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!]

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Whitmore Lake Annexation: I Ask You to Vote Yes

If you are an Ann Arbor or Whitmore Lake voter, 
I ask you to vote yes on annexation. Here's why.

Short term, I think the benefits accrue mostly to Whitmore Lake

But they are not at all insignificant, and since I believe in supporting ALL public schools, I think they are important. Why should we be okay with the fact that Whitmore Lake elementary school students don't get art? Why should we be complacent, and okay with the fact that Whitmore Lake high school students don't get access to Advanced Placement classes?

We shouldn't.
We should applaud the fact that the Whitmore Lake school board looked around and decided to take action.
We can make a difference in the lives of 1000 students, and we should.

[One school board candidate said to me, "If that $1900 additional per student will make the difference in Whitmore Lake, the legislature could just decide to give it to them instead." Sure, they could do that. But they won't. Not yet. Note even if Schauer is elected. (See the most important vote you can make this year.) Not in time.]

Long term, I think the benefits accrue mostly to Ann Arbor Public Schools

Long-term, we get an added student base--and one that I believe is likely to continue to grow. If we don't annex Whitmore Lake, the options for growth are much more limited.

Districts of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, 2014.
Long-term, we get an added 2.3 million dollars a year in base funding. (Assuming the number of students in the area that becomes the Whitmore Lake catchment area is stable--if it goes up, due to kids who have left the schools coming back, or due to new enrollment from new development, the amount would go up. If the number of students goes down--which I don't see as very likely--that number would also go down.)

We are tired of cutting.

I know that we are ALL tired of cutting programs, having larger class sizes, etc. The opportunities that we have had this year--to establish Ann Arbor STEAM, adding world languages, more early kindergarten--these opportunities have come because we were able to reverse the loss of students from the district, and bring more in.

Given the state environment, we need to keep bringing in more kids in order to reduce the cuts we are taking. If we don't, the cuts will be even worse.

What if we vote no?

Most people expect that Whitmore Lake would be in a position to dissolve in the next two or three years. Under current law, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District would have to distribute the students and the assets--and perhaps half of those students would get assigned to Ann Arbor. BUT--they would come into Ann Arbor with their current ($7200) per pupil amount, not at close to $9100 per pupil. Their buildings might get sold to the highest bidder, which might be a charter school. So students would need to be bussed to Ann Arbor schools, and to fit into current Ann Arbor buildings. The Whitmore Lake schools wouldn't have any kind of neighborhood "center."

Some people think that Whitmore Lake might be crying wolf. That better opportunities might come around. I think it's unlikely, but I don't have a crystal ball--and neither do you.

A Few Answers

1. No, to bring in the Whitmore Lake teachers, the union contract does not need to be reopened. Yes, they will be brought into the Ann Arbor teacher salary schedule. Isn't that what we want to happen?

2. We didn't annex Ypsilanti because they never approached Ann Arbor about it. (The math might not have worked as well, either, because the math only works because the Whitmore Lake district is so small.)

3. After balancing out the additional costs of servicing the Whitmore Lake students (and their buildings), and bringing the Whitmore Lake teachers into parity with the Ann Arbor teachers, and the central administration cost savings, the net positive for Ann Arbor next year will be about $500,000.

4. The Whitmore Lake schools taxes actually go up. They end up with paying slightly less because a recreation millage that is a Whitmore Lake schools millage goes away if the Whitmore Lake schools go away.

5. Yes, our taxes would go up about $25/year for a house worth $200,000. I like what David Erik Nelson has to say about that:

4) As for taxes: It's $25ish per year. If you think kicking in $25 so that a child can enjoy $2000 of education is a crappy investment, then that's your call. For my money, it's a terrific return. 5) And "What about our children?!?" Frankly, I think annexation is a good lesson for our children: We have an obligation to help care for our neighbors, and if you think you have something good, then you should share it, not hoard it. I think we have good schools. I'd like to share that. But, again, that's just for me. Perhaps you have a different lesson you want to teach your children. That's your piece, and godspeed with it.

Actually, I really like ALL of this post by David Erik Nelson. Read it!

Again, I urge you to vote YES for the 
Whitmore Lake annexation.

And also--don't forget your most important vote, either.

My other posts about the Whitmore Lake annexation: 

Five Reasons I Support the Annexation

Whitmore Lake Annexation Question Resources

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