By week’s end, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees will choose from among three finalists to fill its open superintendent position. Finalists include: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).
The public is invited to interview the three finalists at community forums to be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8:30 p.m. in the Pioneer High School cafeteria annex, 601 W. Stadium Blvd. Also open to the public are the candidates’ second interviews with the board, which begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 5 in the main conference room of the AAPS Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. The board’s final deliberations on their preferred candidate will immediately follow the final interviews. Those deliberations are expected to start around noon.
The narrowing of the field of six candidates took place during the week of Feb. 14, when the board interviewed all the candidates. The board made their selection of the finalists at the end of the week on Friday, following the last two interviews. Visits to the home districts by three board members had originally been planned to take place the week of Feb. 21, but inclement weather led to a decision to cancel those visits.
Candidate-submitted profiles and resumes are also available on the AAPS website. Based on candidate responses in the first round of interviews, which included 24 questions, for this report The Chronicle has compiled profiles of the three final candidates. [.pdf of AAPS first-interview questions]
Who Are the Candidates?
Green, Muñoz, and Redinger are all career educators.
They have all worked as classroom teachers, principals, and district-level administrators. Muñoz also has experience as a school counselor.
Green and Redinger are sitting superintendents in districts with roughly 8,100 and 4,000 students, respectively; Muñoz is currently the chief academic officer of the Des Moines Public Schools – which is the largest district of the candidates being considered, with nearly 32,000 students.
By comparison, total K-12 AAPS enrollment as of September 2010 was 16,440.
When asked why they were interested in changing positions at this point in their professional careers, each candidate mentioned the attractiveness of AAPS, and a desire to challenge themselves further.
Green spoke of being strongly drawn to the AAPS strategic plan, as well as to the district’s five-year technology plan. Muñoz stated that he has a passion to work with a diverse student population, and called the district’s commitment to personalized education for each student impressive.
Redinger’s answer was the most personal – she noted that the presence of the University of Michigan might allow her to teach in an adjunct capacity, that Ann Arbor was one of the best places to live and raise a family, and that it would be easy for her husband, an engineer, to transfer to a “sister company” in the area.
All three candidates are married; Muñoz has two adult children, and Redinger has a second-grade child.
On Quality Education and the AAPS Strategic Plan
All three candidates expressed a vision of quality education that is created jointly by the community of stakeholders, and is based on high expectations for all students. They each noted the importance of listening and building relationships immediately upon starting work in the district.
Green asserted that the strategic plan should be the “guiding force and blueprint for success” in the district, and said she would focus on it “like a laser beam.” Muñoz focused on the importance of communicating about progress on the strategic plan’s strategies, and said he would ask for formal updates from principals and his leadership team, but also make frequent informal observations in the schools on a regular basis to monitor the plan’s implementation. Redinger noted that the AAPS five-year strategic plan goes only through the current year, and that the timing would allow her to “come in midstream and help to make it better.”
On Public Education Advocacy
When asked how the role of the superintendent relates to public education advocacy, the candidates’ responses diverged quite a bit.
Green asserted that advocacy on a local level should be one of the highest priorities of a superintendent, and stressed the importance of having achieved community support before “something goes bump in the night.”
She gave examples of how she has involved local religious leaders and senior citizens in the schools, and stressed the importance of being seen in the community.
“If you can get it on my calendar, I’m there,” she said. “People need to understand where their tax dollars are going.
Muñoz also argued for being a leader in the community as well as the district, but focused his response on the importance of lobbying at the state level.
Saying he feels it is his responsibility to educate lawmakers so that they can made good decisions, he noted his involvement with a group of eight urban school districts in Iowa who lobby together.
As examples of his efforts, Muñoz described trying to persuade the governor not to cut funding for the state’s universal preschool program, and speaking about the importance of supporting after-school programs. Finally, Muñoz asserted that all educators need to be involved in state-level decision-making, saying, “You have the ability to influence decisions – you can’t just sit back and complain.”
Redinger said advocacy efforts should always stress that what you’re doing is best for students. She pointed to a bill that she and her human resources director had written that had gained support from both Republicans and Democrats in her state legislature.
When AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte asked her to elaborate on the bill, Redinger explained that it would be a provision to limit the percentage of state funding that could go toward funding of public school employee salaries. The bill, she said, would limit what employee groups could ask for in the collective bargaining process.
On Student Achievement
In response to a question about how to positively affect student achievement across the district, Muñoz offered the most detailed answer. He cited research showing that one of the top factors affecting student achievement is the capacity of teachers to teach effectively. Muñoz’s approach requires each school to set aside time for teacher-led teams to analyze results of frequent formative testing, down to the level of individual test items. In this way, Muñoz explained, teachers learn from each other about how best to teach so that students meet specific standards. Muñoz also advocated for the intensive engagement of parents and the community in the education of children, and cited many examples of his work in that area.
Green said she thinks of achievement gaps as gaps in opportunity, and suggested offering as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible, as well as courses to prepare students for college-entry tests. She advocated for the use of achievement data in decision-making about which programs should be created to help struggling students, and also for the standardization of the curriculum and its delivery from school to school to ensure equal opportunity.
Redinger suggested that focusing on pre-kindergarten is essential to closing the achievement gap. Also, like Green, she stressed the importance of maintaining a strong AP program, and like Muñoz, she asserted that at-risk students benefit hugely from involving families in their learning.
On Budget Challenges and Program Offerings
All three final candidates named the economic downturn as the most critical issue currently facing education. Muñoz added that the economy has had a large impact on demographics of the student population, with increasing numbers of students struggling with the effects of living in a lower socioeconomic status.
Green highlighted how in her current district, she has aligned every line item of her district’s budget to its strategic plan in order to justify each one. Similarly, Muñoz and Redinger noted the importance of assessing every program in terms of its impact on student achievement, and being selective while still offering a wide variety of options for students and parents. Muñoz also emphasized the importance of ensuring equity of access to the programs being offered. As an example, he gave the provision of transportation to specialized programs, such as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program in his current district.
Redinger noted the importance of maintaining enrollment by offering programs that will help the district to remain competitive with local private and charter schools. She also asserted that the programs being offered at the high school level need to be sure to prepare students to compete globally.
Green similarly argued that the lack of standardization in testing across states is leading to a lack of student preparation, and suggested that the future of testing should consider international standards. She praised AAPS for embarking on an IB program, as well as the “lab school” initiative in partnership with the University of Michigan, and argued for the importance of “ramping up” community and business partnerships in this economy.
When asked about innovative approaches they had used to address budget constraints while preserving programs, Muñoz suggested giving more flexibility to principals, using a citizens’ budget advisory committee, and asking the board to name its highest priorities. He also described using a budget planning process very similar to the one used last year in AAPS, which included holding community forums, and meeting with union leadership to get input.
As budget strategies, Redinger listed offering buy-outs for veteran staff members, employing energy-saving strategies in buildings, and outsourcing her district’s food service program.
Green acknowledged that her school board has taxing authority, and that they had to raise taxes last year to meet the budget shortfall facing her district. She also suggested using zero-based budgeting, which she described as a corporate model based on justifying a return on investments.
On Collective Bargaining, Evaluation, and Compensation
All three finalists described the importance of meeting regularly with union leadership in order to develop relationships beyond the bargaining table, and gave examples of how such regular contact had been productive in their districts.
Regarding evaluation and compensation of teachers and administrators, Green advocated for merit pay for principals, but not for teachers. She described the merit pay formula as including a large array of factors, including student performance. Green said she believes that everyone is on a developmental continuum and that she uses evaluation to give a tremendous amount of feedback in order to support development.
Redinger said it’s important to have a research-based evaluation document, and that people should see evaluations as a way to grow. She offers teachers stipends for being “teacher-leaders,” and won a grant to start an “employee highlight” program which offers successful teachers bonuses for their classrooms.
Regarding compensation, Muñoz acknowledged that his state does not currently support merit pay, but noted that may change soon. He argued that merit pay could include looking at achievement scores, but should emphasize growth more than performance. After noting that he had served on a committee that developed the evaluation instrument used for administrators and principals statewide, Muñoz added that in his district he is also looking at ways to supplement the state instrument with a component that would allow for more personal reflection. Similarly, he said, teacher evaluation should be set up to help the teacher grow and receive assistance if needed.
In response to a follow-up question from trustee Glenn Nelson regarding when to abandon an improvement path, Muñoz described a time when he had to remove an ineffective principal. “I believe that what we do is so important,” he said, “that we owe it to kids to give them the best – it’s a disservice to students to leave someone in place who know is not the best.”
On Leadership and Hiring
All three candidates mentioned the importance of having high expectations of senior staff, while allowing them significant autonomy. Redinger said she looks for a strong work ethic and positive attitude in hiring, and listed ways in which she holds staff accountable. Green and Muñoz each described looking for staff who are team players, and stressed the importance of giving feedback, coaching, and praise to staff members to help them improve if necessary.
In working with diverse populations, Green asserted that both unity and difference need to be celebrated. She said she was proud she had been awarded a “spirit of unity” award by a local community-based, anti-racism group in her area.
Muñoz and Redinger both emphasized the importance of reaching out to families of students from ethnically or linguistically diverse populations, and gave multiple examples of community outreach they had initiated.
All three candidates also mentioned the importance of providing appropriate professional development with staff to develop cultural competency, as well as to ensure that special education students are welcomed and supported.
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
Additional reporting contributed by Chronicle intern Eric Anderson.