Monday, August 19, 2013

Welcome Dr. Jeanice Swift! Here is Some Advice

Dear Dr. Jeanice Swift,

Welcome to Ann Arbor! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hope that you will sit down with Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools, and John Austin, of the State Board of Education, to learn about Michigan politics around education, and what the legislature has done and is planning on doing.

But other people have some other advice for your orientation. Here it is (and I will also send it to you when I know your email address...)

I am a. . . Dear Jeanice Swift,
Parent, Community MemberDon't read comments, they don't represent the community or its opinions. It's like a car wreck that you can't look away from. That goes for anyone moving to our community, but especially for a public figure like a superintendent - the comments will be nasty and stupid and hurtful and occupy space in your head that they don't merit.
ParentFrom the students they are her main stakeholders
TeacherFrom a teacher's perspective, I want to know that you know what it means to be a teacher in AAPS. I'd love for you to come to some buildings and drop-in to classrooms (unannounced). You'd get an authentic sense of what's happening in schools and classrooms. While you are going to be very, very busy, taking the time to be visible, personable, and present is going to have a big impact on this community. Our perception of you plays an important role.

I also think that it's critical that you understand where AAPS and The State of Michigan are at financially. With Proposal A and the continued cuts to per-pupil spending, I hope that you will join in the political battle as other Michigan superintendents have. If Ann Arbor intends to pass any more millages (which we will need to do to even maintain some of the funding we already have), the community and public must fully understand why we (as a former hold-harmless district) need their financial support. The for profits have moved in (billboards for are everywhere in Michigan now) and AAPS needs to inform the public as to why we are still a great district and how much better we could be if properly funded.
ParentTalk to teachers and parents, but not just the ones that are angry about things and come pounding down your door. Go talk to the parents that are running different activities for kids, like Science Olympiad or other PTO things. Just because we aren't screaming mad about something doesn't mean we don't have ideas or suggestions.
ParentAvoid the polite "welcome reception" circuit, and instead devote time to:
1- attend 3 back-to-school (or "curriculum") nights (one elem, one middle, one high school)--not to be a speaker, but to hang out in the cafeteria or commons & hear what parents have to say about the school.
2 - select 3 different schools (one elementary, one middle, one high) and spend a half-day with the principal, including morning arrival and lunch.
3-attend 2+ after-school or evening games/events at the other high schools & middle schools, talking with parents and kidsJust hear what people are saying.
ParentGo to the schools and talk with teachers, parents, and staff to get their thoughts on what is going right and what is not going so well in the school. Not everyone will agree but there is often consensus on the big issues.
ParentI know Ruth already said this, but I want to second the recommendation that you speak to Steve Norton. He is an AMAZING parent advocate with a fantastic lobbying presence and website -- Michigan Parents for Schools.

I encourage you to get to know the character of all the individual schools in the district. It would be great if we parents had some way to tell you what we love, and what we don't love or wish for, in our schools. You would learn so much from this! Maybe it could be done with a straight-forward form like this one.

And we welcome you in your visits to all the buildings. You will get a good feeling for the schools when you visit each of them.
ParentWelcome! To learn about Ann Arbor and AAPS, I recommend:
1) Be present in the community and in the schools
2) Sit down with Steve Norton and John Austin
3) Sit down with Ruth
4) Have some sort of mechanism for community involvement. Ann Arbor is full of talented people, yet we have trouble matching the talent with the need in the schools.
5) Enjoy - Ann Arbor is a great city. We have great students and incredible teachers!
6) talk to the teachers
ParentI'd advise her to read through and Ann Arbor News coverage of local education issues (BOE elections and meetings, community budget forums, the millage votes, etc.) for the past 5 years (at least). It would be great if someone would volunteer to pull a comprehensive set of articles for her so that she doesn't have to use her time searching for them and figuring out which ones she can skip as insufficiently significant. I do think she should skim the comments, but take them with a grain of salt - i.e., I don't think they are usually representative of the community at large, but they do provide a good sense of what part of the community thinks. And there are at least a few commenters who express thoughtful views from across the ideological spectrum in a polite way.
ParentVisiting the schools, talking to the principals, teachers and parents. Getting input from all members of the Community.
ParentVisit the schools and tour the classrooms - seethe special education teachers in process; witness the Autism classrooms flowing with structure and compassion, meet the families that rely on transportation and free education; stroll the halls of all the middle schools to get a feel of the diversity of needs within each school; schedule meet and greets with parents (as a special ed mama with an autistic son in the AAPS preschool, and speaking on behalf of many other parents - we LOVE to meet with administrators and chat, just to cycle information both ways. Currently our principal Michelle Pogliano has not held up her agreement to meet with us regularly and it has hit morale HARD within the parent sector. Please visit our schools and meet your parents!).
Parent, Community Member, parent of kids in special edPlease visit lots of classrooms to see classes in action -- including regular classrooms of all ages, but also special ed, the preschool, Pioneer's theater program -- really seek out a variety of what's unusual to get a clear idea of the variety of what's out there, and what's working and what's not.

Also, please talk to lots of people, especially teachers and principals, to find out from them what they need, what's working, and what's not.

Thanks for reading this comment. I love that you started with an interview with and hope that you will continue to foster a culture of openness.
Parent, Community Member, Maria E. HuffmanI would advise her to meet people face to face.
Maria Huffman
ParentWelcome to Ann Arbor.

As a parent, I recommend that the new superintendent take two kinds of tours of the district.

First, she should try to walk through every building and jot down her impressions. I advise that she visit the elementary schools and then the middle and then the high schools to compare just the facilities at each level.

Second, she should try to "virtually" enroll.
Again, taking the perspective of an elementary parent, then a middle school parent and finally a high school parent. Enrollment options are numerous - especially if you don't want to only use the neighborhood school.

Best of luck
Parent, Community MemberHow about community meetings - visiting local school PTOs or holding a couple of "town hall" type events where she can hear directly from parents and teachers? Obviously Dr. Swift will need a few good history lessons from those who are knowledgeable about education politics and legislation, as well as information from trusted sources within AAPS...but the best way to establish a real relationship with the community is to MEET with the community. She could present her vision for AAPS, establish her priorities, and get direct feedback from her real "customers".
ParentAttend a different PTO meeting every month to learn about what issues different schools are facing.
Hold a meet & greet at the downtown library; run it like a comprehensive planning visioning session where stakeholders can come and talk about their priorities, and where those priorities get synthesized into some actionable items.

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