Saturday, October 15, 2016

WeRoc Questionnaires For AAPS School Board Candidates

I was asked by WeRoc to post the AAPS school board candidates' answers to their questions. After thinking about it for a while, I've decided to share them because I like what WeRoc tries to do. Also, they have some excellent questions for the candidates, and they are a bit different from most of the other questions I have seen.

In any case, if you are really interested in my thoughts about the election, and my endorsements, you will find them here

Who is WeRoc?

The Washtenaw Regional Organizational Coalition (WeROC) brings together faith, labor, and community organizations and individuals to create a collective voice to impact public affairs and issues in the Washtenaw County, Michigan area. We are affiliated with the MOSES organization in S.E. Michigan ( and the national Gamaliel Foundation network of community organizing projects. Our unique organizing process focuses on creating opportunities for more people of color, lower income residents, and youth to participate at the tables where decisions affecting them and the broader community are made — and finding effective ways to dismantle the structures that stubbornly maintain racism and economic inequality in our area. 

WeRoc AAPS School Board Questionnaire and Answers

You can find the WeRoc questionnaire and answers here. (The answers were a bit too long to put inside the blog post.)

To whet your interest, here are the questions:

1. In what ways would you seek to increase minority and low-income parent voice in decision-making?

2. In what ways would you seek to increase minority and low-income youth voice in decision-making?

3. What is your vision of a positive school climate and how would you like to see your district promote that vision? Would you promote Restorative Justice and/or Communities in Schools programs?

4. What is your school district’s approach to school discipline and do you think it’s working? If not, what would you like to change?

5. As a school board member, you may be asked to make decisions about non- mandatory student expulsions and long-term suspensions. What will be your guiding principles in making those difficult decisions? Are there situations you would absolutely expel? Are there situations you would not expel?

6. Nationally, there is a disturbing trend of suspending preschool and early elementary school students and some communities are responding with a strict moratorium on such suspensions. What is your position on suspensions in the early grades?

7. How will you promote transparency and regular review of expulsion, suspension and school arrest data?

8. School dropout is a problem with enormous social costs. What do you feel your district could do differently do address school dropout?

9. What role, if any, do you feel law enforcement should have in schools?

10. In your position as Board member or Trustee, you will be in a unique position to be a powerful advocate for children from marginalized groups. How do you see yourself exercising that power?

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Ann Arbor School Board Endorsements: Mitchell, Gaynor, Van Valkenburgh

It's time for Ann Arbor school board endorsements. 

There are eight candidates for three spots, and my friends who have gotten their absentee ballots are asking me what I think.

I know, you're thinking--in the past, Ruth has not made endorsements. That's true. But in the past, I haven't worked on anybody's campaigns either.

I feel this year is different. You should (and you will!) vote for whomever you decide to vote for, but I would like to share my thoughts.

I really appreciate anybody that takes on the often-thankless task of running for (any) school board. It doesn't pay big bucks, it takes a lot of time, it's hard work, you get a lot of criticism. Having said that, there are more candidates than spots, so we do have to choose.

FIRST: We're Talking About The Non-Partisan Ballot

I'm not a person who checks the straight-ticket box (even when I vote a straight ticket, which is probably 95% of the time, I like to fill in all of the little circles).

But if you are a person who checks the straight-ticket box, you should know that many of the school-related races: school boards, community college trustees--ALL of that--is on the non-partisan part of the ballot. Even if you vote a straight ticket, DON'T FORGET about that part of the ballot!

SECOND: I Think It's Time For A Change

There are three seats open, and two incumbents--Deb Mexicotte and Simone Lightfoot--are running again. I'm not supporting either of them, and I hope that you won't either--especially not Deb Mexicotte, who has been the president of the board for the last several years.

There is a lot that this board has to be proud of, and I have agreed with probably 80-85% of their decisions. However, the other 15-20% has been extremely problematic.

Although a former board member pointed out to me that seven people are on the board (so it's not like these two incumbents could do anything just by themselves), these two are the only ones running for re-election. Also, the president of the board does a lot of work setting the agenda and the process, and in my opinion, that has been the most problematic part of the current board.

I have concerns with the teacher evaluation system (which I believe goes far beyond what the state requires); I have concerns with the way the district has dealt with over-testing of students (the number of tests has been increasing every year); I have concerns with privatization and the number of "employees" who are not the district's employees.

But make no mistake about this--my biggest concerns are about process and transparency. I've had these concerns for several years, and in fact discussed them in an Ann Arbor Chronicle issue back in 2014! (Read it here.)  Board votes are frequently 7-0 with little or no discussion; items get rushed through; discussion of important items happens late in the board meeting when parents, students, teachers, citizens are unable to be there; minutes reflect simply the motion and the vote, and not the discussion. Subcommittee meetings are held during the school day, when teachers and students are not able to be there.

As one recent example: in the past, there were informal budget meetings with concerned community members in May, while the budget was being developed, to discuss what might be added or cut. This year, there were no meetings, and the budget was not even shown to the public until the day of the meeting where it had its public unveiling.

A friend asked me if this was really the work of the Superintendent? I believe that if the school board--and particularly the school board president--were to say, "That's not how we do things here," then that's not what would be done.

Current school board members can certainly be proud of many achievements (largely because of our fine staff), but when it comes to process, they have been sorely lacking.

So, I will not be voting for the incumbents, and I hope you won't either.

THIRD: I'm supporting Hunter Van Valkenburgh, Jeff Gaynor, and Harmony Mitchell

[Photos in order from left to right]

Hunter Van Valkenburgh
is a parent, an attorney, a former teacher himself (not in Ann Arbor), and the husband of an Ann Arbor Open teacher. 

Jeff Gaynor is a recently-retired AAPS teacher who also hosted several exchange students who were placed in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Harmony Mitchell is a parent who moved here a few years ago from the DC area, where she saw first-hand the havoc wreaked by the so-called "education reform" agenda of Michelle Rhee and company.

I have had extensive conversations with these three candidates, and I know that they are concerned with transparency and process. I know that they support our teachers. They are running as a slate, and you can read about their campaign and their platform(s) here.

They also have--all three of them--endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform, which I mentioned recently. (Go ahead, you can endorse the platform too!)

FOURTH: But what if...

But what if you don't like to vote for slates? What if you don't like one of these candidates, but you like the other two?

Well then...I'm still going to ask you to not vote for the incumbents, because...there are three other good options.

[Photos in order from left to right]

1. Rebecca Lazarus--Rebecca is a parent of two children in the district and a graphic designer, and she would be my first choice, because although I don't know her personally, she also has endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform, so I know her values line up with mine. Read more about Rebecca here.

2. Don Wilkerson--Don is also a parent of two children in the district, and he has been actively involved in his school's PTO and in the PTO Council. He previously ran for the board and he is a hard worker. He has unfortunately (in my opinion) aligned his campaign with Deb Mexicotte's and Simone Lightfoot's. Read more about Don here.

3. Jeremy Glick--Jeremy is a recent graduate of Skyline High School and a University of Michigan undergraduate. He would like to bring the student perspective to the school board. Read more about Jeremy here.

You can also read about lots of local races, including Ann Arbor school board, at

Last, But Not Least: State Board of Education

The State Board of Education deserves its own blog post, but in case you are pressed for time on your absentee ballot, I am supporting John Austin and Ismael ("Ish") Ahmed. Yes, they are Democrats. Read about John Austin here. Read about Ismael Ahmed here.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Who's In For Scholarships? Join Me At Rick's* Run For Kids!

Next Saturday, October 15th, in the morning, you will find me at Rick's Run For Kids, doing a mixture of running and walking around beautiful Gallup Park to raise scholarship money for Ann Arbor Public Schools Rec & Ed. 


Rick's Run For Kids is one way that Rec & Ed raises money for scholarships that allow lower-income families in our district to access all the wonderful extra-curricular work that Rec & Ed does. That includes summer camps, after school language and dance programs, youth soccer (baseball, volleyball, field hockey, etc.), exercise and educational classes, and so much more.

I'm on the Recreation Advisory Committee for AAPS, and this really does make a difference.


Please join me. Sign up here! 

Online registration goes until noon on October 12th, you can register in person after that.

The 5K starts at 9:00 A.M.
There is a Kids' Dash for kids 10 and under that starts at 10:15 a.m.

*Who was Rick?

No, in this case, Rick does not refer to our state's governor. (You laugh, but I was asked that by a couple of people.)

Rick refers to Rick Dekeon, a beloved Physical Education teacher at (then) Northside Elementary, who also served on the Recreation Advisory Committee for many years and was a Rec & Ed coach and official. He believed that athletics are for everyone, and through RAC and several other PE committees, his influence went far beyond the halls of Northside. He volunteered his time to run a before-school running club for kids, and that's why a Run for Kids seems like a great way to memorialize him.

So won't you join me?  (Bring a couple of friends, too--why not?!)

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