AAPS Board: No Principal Sharing in 2011-12

Also: Haisley Elementary parking project gets initial OK

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education meeting (May 11, 2011): After hearing significant public commentary on the matter, and following a spirited discussion, the AAPS board voted 5-2 to eliminate a plan to share principals among elementary schools from the proposed 2011-12 AAPS budget. A public hearing on the budget will be held as part of the next regular board meeting at 7 p.m. on May 25.

Public commentary was also rich with concerns regarding a proposed expansion of the parking lot at Haisley Elementary, which was discussed by the board at length as a first briefing item. It will come up for a vote at the May 25 meeting.

At the May 11 meeting, which lasted past 1:30 a.m., the board also approved upgrades to the district’s PowerSchool communication system, SISS assistive technology, and the elementary math curriculum. They also heard a first briefing on a proposal to purchase a new standardized assessment tool to complement the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), and were updated on the progress of the Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw program.

Update on Budget Planning

The school board is required to pass the 2011-12 district budget by the end of June. AAPS administration unveiled its proposed budget at the April 20 board meeting and at two community forums held during the last week of April.

At the May 11 meeting, interim superintendent Robert Allen reported that of the 150 to 200 people who attended the forums, as well as those who have e-mailed or otherwise commented on the proposed budget, the main concerns expressed were the sharing of principals by four of the district’s elementary schools, the elimination of high school busing, and the increase in class sizes due to teacher layoffs. Allen noted that a complete list of suggestions from the community would be available on the district’s website, but he stood by his budget recommendations as originally presented, and opened the discussion up to the board.

Public Commentary: Principal Sharing Plan

In the budget plan as originally proposed, Angell and Pittsfield elementary schools would share Gary Court as principal, and David De Young would be the principal for both Wines and Abbot. Allen noted that the goal of having schools share principals was to prevent closing a school, as well as to maintain flexibility in the context of uncertain state funding.

At the May 11 meeting, seven people spoke against the plan to share principals between schools. They argued that Abbot and Pittsfield in particular each deserve a full-time principal, based on the fact that a large number of their students come from impoverished families, and that many students at these schools have greater needs than those at other schools. Scott Elsworth offered trustees a petition signed by nearly 90% of parents at Abbot in opposition to the plan.

Alicia Nalepa noted that Abbot has a larger special education population than other schools, requiring a supportive principal to be present at Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings and to set a school climate that supports special education students. Terrisca DesJardin commented that Abbot has had seven principals in eight years. She argued that current principal Pam Sica is finally the leader Abbot needs, and that disrupting her leadership would be damaging to Abbot students’ current and future lives.

Other points mentioned included: (1) sharing principals disrupts the classrooms of the “lead teachers” who are pulled from their regular duties to fill in when the principal is out of the building; (2) the shared principal approach could diminish students’ safety; and (3) shared principal arrangements might cause families to pull students out of AAPS.

Stefanie Iwashnya noted that the cost savings of sharing principals (roughly $200,000) is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the $15 million that needs to be cut out of the district budget, and pointed out that if only 15 students left AAPS for private or charter schools, the savings would be gone.

Principal Sharing Plan Eliminated as Budget Option

Trustee Andy Thomas expressed his agreement with some of the parents who had spoken, and suggested that the board reconsider the option of sharing elementary school principals. He argued that the proposal would disproportionally impact two of the neediest schools in the district, and noted that sharing principals would save only 1.3% of the funds needed.

Trustees Glenn Nelson, Susan Baskett, and Simone Lightfoot agreed with Thomas that the issue should be reconsidered. Nelson argued that the district should use money out of its savings to fund principals for each school, as well as to ensure that no layoffs are made. Baskett and Lightfoot added that taking the proposal off the table for the 2011-12 school year would not mean that the district could not consider it in the future.

Trustee Christine Stead countered that until the state funding level has been set, it would be irresponsible to take the principal sharing option off the table as part of the district’s proposed budget. Saying that any action taken at this meeting would be “reactionary,” she noted that the state budget should be approved by the end of the month, and argued that the board should wait until then to finalize its plans. Stead also noted that if she were to suggest taking something off the table, it would be the reduction of 70 teaching positions with the associated increases in class size.

Trustees Irene Patalan and Deb Mexicotte supported Stead’s position. Patalan reiterated that closing a school would be much more disruptive to the community than principal sharing, and stated that she was comfortable with the mindfulness the administration had put into the budget proposal. Mexicotte agreed that it was “premature” to alter the proposed budget until the state decides how much money schools will receive. “I’d like to not take something off the table tonight, only to have to put it back on the table in a couple of weeks,” she said.

There was some discussion surrounding the administrative timetable for hiring principals for the next school year. Allen noted that there will be five elementary principals retiring at the end of this school year, and that under the current budget proposal, the administration would plan to hire only three replacements, with some other principals in the district being shifted to new schools. He then explained that the hiring process would begin this week in order to ensure that the new principals would have an opportunity to transition with the current principals.

During public commentary, Jada Kavanaugh, the PTO president at Haisley Elementary, commented that the Haisley principal is one of the retiring principals, and that the Haisley community has felt shut out of the selection process. After first being told they would be involved in the hiring, Kavanugh reported that AAPS administration told the PTO there would be no committee created to choose the new principal, but that one would simply be placed. “We need not to be lied to or bullied,” she asserted. “Our parents deserve better.”

Nelson said he was troubled by the disruption that would be caused to the hiring process, including the placement of principals, by waiting until the state finalizes its budget in order to decide whether or not to eliminate the principal sharing option. When questioned again, Allen allowed that hiring two principals after the first three would have some negative impact – “you lose time, though it’s not insurmountable. We … can make it work either way.”

Nelson then moved that the board give guidance to AAPS administration to hire five principals to fill the five openings, and that the associated adjustment be reflected as a withdrawal from fund equity in the budget to be presented at the next board meeting on May 25.  Thomas added a friendly amendment to clarify that the administration is not to pursue the option of sharing elementary school principals for the 2011-12 school year.

Stead and Patalan again spoke against the motion. Thomas countered their concerns by reminding them that this particular proposal has the lowest benefit in terms of cost savings as any of the items being presented as budget options, but was of largest concern to the board’s constituents as expressed in the public forums, making it deserving of “special treatment.”

Outcome: Nelson’s motion to eliminate principal sharing from the budget, hire five new elementary principals, and use the district’s fund equity to cover two of their salaries passed 5-2, with Stead and Patalan dissenting. The board also voted to hold a public hearing on the 2011-12 budget, and the property tax millage rate to be levied to support it, as part of the next regular board meeting on May 25.

2011 Summer Projects

AAPS executive director of physical properties, Randy Trent, briefed the board on several summer projects being planned. If approved by the board, all of the projects will be funded out of the remaining money in the 2010 sinking fund, which is state funding earmarked for capital improvements. Sinking fund dollars cannot be used to fund salaries or other operating expenses, and are on the ballot for approval by voters in the AAPS district every five years.

Randy Trent AAPS

The AAPS board listens to a first briefing on summer projects from Randy Trent, the district's executive director of physical properties.

This year’s proposed projects include: ceiling work inside Huron High; landscaping at the elementary buildings; asphalt paving at Abbot, Ann Arbor Open @ Mack, Bryant, Burns Park, Community, Huron, Haisley, Lawton, Pioneer and Thurston; roof repairs at Allen, Angell, Burns Park, Pittsfield, Stone and Tappan; exterior door and frame replacement at Scarlett and Clague; and ADA site improvement work at Abbot, Angell, Bach Clague, Dicken, Eberwhite, Forsythe, King, Lakewood, Mitchell, Northside, Pattengill, Scarlett, Slauson, and Tappan. In addition, Trent requested funding for a general contractor to serve the district as needed over the coming year.

In response to questions from the board, Trent offered more detail about some of the projects. He explained that the landscaping upgrades were intended to enhance the “first impression” someone has upon entering the elementary schools, and that custodians would be trained in the upkeep of these gardens. He also noted that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements would be focused on enhancing access to outdoor play structures.

Of the bids for all 2011 summer projects, Trent said, about 31% of them will be awarded to historically-underutilized businesses (HUBs). Increasing the percentage of district business given to HUBs has been a goal of the board that’s recently been given more attention. AAPS held a mixer to introduce smaller, local businesses to larger contractors.

Susan Baskett asked why the bids allowed for non-prevailing wages, and Trent said that the district was just testing what the difference would be in bids if they opened up the allowable wage structure. Robert Allen added, “We have a duty to see what we’re losing by using the prevailing wage. There is no better or worse time – it just came from seeing how we could stretch our dollars.”

2011 Summer Projects: Haisley Parking Lot

Though most of the recommended projects are standard replacements, Trent said, the work being proposed at Haisley would be extensive and has elicited “many opinions” from the Haisley community. Glenn Nelson requested that the board be briefed more thoroughly on the Haisley project.

Calling the situation “energizing,” Trent said that the process had begun when the Haisley community requested that the district look at ways to improve parking lot safety for all students. This prompted plans to redesign the Haisley parking lot, which was constructed in the 1950s, in order to align its layout to its current usage patterns.

Trent gave a basic outline of Haisley’s parking lot needs – there are 11 buses that use the lot daily, in contrast to an average of five buses at the other elementary schools in the district. Student enrollment (424 vs. 362) as well as the number of staff (78 vs. 50) are also higher at Haisley than the district average. In addition, Haisley houses a centralized program for physically-impaired students, which adds additional ADA requirements to the parking lot.

The proposed redesign for Haisley’s lot, according to Trent, has a large bus loop closest to the building, with one entrance and one exit. Other safety features include: separating bus traffic from other traffic, and the parent drop-off area from pedestrian walkways; widening the drop-off lanes for use as a fire route; and providing safe pedestrian travel routes, including curb-to-curb crossing tables.

Other features of the proposed design, Trent continued, include: increasing the number of accessible parking spaces; adding parking for teachers and parents; reducing stormwater run-off; replacing trees lost during construction; relocating soil on school grounds to create additional playspace; and creating an efficient lot for the district to maintain.

Board members questioned the process that had been followed to settle on the final design. Trent explained how AAPS worked with the countywide transportation safety committee, which includes representation from the district, the city of Ann Arbor, local police departments, and road commission engineers. In addition, AAPS held three community meetings this year, and incorporated design modifications suggested by the public. Trent said that public input led to more green space, more bike racks, the adding of a speed bump, improved ADA spaces with their own walkway, and the relocation and visual shielding of dumpsters.

Andy Thomas thanked Trent for handling this issue in a calm and professional manner, and acknowledged that this is a very divisive issue for Haisley. He confirmed that the Haisley community was first advised of this project at the end of last school year, and that alternatives suggested by community members were given serious consideration by AAPS. Thomas also noted that this meeting represents the first year of his tenure as a board member, and that he would not have anticipated that the most contentious issue he would confront is the paving of a parking lot.

Deb Mexicotte asserted that the parking lot plan includes many improvements based on the engagement of community members in the issue. “This is a real synthesis, and a compromise,” she said. “I appreciate the work [Trent] has done on this, as well as the community.”

2011 Summer Projects: Public Commentary on Haisley Parking Lot

Nine people addressed the board regarding the Haisley parking lot proposal – six opposed to the project, and three in support of it.

Anne Cox expressed concern about the process. “Presenting one plan,” she argued, “does not lend much credence to the notion that alternatives were being considered.” She also asked to board to consider downsizing the number of parking spaces in order to save green space in front of Haisley. On a similar note, George Bennett cited the AAPS strategic plan, reminding the board that “environmental stewardship is our moral obligation.” He suggested that the parking lot issues could be resolved with behavior changes rather than spending this money.

Rich Cooper noted the cost as his main concern, and asked the board to select the lowest cost option, even if the funds are not fully fungible. Susan Tomilo noted that this plan was created around how to spend funds instead of by assessing needs, and urged the board to consider that “the priorities we choose send a message … Do not just spend money because you can.”

Lisa Jacobs said she appreciated the rearrangement of dumpsters, more bike racks, and the saving of some green space in the newest plan. However, both she and Haisley parent Norm Cox expressed concerns about the safety of the design. Jacobs noted that unescorted children, including those with disabilities, need to make their way across two lines of waiting traffic. Cox argued that the plan was “fundamentally flawed … and the outcome of fundamentally flawed process.” He asserted that this plan makes walking less safe, puts parent convenience above student safety, and is going backward from encouraging the use of more “green routes” to school.

Haisley PTO president Jada Kavanagh expressed support for Randy Trent and for the current proposal. Haisley teacher Nancy Shafer also noted that the staff supports these improvements, and said the parking lot is dangerous as it is currently set up. She acknowledged that a parking lot upgrade hardly seems important in light of the large number of staff layoffs and other financial cost-cutting the district is facing, but implored, “Since the sinking fund cannot be used for the staffing of principals, and can only be used for building improvement, please use this money for this.”

David Hay commented that he has a daughter with cerebral palsy, and that he worries about her, as well as all children, navigating cars and buses at drop off. “For me,” he said, “the fact that the principal and teachers want this improvement is enough for me … The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Outcome: The summer projects were a first briefing item at this board meeting and will be up for approval at the next regular board meeting on May 25.

Upgrades: PowerSchool, Math, SISS Assistive Technology

The May 11 meeting contained two special briefings, time-sensitive proposals that AAPS administration requests the board act on after only their initial briefing: upgrades to PowerSchool and to the elementary math curriculum. There was also one second briefing item regarding the purchase of new assistive technology by the Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) department.

PowerSchool Upgrade

Allen described the new version of PowerSchool and accompanying hardware as “an emergency purchase” resulting from the sale of PowerSchool by Apple to Pearson, and Pearson’s subsequent replacement of the software’s underlying operating system. As explained by John VanRiper, AAPS director of information technology, in a memo to Allen, “Since the original hardware specifications were predicated on the operating system present at that time, … we are now in a position in which there is increased demand on the existing system’s ability to reliably and consistently deliver services … [T]he main database server needs to be reset on a daily basis, [and] there is some concern as to the integrity of preserved data.”

VanRiper’s memo also makes it clear that the current hardware is not able to support an upgrade of PowerSchool to its newest version, v7.0, which contains a number of “[m]odule changes/additions addressing identified [d]istrict needs.” The PowerSchool upgrade, including hardware, costs $81,000.

Both Andy Thomas and Deb Mexicotte spoke in favor of the proposed upgrade, noting that many district parents rely on PowerSchool for tracking their children’s assignments and progress, as well as for getting communication updates from AAPS on a variety of district-wide matters.

“Do the Math” Mathematics Intervention Program

AAPS math specialist Michelle Madden introduced a proposal to purchase “Do the Math,” a math intervention program that could be used to supplement the Everyday Math (EDM) program the district is currently using in its elementary schools. Madden said EDM has been used by AAPS for 13 years, and has been successful at increasing scores, but that the recent research into the necessary prerequisites for early success in algebra have led the district to begin looking for supportive backup to EDM.

Madden reported that Do the Math is a versatile program that could be used by Title 1, special education, or general education students. It’s not software, she explained, but “this program has children manipulating material to visualize mathematical relationships and patterns.” Madden also noted that, if approved, AAPS would use Do the Math as part of its summer school program.

The program would cost $33,087, and would be funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds via the AAPS Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) department.

Glenn Nelson spoke in support of the program, saying the elementary curriculum is intense, and that many students could benefit from this program as a supplement to EDM.

SISS Assistive Technology Purchases

The district’s Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) department had made a presentation at the last board meeting proposing the purchase of assistive technology to ensure that the curriculum is accessible to special education students. At the May 11 meeting, interim superintendent Robert Allen noted that the original proposal had been amended to request the purchase of SMART Boards instead of Promethean Boards. The SMART Boards, along with the requested Tap-It Mobility technology, and Kurzweil software and programs total $178,996, and will be paid for with a federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Outcome: All three items described above – the PowerSchool upgrade, the Do the Math program, and the SISS assistive technology purchases – along with approval of draft minutes from the last regular meeting, were approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment

Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, interim deputy superintendent of instruction, reviewed a recommendation to purchase an evaluation tool offered by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

She explained that with the passage of federal Race to the Top legislation, all districts are expected to demonstrate the following accomplishments no later than Sept. 1: annual teacher and principal evaluations; embedding of clear measures of student growth in the evaluation process; employment of multiple measures of student growth, including measures that gauge student growth over time (at least two reference points per year); and use of data points to make informed decisions on continued employment.

To comply, Dickinson-Kelley continued, AAPS had to identify an assessment process that is compatible with its current technology infrastructure, and the district has identified the NWEA assessment tool as ideal. Dickinson-Kelley noted that the administration’s recommendation comes after talking with other districts, attending conferences, and ensuring that it would fit with Michigan Dept. of Education initiatives.

The NWEA assessment would “fill the gaps” in assessment that AAPS is currently facing, she said. Because the test is calibrated against state and national norms, employing this tool now will help students do well on a national assessment if it comes, which Dickinson-Kelley said she would expect to happen as early as 2013.

Dickinson-Kelley described the assessment tool, noting that it is administered online, and takes about 20 minutes for K-2 students and 40 minutes for students in grades 3-5. In many ways, she said, the tool allows for a personalized assessment and learning, which is a goal of the district’s strategic plan. The assessment is dynamic in that students doing well at the beginning of the test will be given harder questions as the test continues.

Another plus, Dickinson-Kelley said, is that teachers get their students’ results within 24 hours, along with a profile of specific skills/objectives that each student needs to work on. Therefore, feedback can be immediately translated into both help for struggling students as well as suggestions for extending learning for those who are above average.

The cost of the product varies depending on how extensively the district employs it, but Dickinson-Kelley’s recommendation was to spend just over $100,000 from the general fund in order to purchase licensing that would allow use of the NWEA assessment with all students in grades K-5. In addition, Dickinson-Kelley requested an additional $7,749 to extend the availability of the tool to students at Scarlett Middle School. She explained the assessment would be particularly useful at Mitchell and Scarlett schools because of the need to determine whether the Mitchell-Scarlett-University of Michigan partnership is having a positive impact on student achievement. [For details of that partnership, see Chronicle coverage from the board's Dec. 8, 2010 meeting, when trustees got an update on that project.]

Finally, Dickinson-Kelley reported that she has requested a grant from the AAPS Educational Foundation to offset just under half of the total cost of the NWEA assessment tool. She hopes to know if the funding has been granted before the second briefing and vote on the proposal at the next board meeting. In her final pitch the board, Dickinson-Kelley argued that no single assessment gives a complete picture of student achievement, that a responsible district would use multiple measures, and that this tool would be a perfect fit for the district.

Andy Thomas argued in favor of the NWEA assessment, reviewing its benefits as a “real time” assessment that can be used as early as kindergarten to give teachers timely and relevant data about student learning. He contrasted the NWEA assessment to the MEAP, which can only be given once a year, and does not return scores until months after the test. With the NWEA, Thomas said, “Teachers can give the test on Monday and get the results on Tuesday … It would be an outstanding tool for the district.”

Susan Baskett asked when the NWEA could be expanded to other middle schools, and Robert Allen answered that it would be part of a technology refresh in future years. Since the NWEA assessment is done online, it requires the use of many computers at one time. Currently, all the middle school computer classrooms are in use throughout the school day, without a block of time available to administer the test. The money that was requested to fund the administration of the NWEA tool at Scarlett would be used to purchase a new set of computers, which would be prioritized for use with this assessment.

Deb Mexicotte added that it would be helpful if sinking fund legislation was amended to allow those capital improvement dollars to fund technology infrastructure, which is not currently allowed.

Outcome: This was the first briefing on this item. A vote on the purchase the NWEA assessment tool will come during the next regular board meeting.

WAY Program Update

Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent of secondary education, introduced Sarena Shivers, an interim assistant superintendent at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Monique Uzelac from the AAPS, and Debra Destefani, a student in the AAPS Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) program.

WAY program AAPS

WAY Washtenaw student Debra Destefani (right) addresses the AAPS board. At left is Sarena Shivers, interim assistant superintendent at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

WAY is one of several countywide programs to reach students who have dropped out, or are at risk of not completing school. Shivers reported that the WAY program provides a way for those students to have a year-round experience, and provides a lot of opportunities for success.

Uzelac then reviewed the WAY program structure. Students complete independent projects, which are evaluated against the Michigan high school content expectations (HSCEs) by certified teachers. She noted that the transparency of the teaching and learning is unique to this program.

Shivers noted that almost 650 students in Washtenaw County drop out of school annually and several hundred more are in jeopardy of not graduating. Many WAY students are homeless, are parents, and/or have had a major crisis in their lives. The goals of the program are to reconnect students to the public schools, and gain credits.

The WAY model was designed to be a pilot this year, Shivers continued, but at the urging of the superintendents, it went “full-fledge” this year. The initial recruitment was handled by word of mouth, and the program already has a wait list of 270 students.

WAY is currently serving 210 students – who are called”researchers” – throughout Washtenaw county. The average age of WAY students is 17 years, and 38 of the 210 are already parents.

Engagement is measured differently than in traditional academic programs; it’s on a continuum. The first goal is to help students to connect on a personal level with adult mentors in the program, and then to help students to earn high school credits, Shivers said.

Shivers then introduced Debra Destefani, a WAY student from Ann Arbor, who has earned almost five credits in the program. She reported that she tries to submit a project a day, and appreciates the online aspect of the program, since she works full-time. Destefani then fielded questions from the board.

Andy Thomas asked her to give examples of the projects that she works on in this program. Destefani listed math worksheets as one example, but noted, “I could do a project on anything I wanted to.”

Destefani argued that the WAY program is great for students who just want to get school done, but said that if they are not serious about it, the program is not for them.

Susan Baskett asked if the program provided the necessary hardware to Destefani, and she answered that, yes, the program provides her with a nice computer. Baskett also asked about the effect of the WAY program on her family relationships, which Destefani said have improved since she went back to school. Destefani also noted the incredible support from everyone at the program, in contrast to the adults in a traditional school setting, who were just “putting pressure on us.” About her mentor, Destefani said, “I don’t see her, but it’s nice to know someone’s e-mailing me every day.”

Shivers than closed the presentation by saying that a program evaluation was ongoing, and that the goal is to maintain the program at a cost less than the sum of the foundation allowances brought by its students from their home districts. She noted that there are WAY success stories already – students who will graduate this year, and others eager to enroll in college in the fall.

Baskett questioned the quality of the work done independently, and Shivers reiterated the openness of the assessment. “You can actually see the connection between projects and HSCEs,” she said. “When the experts assess a project, they see the level of proficiency that was achieved. People within the WAY environment can see it, and all involved can see it.”

Thomas asked how to refer a student to the program, and how long students would currently be on the wait list. Shivers told Thomas he could have the student call her at the WISD, and that the next group of students will be inducted into WAY in August.

Board Committee Reports

The school board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

Planning Committee

Patalan reported for the planning committee. She noted that they had discussed the Haisley parking lot, as well as an update to the district’s strategic plan, which she called “our guiding light.”

Patalan also said the planning committee had reviewed the district budget to prepare for a roundtable with state legislators hosted by AAPS. The committee also looked at the emergency purchase of the hardware and software upgrades, which the board approved as part of its consent agenda.

Performance Committee

Nelson reported that the performance committee has met twice since the last board meeting, and that they had dealt with policy updates, as well as the Do the Math program. Lightfoot then reported that the Rising Scholars program was discussed at length, and thanked the parents who had met with the committee. She stated that it will be the recommendation of the committee to maintain the Rising Scholars program at each of the district’s three comprehensive high schools.

Association Reports

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At the May 11 meeting, the board heard reports from all six associations.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Zaid Khatib, Noshin Hussain, and Bianca Vladic reported for the Youth Senate. They reported that the Pioneer Youth Senate Action Team had developed a presentation on ways to address local poverty and shared it with over 1,000 elementary students this spring. Huron’s Senate Action Team is administering a survey to students to determine students’ perceptions of barriers to academic achievement. The senators also introduced the Youth Empowerment Project’s upcoming year-long program, “2011-2012 Women in Leadership: What’s Next?”

Association Reports: Black Parents Student Support Group

Sylvia Nesmith reported that the Black Parents Student Support Group was working on a vision for racial equity in the context of the current budget cuts faced by the district. The BPSSG, she reported, believes that the proposal to eliminate high school busing will primarily impact minorities and economically disadvantaged students. Long bus rides have been shown to cause stress, exhaustion, and reduce these students’ abilities to participate in after-school activities, Nesmith said.

She added that BPSSG parents questioned how feasible AATA transportation would be in the long term, whether AATA drivers would be trained to deal with large groups of students, how the potential loss of students leaving the district due to lack of busing was factored into the calculations, whether there is enough parking space available for extra cars, and whether parking lot fees could be sent to a fund to deal with transportation.

As alternatives, the BPSSG suggested that: AAPS survey students during the summer in order to closely adjust routes accordingly; use middle schools as drop-off points and correlate high school routes; try to find grants or endowments to fund transportation; and/or organize a competitive fundraiser to generate revenue.

The BPSSG also suggested reducing administrative expenses instead of laying-off teachers, as the resulting larger class sizes will be detrimental to student learning.

Nesmith also noted that principal sharing has been tried in the past and “was a catastrophe.”

Finally, she reported that the BPSSG is trying to create a better sense of community among parents, teachers, and administrators. BPSSG is discussing strategies to become more effective, and raising funds to send students to camp.

Association Reports: AAPAC

Scott White reported for the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education. His daughter has been served especially well at Clague Middle School, he said, but he encouraged the development of a more extensive peer mentoring program.

White noted that the AAPAC is pleased that the special education millage passed. He thanked interim superintendent Robert Allen and preschool principal Michelle Pogliano for their involvement with the PAC.

Finally, White said the AAPAC successfully put on 18 disability awareness workshops (DAWs) this year, and noted that this was Steve Swartz’ last year speaking at the DAWs.

Association Reports: AAAA

Michael Madison of the Ann Arbor Administrators Association asserted that the 53 building-level administrators are the backbone of the district, along with the teachers – they bring the vision of the board to the students, and they do it with a smile, he said. Madison serves as principal of Dicken Elementary.

Association Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera of the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council appreciated all the parents, PTO leaders, board of education trustees, and administrators who voted for the special education millage that was recently passed, as well as legislators who endorsed it. She also thanked Steve Norton for providing legislative Tweets, and reiterated the four key legislative foci of the PTOC’s advocacy committee.

Association Reports: AAEA

Brit Satchwell – president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, the  teachers’ union – began by thanking the board for hosting the recent legislative roundtable, and to the PTOC for its work helping to pass the special education millage.

teachers union Brit Satchwell

Teachers' union president Brit Satchwell discusses state funding for education.

The Michigan legislature intentionally underfunds K-12 education, Satchwell asserted, and she poke angrily about the representatives who attended the legislative roundtable recently sponsored by the board. He argued that the state budget as it’s currently proposed is “anti-education … immoral, [and] breaks solemn promises.” Satchwell went on to point out aspects of the budget that were ideological in nature, such as cutting the clothing allowance for foster children, and cutting higher education funding for schools that offer partner benefits.

Satchell continued by saying that citizens are being misled and patronized. Of the legislature, he said, “Their plan was a fairy tale to put the gullible to sleep … The money from those who have the least trickles up to those who have the most … We are witnessing the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk and burden.” He encouraged the public to follow the AAEA Twitter account for legislative updates.

Awards and Accolades

The May 11 meeting also contained a number of special presentations and awards honoring staff and students.

Celebration of Excellence Awards

Jennifer Kleber, a teacher assistant at Carpenter Elementary, and Jason Treece, an art teacher at Huron High School, each received a Celebration of Excellence award at the meeting. Kleber received a standing ovation from the board for the intensive care she provides at school for an elementary student with extensive medical needs. Treece was honored for his open-door policy with students, and for his extra effort in volunteering to be an academic coach to a struggling student. Both award recipients graciously received their awards while saying that they were just doing their jobs.

Gold Star Awards

Mary Fishwick, Angell Elementary secretary, Gary Court, Angell principal, and the entire special education teams at Slauson Middle School and Stone High School received Gold Star awards for excellent service.

E3 Award

Representatives from the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce were on hand to administer an E3 award to Scarlett Middle School for its portfolio day. E3 awards celebrate “exemplary educational endeavors” taking place in local schools. In its history, Scarlett’s portfolio day program has put over 3,000 students in touch with local business professionals for career exploration and guidance.

Tappan Orchestra

Joe DeMarsh conducted the Tappan Middle School orchestra in its performance of two pieces at the start of the meeting, which was appreciated by the board.

AAPS orchestra

AAPS board members were treated to a performance by the Tappan Middle School orchestra.

Andy Thomas expressed gratitude for the high quality orchestral training students receive at Tappan, and noted that these students are then able to feed into the highly acclaimed music program at Pioneer High School.

Superintendent’s Report

Robert Allen reported on numerous academic and successful athletic competitions undertaken by AAPS students. He also noted multiple donations made by AAPS students to local service organizations, as well as to overseas relief organizations. Allen then praised a number of AAPS teachers who have been recognized by various professional organizations. He also thanked local representatives for participating in the legislative roundtable, and local citizens for voting in favor of the special education millage.

Agenda Planning

Because the May 11 meeting had lasted past 1:30 a.m. without getting through the entire agenda, the board agreed to postpone the following items: an informational update on School Wellness initiatives; a review of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget; and a set of policy update recommendations from the performance committee.

Susan Baskett requested that the board be updated on the functioning of Huron and Pioneer high schools, as new students are being moved to Skyline. Deb Mexicotte suggested that such an update should go through the performance committee on the way to the board.

Items from the Board

Glenn Nelson offered a “thank you” to the community for passing the countywide special education millage. He pointed out that 77% of Washtenaw County, and 86% of AAPS district voters supported the millage, and he encouraged the public to consider donating to the AAPS Educational Foundation, which is currently running a fundraising campaign. Nelson also noted that he had recently taken part in an Understanding Race program, a Head Start breakfast, a Riot Youth meeting, and a technology open house sponsored by SISS.

Deb Mexicotte noted briefly that though the board moved quickly through the summer projects funding requests, they had a full understanding of each of the projects.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot, and Glenn Nelson. Trustee Christine Stead joined the last half of the meeting by speakerphone.

Next regular meeting: May 25, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

Chronicle intern Eric Anderson contributed to the reporting in this article.


  1. By John Floyd
    May 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm | permalink

    Thank you for this thorough, well-written report.

    I wish I could have gotten a greater sense of the controversy surrounding the Haisley parking lot. Perhaps the details did not come up at the meeting.

    Has Brit Satchwell been teetered? If not, he would make a good teeter-ee.

  2. By Elizabeth Nelson
    May 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm | permalink

    Too bad Haisley didn’t kick up more of a fuss over their exclusion from the principal hiring process (or I guess no one listened when they did?). That strikes me as very odd, since every other other school in need of a new principal got representation in that process. Very peculiar…

  3. By Roberta Picard
    May 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    Six elementary schools need a new principal. Five of them participated in an interview process (two teacher and two parents). The sixth is Haisley elementary. How is this exclusion even possible given the district’s innumerable policies and procedures (including one directed to the composition of the two parent group to be involved in the interview process), much less justifiable?