Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Keep the Pressure on Legislators!

It's a fast changing universe with lame duck session. Two groups that are following the details: Michigan Parents for Schools and the Tri-County Alliance for Education. Here is the latest update from MIPFS.

Final hours of lame duck - your voice needed now!
Dear Ruth,
The lame duck session of the legislature is drawing to a close, and two important measures that would hurt our local schools are still under intense discussion. We've reached the point where we need you to call your legislators personally.

The first measure, as you know, is funding for roads: while the state Senate opted to simply raise money directly with the gas tax, the House was afraid of raising any taxes and chose to take road funds from money that normally goes to schools as well as cities and towns. They have been negotiating over this for many days now, and as the deadline nears, the pressure to do something - anything - will grow.

Whatever solution they find must not remove funding from schools, period. Simply leave our kids out of it.

The second measure is the school district "deficit early warning" package, or, as we like to call it, the "Defund 'Em + Take 'Em Over" package. These bills do nothing to help local schools in financial trouble but do greatly expand the power of the stateTreasury Department to take over districts with budget problems. While the state bleeds funding from our schools, these bills would require districts to dedicate staff to write a whole slew of new reports to describe how they are in financial trouble. Bill sponsors weren't interested in the concerns of parents or school officials and pushed their punitive bills through the Senate. They may come up for a vote in the House today.

We really need you to call TODAY. Ask your lawmakers to:
  • Fix the roads, but leave our kids and schools out of it. (HB 4539, 5477, 5493)
  • Oppose the "Defund 'Em + Take 'Em Over" package (SB 951-954, 957)

Please CALL
Rep. Adam Zemke - (517) 373-1792
Sen. Rebekah Warren - (517) 373-2406
Thank you for your efforts to protect our local schools!
Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Legislative Whack-a-Mole: Lame Duck Session Activities

I am reposting this alert from Michigan Parents for Schools, written by Steve Norton, which sums up all the problems with this lame duck session and suggests some action.

Let's play "Legislative Whack-A-Mole™"!

We're in the legislative "lame duck" session, so that means it must be time to push a lot of bad ideas into law while Michigan voters are getting ready for the holidays. And we have a great assortment of bad ideas this year:

Bad Idea #1 - Let's pave the roads with our children's education:
Everyone agrees that our roads need help. The MI Senate passed a straight-up increase in the gas tax to pay for it. But in their continuing effort to duck responsibility for, well, anything, the state House leadership breathed new life into a discredited plan to pay for better roads with - you guessed it - money from schools. To the tune of $700 million per year - $500 per student. And then "We the People" would have to vote on a referendum to raise taxes just to keep the school funding we already have. Sweet!

This is utter nonsense and displays not courage but the exact opposite. Read news coverage here and here and then use our advocacy system to let your Representative know what you think of this plan (use this link:

Bad Idea #2 - Cut school funding and then take 'em over when they have budget problems:The "deficit early warning" bill package sailed through the Senate and now has to gain the approval of the House. It has not improved with age. Here is our write-up on the bills; please use our action alert here to contact the Governor and House members -

Bad Idea #3 - Cut school funding and then force them to flunk 3rd graders who don't test well in reading: We do need to make sure that every child can read well, and as early as possible. But that's not always easy, and helping kids who struggle with reading can't be done on the cheap. Simply branding kids (and schools) as failures by flunking them after 3rd grade won't make the challenges go away. Even Florida, supposedly a success story for this flunking idea, only made real improvements by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in early reading intervention programs. The Michigan version? Not a dime.

Read our issue brief here, and then speak out on this proposal to your State Representative with this link:!

Bad Idea #4 - Cut school funding, and then slap a simplistic letter grade on them to show how badly they're doing: In Lansing and in Washington, there is a fetish about judging schools on the basis of a handful of test scores. This proposal would make things worse by using narrow test scores to "grade" schools - on a curve, no less. Does a grade of "C" make you think "pretty decent, middle of the pack'? Me neither. And how about that big red "F" (they really want to be able to Fail schools) - does that make you think "schools struggling with a history of poverty, discrimination and instability"? Not exactly. But this bill would make sure that schools with the lowest test scores always got an F. 

Trying to sum up a school's performance in one letter grade, based on scores from tests we haven't even picked yet, is not a solution. It's just shifting the blame, and rewarding schools that care about nothing but test scores.Read our issue brief here, and then speak out on this proposal to your State Representative by using this link:!

(You may have noticed a common theme: cut school funding, and then make a fuss about how public schools can't "do their jobs." Like a good magician, make sure your audience is only looking at what you want them to see.)

What can you do? Pick the ones that disgust you the most and make your voice heard. If you're like me, that will be all of these bad ideas. The folks behind these bills are hoping no one is watching; they are hoping to keep us looking in the wrong direction. Let's show them that we see through their magic tricks. Take action today!

Steve Norton
MI Parents for Schools

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Jazzing Up the Singapore Delegation's Visit. Also, Cool Libraries.

Two weeks ago on Wednesday night there was a reception before the school board meeting for the delegation from Singapore. (You may recall that Ann Arbor sent a delegation to Singapore over the summer. Jenna Bacolor reported on it in her Rec & Ed blog.) You might also recall that I did a blog exchange with a blogger from Singapore. Read her post on my blog here.

The delegation from Singapore. There is another person hiding behind
the person on the far left. Photo by Ruth Kraut.

To be perfectly honest, what brought me to the pre-school board meeting was not the prospect of seeing the Singapore delegation in action, or the prospect of hours of listening to people talking, but rather, the fact that the Community High Jazz Band (at least, one of its combos) was performing for the Singapore delegation reception. As it happens, this is the combo that I am most interested in, because my son is the drummer. And also--drum sets do not transport themselves. (To be fair, my husband was there too and drove there.)

All of the photos are by me.
I know, they are not necessarily the best!
It probably would help
if I didn't move the iphone while pressing the camera button.
Left to right: Lucas Atkin-Smith, Lydia Kreinke, Liam Knight, Jonathan Lynn,
Raven Eaddy. Photo by Ruth Kraut

Left to right: Lucas Atkin-Smith, Jonathan Lynn, Raven Eaddy, Joel Appel-Kraut

Check out the wonderful drummer! Photo by Ruth Kraut.

Also, the CHS Jazz Band teacher, Jack Wagner, was there with his two children--who were happily dancing to the jazz music. I danced with them a bit as well. They told me that they do, in fact, listen to (and like) lots of other music. One of their favorites? Lady Gaga.

On the way out--of course I stopped to check out some books.
And then I noticed that you can also check out telescopes at the Ann Arbor library!
How cool is that? Possibly even cooler than the puppets that
you can check out at the Northfield Township library. Photo by Ruth Kraut

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AAPS School Climate Data: A Teacher's Perspective on the Teachers' Perspectives

A guest post from A3 Teacher

In June of this year Ann Arbor Public Schools released their school climate data from the 2013-14 school year.  The results from the surveys given to students, parents/guardians, and teachers can all be found here.  As a teacher I was particularly interested in the teacher survey.  Four items stood out to me as possible areas for AAPS improvement--at the bottom of this post are the full details of the items selected for this post (Most of these items are briefly touched upon in the presentation given at the AAPS Board Meeting, although the presentation lacked specifics in regard to ways of addressing them).  Having worked in other school districts that do extremely well in these areas, I know that AAPS can, and should, do better.  It will be interesting to see the results of the next climate survey in order to determine if the district has improved in these areas.  

1. 39% of teachers feel that professional development did not help them to better meet the learning needs of students.

If almost 40% of teachers feel that current professional development does not ultimately help students to learn and achieve at higher levels, there may be larger problems.  While there will most likely continue to be serious budget issues in Michigan’s future, high quality professional development does not necessarily cost more.  The key to highly successful professional development is 1) surveying teachers needs and desires, 2) finding the intersection and linking these items to the school improvement plan, and 3) putting plenty of time towards planning, execution, and follow-up.  How is administration reflecting or gathering data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of professional development?  Administrators and directors must invest the time and employ best practices in order to raise the use and efficacy of professional development.  Perhaps each administrator could survey building teachers using an online format and build these targeted needs into professional development.

2. 45% of teachers feel that their schools are not kept clean.

The second area that is in our control is the cleanliness of schools.  We have now made a contract with GCA services.  The district, hopefully, is collecting or will be collecting data on 1) whether schools are cleaner or dirtier as a result of this contract, 2) what services have been gained and/or lost because of the contract (for example, are desks and surfaces cleaned?  What are the exact expectations that parents, students, and teachers should see met in regard to the cleaning of each space where, many times, hundreds of students pass through?).  Should this contract prove to not increase cleanliness, the district should consider alternatives in the upcoming year.  

In addition, perhaps AAPS and GCA could partner to create an online spreadsheet that would allow teachers, parents, and students to report areas of concern in their schools.  Taking that idea a step further, perhaps GCA or AAPS could develop an app to allow students, parents, and teachers to upload photos from smart devices in order to report areas of concern.  [Editor’s Note: The City of Ann Arbor recently developed an app so that citizens can identify and submit problems such as potholes.] Separately, perhaps GCA could send a survey each quarter in order to determine areas of success and areas to continue working on.  By state law teachers must demonstrate growth of their students. Shouldn’t we also expect GCA to show that they are increasing the cleanliness of the schools?

3. 30% of teachers do not feel like they have the materials needed to be effective in teaching.

As teachers are told to do more and more (more students in each classroom, more development of curriculum, assessments, and implementation of new programs), I find it disheartening that teachers do not feel that they have the items needed to be successful.  It is challenging when paperbacks are literally falling apart in students’ hands, when science teachers do not have enough lab equipment to run the types of labs they know are important to student learning, or teachers lack the necessary materials to engage all students in art projects.  There is a gap between what teachers know must happen in the classroom in order for significant growth and learning and the financial realities of Michigan’s current state of education.  

This year the Ann Arbor Educational Foundation pledged an additional amount (up to $80,000 from the previous year’s $22,000) to provide AAPS schools with grants for projects.  This can partially fill in the gaps in order to give teachers the necessary tools to be and feel successful; AAPS should increase teachers’ access to and understanding of the grants.  I would recommend that the AAEF consider two application dates (one in the fall and one in the spring) as opposed to one giant singular date in the fall.  This would allow teachers to plan during the summer, knowing that they can count on specific tools or items in the coming school year.  

4. 55% of teachers do not consider their schools well-maintained in regard to a comfortable climate, lighting, and grounds.

School maintenance continues to be an area in which AAPS struggles.  When asked the same question, 37% of 6-12 students felt the same as the teachers.  While this is not only an issue of providing employees with an appropriate and professional workspace, it is also an issue of creating environments that are conducive to learning.  The district must figure out how to address these issues - perhaps creating a volunteer corps of teachers, families, students, and community members to work together on these items would be beneficial.  

Strongly Disagree
Strongly Agree
Don't Know
Total Responses
The professional development sessions I have attended have helped me to better meet the learning needs of my students.
Fresh, high-quality food is served at this school.
My school is kept clean.
I have the materials I need -- such as textbooks, computers and visual aids -- to effectively teach my classes.
This school is well-maintained, with a comfortable climate, adequate lighting and well-kept grounds.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rick DeKeon Rec & Ed Run: Everyone Is A Winner

Rick DeKeon was a well-loved Northside Elementary physical education teacher who died last year. In his memory, Ann Arbor Rec & Ed decided to hold a 5K run, with the proceeds going to raise scholarship funds for Rec & Ed activities.

I got my son Joel to run with me! (Well, not really with me. He's much faster than me--but he did join me at the 5K.)

The whole thing sounded like a great idea when we signed up on a warm fall day. A few weeks later...brrr!

Here we are with our medals. It was cold out! We didn't hang around to chat!
Photo by unknown runner.
Here I am with Rec & Ed Director Jenna Bacolor, right after I finished.
I know! My hair! (I should have kept the hat on...)
Photo by Madeline Bacolor.

Although they attributed the idea of this medal to Rick DeKeon,
in my experience this is also a typical Rec & Ed medal:
"Everyone is a winner."
Photo by Ruth Kraut

*Thanks, school board member Glenn Nelson, for being a sponsor of the run. That was a nice thing to do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Congratulations New Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti School Board Members

Photo by Ruth Kraut

Current Ann Arbor school board members Baskett and Stead have won re-election. Joining them will be long-time school volunteer Donna Lasinski and former Ann Arbor teacher and principal Pat Manley.

Photo by Ruth Kraut
Unofficial results from the Washtenaw County elections web site.

Ann Arbor Sch Brd MemberView Precinct Detail
  Susan Baskett1378033361711615.01%
  Jeffery Harrold7628201796458.46%
  Donna Lasinski1311326751578813.85%
  Patricia Ashford Man1092129271384812.14%
  Jack Panitch6170161477846.83%
  Deirdre Piper5258109263505.57%
  Christine Stead1217627621493813.10%
  Hunter Van Valkenbur936524781184310.39%
  Don Wilkerson6485142479096.94%
  Roland Zullo6643153781807.17%

Photo by Ruth Kraut

One of the very interesting results to me here is that Deirdre Piper--who decided not to continue her campaign after she suddenly lost her mom in September--drew nearly 5.6% of the vote--only a little bit less than Jack Panitch and Don Wilkerson, both of whom I saw on the campaign trail.

Photo by Ruth Kraut
I am so thankful that we had so many good candidates to choose from. Considering that school board pays almost nothing, sucks up a lot of time, and you often get criticism, if you see a candidate who ran and won, congratulate them. If you see a candidate who ran and lost--thank them for being willing to put themselves forward!

First Election for Ypsilanti Community Schools Board Has Interesting Results

Remember, the YCS is the result of the merger of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools, and the first Ypsilanti Community Schools Board was appointed, not elected. It is great that so many people wanted to run for school board. Only a couple of the incumbents got re-elected.

Again, unofficial results from the county elections web site.

For the six-year terms:

Ypsilanti Comm Sch Bd 6yrView Precinct Detail
  Bill Kurkjian1923724264714.54%
  Brenda Meadows44231492591532.49%
  Gregory Myers26421050369220.28%
  Maria Sheler-Edwards43011468576931.69%
Maria Sheler-Edwards is an incumbent; Brenda Meadows is not.

For the four-year terms:

Ypsilanti Comm Sch Bd 4yrView Precinct Detail
  David R. Bates24171106352312.98%
  Ellen Champagne2816927374313.79%
  Djeneba Cherif2238604284210.47%
  Celeste Hawkins32721130440216.22%
  Sharon Irvine32351188442316.30%
  Linda Snedacar-Horne182067124919.18%
  Anthony VanDerworp148867321617.96%
  Mark Wilde2456889334512.32%
Celeste Hawkins is an incumbent--the other two are not. Sharon Irvine is a former Ypsilanti Public Schools administrator (and candidate for superintendent). David Bates, the Board President, and former Ypsilanti Public Schools board president, will not retain his seat. I'll admit to some surprise that newcomer Djeneba Cherif, a former YPS student who said she was inspired by her Ypsilanti teachers to go into education, did not win a seat. Everyone whom I asked in Ypsilanti was planning on voting for her--which maybe just goes to show you what a myopic view we each have as individuals.

Ypsilanti Comm Sch Bd 2yrView Precinct Detail
  Don L. Garrett Jr.2209920312916.99%
  Ricky Jefferson1840639247913.46%
  Sharon Lee3141953409422.23%
  K.J. Miller1524520204411.10%
  Daniel L. Raglin1507748225512.24%
  Meredith Schindler31871073426023.13%
Meredith Schindler and Sharon Lee got elected. Neither are incumbents. Where this gets interesting is that Sharon Lee had withdrawn from the race due to health issues after the ballots were printed. Which means she won with zero campaigning. So I guess that now she has to decide if she really is withdrawing. If she does, she resigns and the board then follows the procedure for choosing a school board candidate after a resignation. So it won't automatically go to the third-place two-year candidate. 

Whitmore Lake Annexation lost in Ann Arbor, won in Whitmore Lake, which means that it lost overall

Am I disappointed? Yes. But I'm not surprised. The ballot language was terrible and there were lots of unanswered questions.


[And that's enough blogging for a month of Sundays! Expect things to be quite a bit quieter around here now!]