you want to read what other people think, take a look at these survey results:

Part I: Did you have personal experiences with Pat Green? Based on those experiences, how did you feel about her? Can you give concrete examples?
Part II: Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?
Part III: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

Obviously, I don't agree with every comment in the survey, but much of what was written resonates with me!

Could I see that this was coming? No. I didn't necessarily think Pat Green would stick around for five years, but I was surprised this happened so quickly. However, the school board was about to begin the Superintendent Evaluation. In fact, I think that we can likely trace her resignation to this, as noted in the Ann Arbor Chronicle on March 27, 2013:
Earlier that evening [March 20th], the trustees met in closed session with Green to go over her interim mid-year evaluation. Because it was an informal evaluation, the board did not release an official statement. 
So do I tie Pat Green's resignation to this event? Yes, I do. 

[And by the way, thanks once again to the Ann Arbor Chronicle's detailed reporting--thanks especially to Monet Tiedemann and Jennifer Coffman, present and past Chronicle education reporters. If you would like to support their work, you can do that here.]

Certainly board members had heard from plenty of residents about communication issues. I imagine they had heard from plenty of teachers and administrators about her lack of engagement with the schools.

Publicly, at that same March 20th meeting, board member Christine Stead had suggested they use the evaluation rubric from the Michigan Association of School Boards that looks at these practice areas:
The rubric Stead presented was developed by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) and contains suggestions for rating superintendents as ineffective, minimally effective, effective, or highly effective in 11 categories: relationship with the board; community relations; staff relationships; business and finance; educational leadership; personal qualities; evaluation; progress toward the school improvement plan (SIP); student attendance; student/parent/teacher feedback; and student growth and achievement.
At least to me, Pat Green seemed very weak in community relations; staff relationships; educational leadership; evaluation; and student/parent/teacher feedback.

Recent Ann Arbor Chronicle articles gave other hints of trouble (beyond the criticisms about Pat Green's lack of communication with parents, teachers, and principals). At the March 13, 2013 meeting, the Student Intervention and Support Services report was met with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Again, per the Ann Arbor Chronicle:
While trustees were appreciative of the report, their feelings were best summed up by trustee Andy Thomas’s concerns: Trustees were “struck by the complete absence of any metrics” in the report and were disappointed by the absence of clearly defined goals and next steps.
[Oh--and by the way--the lack of data here leads directly into a conversation about how, whether, or when the district can/should reduce certain types of support for students with IEPs. Without data, how can you decide if you're doing the right thing?]

At that same meeting, in a discussion of the Roberto Clemente program (and the administration's recommendation to move the program to Pioneer), board trustees had this to say:
Several of the trustees were appreciative of the work that went into the report. Lightfoot, however, was troubled to have the “same suggestions we had last year.” Thomas said he had hoped the board would receive an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Clemente program. . . The trustees did have some concerns about the future leadership of Clemente. Forty percent of the projected savings, Thomas noted, came from the elimination of the principal position. He was skeptical of Flye’s assertion that the real value of Clemente had more to do with individual teachers and what goes on in the classroom than with the leadership of the school. 
And after the February 27th meeting, the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported the following:

1) On start times:

Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent of instruction, reported on the results of the district-wide survey on school start times. . . Trustees seemed unimpressed by the survey and the recommendation. Susan Baskett said she found the survey confusing and suggested the committee reach out to experts when crafting future surveys. 
2) About trimester vs. semester high school scheduling:
Stead said she was confused about the work of the committee. She said she thought they were looking into trimester versus semester scheduling because some parents had brought concerns about the kinds of gaps that occur in the core subjects. There was no data on the impact of the magnet programs. If magnet programs were so important and valuable, the board needed to see that data. If this was only about the budget, then the report that had been submitted was fine. But if they were trying to figure out which model was best, and if they had substantive data that showed the trimester model worked better for students, then they should move all of the comprehensive high schools to trimesters.
 The trustees took issue with the way the charts broke down the additional costs associated with Skyline. Thomas said he had assumed that the higher cost of Skyline could be attributed to the trimester system, but based on the information presented, nothing showed that it was more expensive to run trimesters than semesters with a seventh hour. The increased cost of Skyline came from its lower enrollment number and its student-to-teacher ratio.
Nelson said using the actual enrollment and the actual FTEs obscures the analysis rather than helps it. 

4) More on high school scheduling: 
Several of the trustees thanked the committee for the “prodigious amount” of work that went into compiling the information. . .While Lightfoot appreciated the work, she was concerned that “the folks on the front line” haven’t really provided the board with solid recommendations. . . Stead had some sharp words for the committee. She said  four members of the committee wrote to the board to ask to have their names removed from the report, saying the report does not represent their opinions. She argued the report did not represent the collective work of all members of the committee. 
5) Budget Shortfall

Allen was joined by Hoover in presenting the second quarter financial report... The board was upset to learn that the district was nearly $2.5 million over budget for FY 2013 and needed to adjust the original budget.
So, in summary, what I believe happened is this: the board had high hopes for Pat Green's financial and educational acumen, and they were willing to pay for it. However, she came into the community with many key positions vacant, and she had to get to know a new community. It took Pat Green a while to fill those key positions, and to get oriented to the district, and the first year was filled with many new beginnings. I think it's a good thing that there was no rush to judgment. 
After 18 months, the board had heard from many people about Pat Green's lack of communication skills. They also began to get full reports and data from the new administration--and what they saw was much less than they expected. Thus, a harsh mid-term evaluation led to an off-the-record discussion about resignation, and that explains the very short "retirement letter" from Pat Green, as well as the letter from Deb Mexicotte--about which my friend said, "It was a fawning letter, and it looked like it took a long time to write. It looks like the kind of letter you write when you are creating a 'no harm' exit. Deb Mexicotte must have known about the resignation for a while."

And all of this, I must emphasize, is just me reading between the lines. You might draw different conclusions. By the way, I'm not asking anybody to confirm or deny anything. I don't think it would be helpful to the district, or to the people involved. There is a reason that personnel decisions are generally not subject to the Open Meetings Act. Soon, look for a post on what we should be looking for in our next Superintendent. In case you haven't noticed, it's a key position.

By the way, don't be too hard on the school board. Setting aside the fact that they are practically volunteers, I think we should recognize that if Pat Green had, in fact, been the "whole package" the Board thought she was when they hired her, we wouldn't have minded her high salary (at least, not very much). 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What Should We Look For in a New Superintendent? Survey Results, Part III

Forty people took my survey! Here are the results. I've split them into three parts. Part III is the post you are reading: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

Part I: Did you have personal experiences with Pat Green? Based on those experiences, how did you feel about her? Can you give concrete examples?

Part II: Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?

And then there is what you could think of as Part IV: My Commentary.

Part III: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

Vision, gets A2.

Someone who will stay a while and will see assessment as an evil that must be minimized, not voluntarily expanded.

Clean up the building principal ranks. 

Lower pay. Knows the district. Can hit the ground running. Can listen to what teachers have to say. Is willing to work with the diverse community but also the diversity of programs. Understands how to foster better teaching and more investment from the community.

Someone who is clearly not one step away from retirement.  Stop the revolving door. It hurts the district. 

An in house candidate?

Superintendents who are nearing the end of their career and who are likely to retire are the sorts of people who might not last a long time in the superintendent's job.

Someone who comes up with solutions, not excuses as to why we can't do something

Internal candidate or local leader.  Someone who will lead the district, rather than manage.  Collaboration is key.

Transparency, working with the community, interaction with teachers and parents.

Experience with AAPS.

Perseverance, local ties.

We need someone who will use the "bully pulpit" to reach out and engage the community, as well as be active in advocacy to preserve our local public schools. We need someone who can take on the AAPS "culture," separate good from bad, and fix issues of leadership and trust.

Someone more invested in the community.

Hire from within, or at least nearby. Find someone who knows AA, knows the mess of Michigan politics, and isn't trying to impose some model they developed elsewhere without knowing about this community and what our priorities are. And who won't run when the job proves to be difficult.

        I would also appreciate it if the hiring process took into account more of the superintendent's philosophy and education background. How about we recruit the Clarkston Superintendent?

Communication, visibility, toughness.

See above. [Ed. Note: I think commenter means his/her earlier comment as to why Pat Green is leaving. The comment related to the large size of the impending budget cuts.] Someone has to get the entire city behind the fact that public schools are under a heavily funded, coordinated siege from big-business, school privatization interests. Everybody needs to man the ramparts or they will take down the public schools and children will be force-fed their ""education"" in office parks, at computer terminals administered by minimum wage attendants. Think McDonalds. All special programs such as art, theater, sports, special ed, film-making, etc., will be served a la carte for extra $$. 

       If you look at the education-related companies with public stock, they are involved in testing prep (Kaplan- the Wash Post! no wonder they get great press coverage..), charter schools (K12, BASIS, CSMC, Edison, NHA, etc), food service, maintenance contracting, ""education"" software (News Corp!!). If you wonder why the curriculum has gone so far toward standardized testing, look who's making money in test prep; If you wonder why school lunch programs are stuck in the 60's, look who's making money shoveling that crap at our kids; if you wonder why all the big ideas involve computers in the classroom, look who will make money getting rid of teachers; and so on...
      Someone needs to step forward and make people understand that this is what is happening and that everyone needs to pitch in or there will be no stopping it. 
      In the early 70's, think tanks were staring at, what is now, a $500b education budget and started scheming to get their hands on it. 40 years later...

Don't be bullied by the BOE.

Someone who knows Ann Arbor, who has risen from the ranks, perhaps. Someone who is communicative and is a willing part of the community. Someone who REALLY wants to stay for 8 years or more.Don't spend thousands of dollars on a consultant to help with the search, either.

Someone who knows the district's history, is truly involved and engrossed in the community, someone who has teaching experience, someone who is truly an advocate for teachers and students, not just testing.

Strong commitment to educational equity. Long-term commitment to community.

Great communication skills (not just sending out e-mails) - making very public appearances, recording videos of short inspirational talks, being visible in ALL schools, making some clear decisions, and not being afraid to cut administrative and superintendent pay.

"Man" of the people, good with finances.

Commitment to the community, understanding of Michigan education system and funding models (cuz we are weird).

Visible leadership in the community.  Visionary leadership.

1. continue line item accounting - it just seems reasonable.

2. good people skills - listening, communicating, directing.  
3. willing to talk about the achievement gap so that our whole community understands why it is important to them to reduce/eliminate it.  We need to really keep communication open about this - especially when we need to start making some deep cuts.  
4.  coordinate with the AAEF to fund X  and Y so that class sizes stay small and we can keep our ""specials.""  for example, in budget talks, say ""we can't raise taxes to pay teachers, but we can give money to AAEF so that they can pay our Media Specialists so our schools have this valuable teacher resource.""  We do this for 3-5 grade spanish, why not with other programs?
5.  It would be great if the new superintendent could tap into the resources in our community that are willing to get involved, but just historically get shut down.  Parents in the schools are a good thing - statistics show that involved parents = higher achieving students.  Our communities most valuable assets are not the dollars we make, but the skills and expertise that we can share.  

Able to serve as an intermediary and a translator between the public and the AAPS staff. Ability to offer some resistance to the tendency to technocratically manage ("Balasize") the district as a collection of abstract assets and liabilities.

Someone who is familiar with the Ann Arbor School district. Staff at all levels have made sacrifices in the recent past so the students would not feel the cuts (pay cuts, wage freeze, specials and support teachers taking on two or more buildings, etc). With each change of Superintendent and School Board that is getting forgotten.  

Pat Green Resigns: Survey Results, Part II

Forty people took my survey! Here are the results. I've split them into three parts. Part II is the post you are reading: Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?

Part I: Did you have personal experiences with Pat Green? Based on those experiences, how did you feel about her? Can you give concrete examples?

Part III: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

And then there is what you could think of as Part IV: My Commentary.

The question we're addressing in Part II is, as I put it, the rumor/innuendo question: 

Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?

She realized she was not a good fit with "culture " here.

Because she can, and she didn't really ever want to be here.

You have people like the principal at the Dicken that does very little that you need to deal with and justify their high salary.

She is facing resistance and hostility. There are too many overpaid people at Balas who are not listening to ideas and challenges. She has fostered that, and now there is mutiny afoot from within and from the community. There are also a huge number of problems that would take a greater commitment than, perhaps, she is willing to give.


She is a good person who values education, and doesn't want to be the one to do the cuts. 

To spend more time with family.

She doesn't even live here?

She did a poor job.

She was overly confident when she was hired.  Her management style was inconsistent with AAPS culture and she refused to work with AAEA and AAAA.  She left when it was obvious she was not achieving her goals and could not be successful in AAPS.

She has to make hard decisions on budget cuts and is already unpopular--so decided to retire so she didn't get booed out of town.

Didn't want to face the fallout from upcoming budget cuts?

She recognized very early (probably six months in)  that she wasn't actually a good fit with the board and the community. It's a community that – outside of AAPS – doesn't call her (or anyone other than physicians) "doctor." She didn't care for the fact that she was expected to make herself available and accessible to the community. Meet with upset parents?? Not something she felt was part of her job. Mexicotte's letter, in its commentary on Green's involvement with the community, was generous to the point of creating fiction. Green stayed just long enough not to make it completely embarrassing for herself and the district. This way it was only somewhat embarrassing. 

No idea. There's no doubt that the job would really suck right now. No one wants to preside over the dismantling of a great school district. And with the main problems in Lansing, there's not a whole lot we can do from here. The board may have lost confidence, or they all may have decided that she has become too much of a lightning rod. So she'll be responsible for the massive cuts, and someone new gets to take on the rebuilding. Or there's always family/health issues.

She has lost community support because she appears to be inaccessible to many parents and teachers. She hides behind her minions.

It's a really hard job. I think the board hoped that by paying her a LOT more than her predecessor she would feel obligated to stick around while the state guts public education. If you don't have any connection to the community it is easy to leave. 

Not what she signed on for. Tough budgets, lots of scrutiny, lots of vocal parents with conflicting goals, the whole Skyline white elephant in the room.

"If I had to guess, I'd say she probably felt cutting the budget a further $17-20m was not doable without massively unpopular layoffs and cuts to programs and closing schools. She'd already gotten an icy welcome from the townsfolk and so the landscape ahead probably looked akin to scouring the Shire.

That said, I saw no evidence of her being any sort of transformational leader. Not of the sort that will be necessary to keep public schools together under the massive multi-decade right wing privatization machine.

The budget deficit.  She referred to the elephant in the room.  Realign the attendance areas so that kids could go to their neighborhood schools reducing the need for many bus routes. BOE wasn't willing to listen to her.  She was fighting an uphill battle.

Really don't know, but how nice she got to pad her retirement fund by 55k in two years! I want a job like that. Seriously, I don't know why except that she couldn't take the heat. And what's with Mexicotte's fawning letter? Did she write it or did Pat Green?

She seems old and tired, and frankly if I was her, I wouldn't be up to the challenge in a community that I have no ties to.  There's really no repercussions for her leaving - she's at the end of her career.  There doesn't seem to be any ethical issue for her in regard to not filling out her contract of 5 years or ditching AAPS in this crucial moment.

Ann Arbor turned out to be harder than she thought. Too much micro managing (not a good fit for her monarchy like style) and too much bad news from the state legislature and governor.

Tough to work with the board, didn't like the commute back home to husband, not looking forward to implementing budget cuts.

No.  But polished, professional folks don't just up and leave like this, so there is a story to which we are not privy.

I wonder about the relationship with the board of education - were they really so supportive of each other?  I also sense she did not have the backing of the central administration and other district employees.  It is hard not to be liked.

I am worried about a future selection.  I think we need someone that can hold their own against the BOE - they are powerful and coordinated and there should be a check and a balance for them.  Elections do this to some extent, but we also need more qualified people willing to run.  This of course is a whole 'nother topic!

Nope. I have no doubt she wanted to retire, as she claims. Whether that means she was never truly that invested in the community or the job... that feels plausible, but I have no evidence that it's true.

Teachers showed they were willing to take a pay cut for the students in the district. Once the "what pay cut will you take" ball was in the administrators' court she decided to pack it in. 

Pat Green Resigns: Survey Results, Part I

Forty people took my survey! Here are the results. I've split them into three parts. Part I is the post you are reading.

Part II: Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?

Part III: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

And then there's what you could think of as Part IV: My Commentary.

But first, Part I of the Survey:

As you can see, 2/3 of the people who responded had never seen Pat Green in person or had only seen her from afar. By the way: I didn't take the survey, but if I had, I would have said I had only seen her from afar: at Skyline's graduation; at a budget meeting; and at school board meetings. But I have never spoken directly with her. In other words, don't take not having seen her as a sign of being disengaged with education in the Ann Arbor school district. I think it only highlights her lack of communication with people outside a limited circle. I have met several of her cabinet members multiple times.

You can see that 20% of people who responded had no opinion about Pat Green's work. Nearly all of those (7/8) were people who had never even seen Pat Green in person. On the other hand, 2/3 of the people who responded had a somewhat negative or very negative opinion of Pat Green.

Only two people who had regular contact with Pat Green responded. However, I think it's important to note that those two people had very positive feelings about her.

Can you give any concrete examples of why you feel the way you do?

Very Negative: She didn't really know how to talk about anything other than Pat Green.
Very Positive: She was hired by a bunch of  special interest Board Members. Support their cause and you do fine. Green felt that every student was important and no special interest group is more important than the group as a big hole,. She had the integrity to make that point known and that upset the special interest people. Same thing happended to Todd Roberts.

Very Negative: Her tenure there has been problematic as she is one of three people at the top that have no experience with AAPS, and instead of getting to know the district and variety of programs, she has spent a great deal of time running things from the top. Additionally, she was hired in at too large of a pay package, that is the fault of the school board.

Somewhat Positive: She told someone I know that she supported the arts.  She seemed engaged at the school board meeting.

No Opinion: The district's information sharing politics were centralized, making it necessary to submit formal FOIA requests when making routine requests for information. I don't see that as a step in the right direction.

Somewhat Negative: "The story about using a ""peace flag"" to reduce discipline infractions. The raises given to administrators. The inability to balance the budget. The exorbitant salary that returned mediocre results."

Somewhat Negative: Did not work with AAEA and AAAA [Ed. Note: teachers' union and administrators' union].  Did not understand A2 culture.

Very Negative: Lack of interaction with parent and community. New testing requirements that are not clear

Somewhat Negative: "Discipline Gap," accessibility, disjointed communication

Somewhat Negative: Asking various departments of the administration to give annual reports to the board was well conceived but poorly executed. These reports were implemented by claiming large chunks of board meeting time for their presentation. Guess what: AAPS board members can read (reportedly). The reports should have been distributed publicly via BoardDocs a week in advance. Board members could be expected to do their homework. Five minutes of overview plus 10 minutes of board questions at the meeting. That way you don't have meetings that last until 3 a.m.

         Her letter was poorly executed. She portrayed the decision as just the normal course of events. If you leave 2 years into a 5 year contract, I think you owe some kind of acknowledgment that, things didn't go as intended. At least say: I had intended to stay longer, but ..."" and fill in something fluffy if you like after the ""but ...""  But her resignation letter should have at least owned the fact that this was a premature departure.

Very Positive: I thought she was really committed to addressing some of the problems AAPS faces, especially with regard to serving the most vulnerable children. (Bringing James Comer here was a strong signal.) I also thought that she gave AAPS a much-needed shaking up.

Somewhat Negative: She hides behind jargon. Often to misdirect her real meaning. 

Somewhat Negative: She was a lousy listener--the meetings I attended, all she did was talk about herself. Her role at these meetings was to hear from a specific community of parents (she was not invited to give a presentation) but they never got a word in edgewise. I felt steamrolled. When I compared her to how Todd Roberts interacted with the same group of parents, I was not impressed by her. She had her agenda and didn't listen to anyone else. I actually supported some of her agenda (emphasis on Positive Behavior Plans for discipline, for example) but because there were plenty of things that she advocated that I disagree with, I knew that I wouldn't be heard. I found it hard to work with someone who wasn't willing to listen.

I do think she did a decent job advocating with Lansing, but they are such a bunch of nutjobs that even a steamroller doesn't have much effect.

Somewhat Negative: The invisible woman. So, she has stood and waved at Bands in Review, but that's about all I can say about her, other than her willingness to take a pay cut/forego a raise, whatever that was. It could be the decline of local media that contributed to her invisibility -- we all know the Dotcom would rather highlight car crashes that get clicks -- but in contentious times the superintendent needs to be out front.

No Opinion: I think she had a very high bar of expectations as soon as it was learned how large her salary was going to be. Then the fact that she was not an Ann Arbor local added to a sense that the board believed that the local pool of talent and ideas was insufficient. This put a chip on the shoulder of Ann Arbor and she carried that into the job.

She never shook the fa├žade of being aloof- but that impression of her may have been due to the fact that, not being local, she didn't know anybody.

Somewhat Negative: Her starting salary, I blame the BOE mostly for that.  Took over 6 months to appoint a principal to Pioneer.

Somewhat Negative: My sense was that she wasn't communicative to staff and to families. I don't recall the issue exactly,but I remember her response to a question regarding an issue re:AAPS was that the questioner should just FOIA for an answer. I also thought she was way over paid, that the board shouldn't have bumped the salary up so high. Then it came out that she was the highest paid Superintendent in the State! Not good. I was surprised  to read that she hadn't spent time in each AAPS building. Seems like it should be a priority for most Superintendents. Finally, I know this is petty but she parks in staff-only spots where they hold the AAPS board meetings. Parking is free on the streets, and even if it wasn't AAPS would pay for parking.

Somewhat Negative: I'm a teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools District, and I struggle to come up with positive, long-lasting things Pat Green has done for our district.  She may have visited our school once, but I only recall seeing her from afar.  

Somewhat Negative: I have negative impressions simply based on 1)  I haven't seen much in regard to fiscal decisions made, 2)  She did not advocate for transparency, and 3)  Balas still spent much money on retreats and food deliveries while some teachers are buying their own supplies.

Somewhat Negative: I have not heard of her looking to actual teachers for any input on running the district.

Somewhat Negative: She didn't/doesn't seem to have a very open approach to sharing information.

Somewhat Positive: Based on conversations with Dr. Green, she was positioning Ann Arbor not only to take a leadership role in the county but also to provide income-producing services to other Districts and ultimately to position Ann Arbor for a leadership role if consolidation were inevitable.

Very Negative: 1.  Non-transparency of her administration.  This includes meetings that continue into the wee hours to make decisions, information available only through the slow process of FOIA, 

2.  A good leader gets everyone on board so they can be cheerleaders of your vision.  She failed to do this.  For example, the ""discipline gap"" - giving school administrators the education adn training to discipline effectively within the new guide lines and so that they could educate thier communities about why the district is changing course with discipline would have been helpful. 
3.  She did not seem to have a relationship with the BOE or any principal or teacher that I know.  The position is ""political"" and unfortunately, you must do some hand shaking in this position.  She didn't seem to be very good at this.

Somewhat Negative: She seemed to be a very top-down manager--you can construe this as "empowering" her subordinates, or as removing herself from the day to day hurlyburly, but I would prefer to see a more hands-on, more collegial and less hierarchical management style.

Very Negative: Dr. Greene  did not put effort into trying to be a part of the Ann Arbor community.  She physically had a wall built around her office area at Ballas and never lived in Ann Arbor.  She flew home weekly to be with her family.  One wonders if she even worked a full week in order to fly back to be with her family. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

AAPS Superintendent Pat Green Resigns. What Do You Think Of That?

This evening the district sent out a letter from Pat Green, stating that she is retiring.

Here is Pat Green's letter.

The district also sent out a (very gracious) letter from AAPS Board Chair Deb Mexicotte about Pat Green's resignation.

Here is Deb Mexicotte's letter.

Ever since I read an article from Propublica about using embedded Google forms to, in their words, "help power your reporting," I've been wanting to try one.

I'm curious about what you think about Pat Green's resignation. Are you sorry to see her go? Happy? Indifferent? Take my short survey! [Update 4/14/2013, 7 p.m.: I have closed the survey.] I'll share the results.

[Update 4/14/2013: 11:55 p.m. Read the results here:

Part I: Did you have personal experiences with Pat Green? Based on those experiences, how did you feel about her? Can you give concrete examples?
Part II: Do you have any thoughts/ideas about why Pat Green is leaving?

Part III: Looking to the future, what qualities do you think are important for the next superintendent?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Determinative Architecture and the Roberto Clemente School

Is determinative architecture even a term?

I'm trying to use a phrase that says that architecture can determine a building's uses. Take your nearest cathedral. The architect tries to give you a soaring, celestial feeling with those high arches and stained glass windows.
An interior northeast view of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. By Jnolan14 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Now imagine how classes might flow in a school built in the sixties or seventies with partial walls and everyone facing into a central pod for a media center. (This could describe the new part of Ann Arbor Open or Logan Elementary.)

Logan Elementary, picture from, Ann Arbor Public Schools

Compare that to the high walls and solid building of Eberwhite, Bach, or the oldest part of Ann Arbor Open at Mack. Not only are the halls and classrooms much quieter than in the "open" structure, but the building itself also causes teachers and students to act differently.

The older part of Ann Arbor Open at Mack. By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

When my oldest son was in kindergarten at what was then Bach Open School (at Bach), the kindergarten/first grade teacher had a very large room. There was plenty of room for a very large set of blocks that were a kid favorite.
I took these from Those large blocks looked something like these.

Between my son's kindergarten and first grade years, the Open School moved to Mack. The classrooms in the newer part of the building were much smaller. Goodbye blocks :(

The Roberto Clemente Building

The Roberto Clemente program was conceived of in 1973 and became reality in 1974. Its original name was the Alternative School for Disruptive Youth [Flattering! I'm sure that attracted lots of kids!].

Early on the name was changed to honor Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates player who died in a plane crash on his way to a humanitarian mission in Nicaragua after the devastating 1972 earthquake. [Fun factoid about my family--my oldest son early on adopted Roberto Clemente's number as his own for his baseball jersey, and my youngest son has followed that tradition. That's #21, in case you didn't know.]

The Roberto Clemente program was located way out of town for many years. According to this history, it was located at Meadowview Elementary on Textile Road in Pittsfield Township. I remember wondering if the building was even within the school district boundaries.

Roberto Clemente School, built in 1994; taken from the Pittsfield Township Historical Society web site

Plans for the current location were developed in the early 1990s, and the Roberto Clemente school building opened in 1994. When the plans were developed, Joe Dulin, the principal and founder, had in mind one key trait: class size. Knowing that there was a risk that class sizes would rise, he intentionally worked to keep the room sizes small, because he believed--and, I should say, still believes (he has spoken recently at a school board meeting) that small class sizes are the key to the school's success. Make the rooms small, he thought, and you can't really make the classes too large.

They also, intentionally, built the school off of bus routes.

Roberto Clemente is a school where many of the kids have failed in other school settings. Roberto Clemente is a school where many of the kids come from low-income households, thus it is a Title I school. Roberto Clemente is also a school with many kids who qualify for special education services. All of those things add to the per-pupil cost of the school, which today is approximately twice that of the comprehensive high schools. (Title I designation and special education funds though, are revenue streams into the school as well.) But undoubtedly, the key reason that the school's per-pupil costs are so high is that the classes are so small--and the school itself is small.

Class sizes are generally 15 kids or fewer, and. . . here is the kicker. . . if the school wanted to lower their per-pupil costs, they would need to make the class sizes larger. The classrooms, however, are meant to fit class sizes of 15 students or fewer. The architecture determines the use.

You see where this is going, right? It's a bit of a Catch-22. In order to be successful, the classes need to be small, but in order to lower the schools' costs, the class sizes would likely need to be larger. Yet the current building structure will not allow that (at least, not without significant renovations).

If the school were to move, would the class sizes balloon? Would the school (or in this case, the program) still be able to effectively serve those students?

Joe Dulin's plan seemed like a good one in 1994 (pre-Proposal A). With the threat of the program's elimination or with potential plans that the school be moved to Ann Arbor Tech or Pioneer, does it seem like a good plan now?