Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 AAPS Board Candidate: Roland Zullo

Read more about Roland Zullo 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?

To improve the morale of the teachers I would suggest that the administration meets with the union that represents the teachers (AAEA), has a frank discussion with union leadership for the reasons for the sinking morale, and collaboratively develops policy to address those causes.  One of the advantages of having employees that are represented is that workplace issues that negatively effect personnel can be dealt with effectively.  

I describe this strategy in my web site,  Basically, when the economic situation does not allow the parties to progress on compensation, then any management that wants to encourage positive relations will negotiate over non-economic issues of concern to the group.  There are a host of potential issues, such as teacher performance, standardized testing, academic freedom, etc., that can be jointly advanced.  This is is how you sustain morale in times of fiscal stress.

All the employees in a school deserve our respect and appreciation, regardless of role.

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?

There is a growing movement in the U.S. that opposes standardized tests, and especially the use of scores to reward or punish teachers and schools.  It does not surprise me that Ann Arbor parents are joining this movement.

There are many documented problems with standardized tests.  For persons that want a thoughtful review I suggest the ISR publication titled "Promoting High Quality Teacher Evaluations in Michigan", by Rowan, et al. (2013) or the recent work by Diane Ravitch for a more critical perspective.  Testing is not uniformly applied, insufficient at capturing student development, and expensive to administer.  I favor moving away from dependency on standardized tests.  

The fundamental problem is that the best teachers look for unique traits in children (motivations, abilities, etc.), and work to help children discover their voice in the classroom, and later, their role in society.  This is what great teachers do, and I am sure we can all recall a teacher that made us think or act in ways that could never be measured by a standard tests.  Standardized testing channels teacher effort in exactly the opposite direction.

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

(1) Making sure that the fiscal stress imposed on the district does not result in greater disparities for our students.  
(2) Improving relations between the administration and district personnel.

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?

If the vote were held today, I would vote against.  The best reason for voting in favor of annexation is that it would minimize the disruption of the education paths for WL students, should the alternative be dissolution.  However, the business case for annexation is risky.  As I point out in a paper on this issue, the critical factor is the change in enrollment.  Should WL enrollment go up (and not at the expense of AA), then we may gain.  More likely, however, is that WL enrollment will continue to decline, in which case a larger amount of AA resources will be required to rescue WL.  In the present environment, annexation is a risky proposal.

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...)

I have been very public with my criticism of privatization.  In the case of the custodians, the Board was presented with a viable alternative, but that option was quickly dismissed by the Board majority.  This was an unkind response to a group of dedicated employees seeking Board help.  

I give the Board and administration high marks for introducing foreign language classes in the elementary grades.  Research has shown that young minds are more responsive to language development.  Kudos.

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

Other members.  There is a rough split among the candidates (that coincidently aligns with the annexation question) that should be recognizable to voters.  On the one hand, there are candidates that are close to the administration, both personally and philosophically, and often play a role of championing (or finding excuses for) administration decisions.  On the other hand, there are candidates that are not fully satisfied with the direction of the administration, and are seeking change.  I am in this latter group, and would obviously prefer to work with persons occupying that unofficial slate.

That said, this election has sensitized me to the large responsibility of the Board position.  All the candidates share an ambition to do what is best for the District and our children, even though we might differ on our approach.  That commitment to education, and the public good, is a large enough foundation for improving AAPS, regardless of the outcome in November.  

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