Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 AAPS Board Candidate: Don Wilkerson

Read more about Don Wilkerson at:

Staff morale has been an issue in the school district. How do you think the board should monitor and respond to staff morale issues, if at all? Given that the majority of district staff are teachers, should teachers be treated differently (better OR worse) than other staff people in the district?

Staff morale is extremely important and has a direct impact on our students.  I’ve seen the impact it can have on our students, while experiencing the reinvigoration of Northside as A2 STEAM.  Based on the way teachers have been treated, one can understand why morale has been an issue.  We need to ensure that our staff doesn’t experience morale issues going forward, and I think the first step to doing so is improving communication.  Moving forward, neither the board, nor administration can make promises they can’t ensure they can keep, nor can they continue to make forced decisions that don’t even allow for input beforehand.  Our teachers are our biggest asset, they need to be valued, treated with dignity and respect, and need to have a chance to express their opinion and provide valuable input prior to a decision being made.  
We need to uphold that every group that our district impacts, is respected, valued, and treated as such.  Whether you’re a custodian, bus driver, teacher, parent, administrator, student, or hold some other role in our community, you need to be treated in a manner that exemplifies the values of Ann Arbor.  Finally, I think a community wide climate survey, and an annual employee survey should be performed, to hold the district accountable, and provide a measurement and target for future improvement.

What is your position on the amount of standardized testing currently conducted by AAPS (Too much, just right, too little)? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are not state-mandated? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are state-mandated?

I believe standardized testing doesn’t always add value, or provide an accurate assessment of student achievement.  For that reason, I believe we need to continue to evaluate our use of standardized testing and the value it provides to our community.  As it currently stands, we are using the MEAP and NWEA tests in our schools.  While the MEAP is state mandated, we’ve opted to add the NWEA tests as an additional measure.  I’m not against having one additional tool to measure our student growth and achievement, as state required tests do not necessarily provide valuable, timely, information to our teachers, parents, and students.  However, the NWEA testing doesn’t seem to be the answer our community needs.  We need a teacher identified assessment tool that can interact directly with instruction and improve the trajectory of our students.  We also need a test that can be administered efficiently, and one that has a proven track record of effectiveness without the issues that we’ve experienced in delivering the testing to our children.

Aside from the budget, what are your two top priorities for the Ann Arbor schools?

The other two most important priorities for Ann Arbor public schools are increased innovative programming/options for ALL of our students across the district, and a broader stakeholder approach to leadership. 

We need to ensure that every area of our district has the opportunity to identify programming that is important to them.  At the same time, we need to ensure that everyone in the district has access to better innovative programming.  This all needs to be approached with a long-term focus that doesn’t allow programming to continually switch, rather it builds and improves upon it.  We currently have great programs, such as the STEAM school, Community High School, etc., but we also need to keep in mind that these programs do not fit the needs of each student.  For this reason, we can’t just duplicate our programs across the district as others have proposed, and instead, each community should have input on the programming that is most impactful for their students. 

The stakeholder approach is something that as a community we value, but have missed the opportunity to exemplify in our schools.  We need an approach that digs into the details, and identifies more alternatives when making decisions, yet one that respectfully incorporates the needs/ideas of our whole community.  If elected this is something I will continue to work hard to accomplish, without compromising the educational priority that our students need to hold at all times.

What is your opinion regarding the annexation by AAPS of the Whitmore Lake school system? If you had to vote today, how would you vote? What's good about the annexation and what challenges do you anticipate if the annexation is approved?

To be honest I still haven’t made a full decision as to how I will vote on annexation.  I’m continuing the discussion with our community, and I’m looking forward to hearing from the Whitmore Lake community next week. Setting taxes aside, I think two things are good about annexation - the benefit and stability we can deliver to “our new students” (if annexation passes), and the growth potential offered in the future.  The value we can add to Whitmore Lake students is very cut and dry, but the growth potential is based upon a set of assumptions that I do not believe we can necessarily count on holding true.  At the end of the day, we as candidates need to spread the factual information and engage community members, so they can make an informed vote.  

If annexation does not pass, I will continue to work on revenue generation within the constraints of our own district to utilize our assets more effectively, and fill our schools to appropriate capacity levels.  If annexation is approved, I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that Whitmore Lake still feels that they have a voice in their children’s education, while the broader community identifies how to make Whitmore Lake fit attractively into the overall strategic vision for AAPS in order to deliver on the potential growth that has been identified.

Hindsight is perfect, but whether you are an incumbent, or not: Name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you think was a very good decision; and name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you wish had been decided differently. (Incumbents may wish to say how they voted on that issue. It's ok if you changed your mind after the fact...)

One decision that was truly exceptional was the reinvigoration of Northside as A2 STEAM.  As a member of the Northside community, and a leader of the PTO over the last three years, I personally watched as families continued to leave, resources dwindled, and the impact we could have on our children’s education diminished.  Dr. Swift listened to our community and took action.  What was once a struggling school with 187 students has since grown to an exceptional, innovative choice for education in our district.  Our community has been restored, we have a new sense of energy, our children come home excited to share all they’ve learned in class each day, and our school has doubled in size to 403 students.  We now have the resources and support to make the impact that we were trying so hard to make in the past!

One decision that I wish was made differently is the privatization of our custodial staff.  I fully understand the budget constraints that the district was facing, and will continue to face, but this was a decision that lacked the stakeholder approach to education that we need.  We finally had a third option on the table, beyond just keeping the current operating model and outsourcing – we had identified a Co-Op.  Given the constraints I would have at least liked to see a short-term extension of the custodial contract and more time given for the Co-Op alternative to be fully developed.  My hopes are that custodial staff will look at this as a lost battle in the war, and will continue to develop the idea, so when the opportunity presents itself at a later time, there will be full consideration.

Assuming that you are elected, name one or two other board candidates that you would like to see serve beside you, and explain why.

If I am elected, I would be pleased to serve with Donna Lasinski.  I believe she is truly dedicated herself to our children and community, and would prove to be a valuable asset into the future of education in Ann Arbor.

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