Farewell to Roberts, Search Firm Selected

Also: AAPS may join international baccalaureate program

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Sept. 29, 2010): Though Todd Roberts, outgoing superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), sat in his regular seat at Wednesday’s school board meeting, there was also a newcomer at the end of the table. Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent of operations, did not participate, but he sat with the board for the duration of the meeting. Roberts’ last day with the district will be Oct. 8, and Allen will be taking over as interim superintendent on Oct. 9.

AAPS Robert Allen

From left to right, outgoing AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts, board president Deb Mexicotte, treasurer Irene Patalan, vice-president Susan Baskett, and Robert Allen, who will assume command of AAPS as interim superintendent on Oct. 9. (Photos by the writer.)

AAPS is hosting a public farewell reception for Roberts at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 7, at Skyline High School. Board president Deb Mexicotte quipped that the reception would be an opportunity for everyone to express good wishes or condolences to Roberts “as he moves on to accept a not-as-good position in North Carolina.” At Wednesday’s meeting, the board chose Ray & Associates, an executive search firm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help them recruit and select a new superintendent.

The meeting also served as the annual organizational meeting for the board, during which trustees elected three new officers, changed the composition of their standing committees, and set their meeting dates for the remainder of the school year.

The board also heard a first briefing on yet another high school option being developed county-wide – an international baccalaureate program.

Trustee Tributes to Roberts

Trustees shared personal memories and stories about their work with Roberts over the years, and expressed that he would be greatly missed.

Todd Roberts

Todd Roberts at his last AAPS board meeting.

Andy Thomas praised Roberts for being incredibly engaging and respectful, even toward people with whom he does not agree.

Christine Stead credited Roberts with being inspiring during the strategic planning process, and for always thinking about how schools could be improved. She also noted that his relatable and accessible personality made it easy for the community to engage with him.

Glenn Nelson related a story about a 21-year-old who stopped Roberts on the street to thank him for being the man’s grade school principal, and used that story to stress how strong of an impression Roberts leaves on those with whom he works. Nelson said he will never forget the spirit and humanity that Roberts brought to his work here, and that he hopes to run into him in the future.

Simone Lightfoot thanked Roberts for his help when she was getting acclimated to the board, and for being so understanding. She praised his willingness to respond to the board, and his focus on getting problems fixed.

Susan Baskett thanked Roberts for his years of service. “You will be a name that will always come up,” she said, noting that he had helped the district weather some tough storms. She also thanked him for leaving AAPS “in good hands” and implored him not to forget them.

Irene Patalan said she wished she could lasso North Carolina and bring it here, and that she will miss Roberts terribly. She extolled his “egoless” nature, and affirmed that many people have been inspired by his leadership.

Deb Mexicotte said simply that Roberts had done everything AAPS has needed, and thanked him for being a “servant leader.” She also presented him with a plaque on behalf of the board.

Roberts responded with humility, saying that he hardly deserves all the compliments, and noting that he has learned a lot from a lot of people here about how to be successful. He praised the community, saying: “The person who comes to serve as superintendent will be lucky … I just feel that I’ve been the one to be really fortunate.”

Roberts thanked the board for selecting him four years ago, and giving him the opportunity to serve this district in this capacity. He thanked the board, and AAPS staff – especially his cabinet members, who he praised as “outstanding people and professionals.” He saved his anchor acknowledgment for his executive assistant Joann Emmendorfer and executive secretary to the board, Amy Osinski, saying “Those of us who work in Balas [administration building] know that they are the ones who really run the district.”

Search Firm Selection

Mexicotte reviewed the process the board was using to select a search firm to assist with filling Robert’s superintendent position, which will be handled on an interim basis by current deputy superintendent Robert Allen. Allen has declared that he will not be a candidate for the permanent job.

Mexicotte reported on the reference checks done on the two final firms – Ray & Associates and McPherson & Jacobson. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "AAPS Search Firm Choice: Down to Two"] She reported that references for Ray & Associates were uniformly positive. On the other hand, the references on McPherson & Jacobson had caused enough concern that the reference committee of Mexicotte, Stead, and Baskett recommended only Ray & Associates for the board’s consideration.

Lightfoot asked Mexicotte to elaborate on the concerns regarding McPherson & Jacobson. Mexicotte said that other clients had listed concerns regarding multiple items, including the firm’s attention to detail, its commitment to community engagement, its ability to attract a strong and diverse pool of candidates, and its reference check process. Baskett noted that the second reference for McPherson was so negative that it was truly surprising, and suggested that Mexicotte pass on the feedback to McPherson. Mexicotte agreed to do so.

Outcome: The board approved the selection of Ray & Associates in a roll call vote.

After Ray & Associates was officially chosen, Mexicotte reiterated that Ray’s references were glowingly praising, and gave some examples. In all areas of the rubric the board used for the search firm selection, Ray strongly demonstrated success, she said.

Baskett noted that some of Ray’s references, while extremely pleased with their overall service, did make some suggestions to AAPS about how to have the best experience possible working with them. Mexicotte elaborated that some individuals in the firm came especially recommended, and that the board might want to request they are included on the AAPS team. She also said that based on the references, it seems like Ray might not be as good as AAPS at creating advertising materials, so the district may want to take the lead on that.

Stead added that it’s important to think about the importance of following the search firm’s advice, based on their experience and the outcomes they’ve had. “Ray’s references were phenomenal” she said.

Patalan said she agreed with Stead, and that in their interview, Ray’s representatives emphasized the importance of trusting Ray’s process. Baskett added that she appreciated Ray’s values, and that she likes the average tenure of Ray’s placements – eight years. Lightfoot added that she was impressed with Ray’s focus on the candidates’ well-being as well as the needs of the district. She concluded, “I think we’ve made a wise choice, and I look forward to working with them.”

Mexicotte asked if the board would be amenable to her working with Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, to finalize the contract with Ray & Associates, and the board agreed.

Baskett asked what the next step will be. Mexicotte said she would request that the selected firm attend the next board meeting.

International Baccalaureate Program

In a memo included in the board’s meeting packet, Roberts reminded the board that one of the goals from Strategy 1 of the district’s strategic plan is to assess the feasibility of starting an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Due to a high level of interest from other local districts, Roberts invited superintendents from across Washtenaw County to participate in creating an IB school, and the group formed a planning committee.

The board recently approved two additional paths to graduation for the district’s students – Early College Alliance and the WAY Washtenaw program – and creating the IB would add a third additional path.

Three members of the planning committee – Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent of middle and high school education; Naomi Norman, director of assessment, planning, and research for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; and Bert Okema, an IB consultant – introduced the proposed county-wide IB school to the board.

Hunter began by briefly speaking about her work on the IB planning committee.   She noted that the planning committee was very well-organized and explained how its work had been guided by “decision points” regarding the Washtenaw County IB school. These had included decisions about structure, enrollment, school design, site options, governance, personnel, budget, equity, and feeder schools of the new school.

Okema then gave a brief history of the IB. The heart of the IB, he argued, is holding students to rigorous, high academic standards, while assessing students in a broad variety of ways. The IB was founded in Europe, he said, and has a strong emphasis on “international-mindedness.”

Okema explained how the Washtenaw County IB program would connect to Michigan’s high school content expectations, and outlined the general IB curriculum. IB students are required to take courses in each of six areas – first language, second language, experimental sciences, mathematics/computer science, individuals/societies, and the arts. They are also expected to write an independently researched 4,000-word paper, pass a theory of knowledge class, and complete 150 hours of “activity-based learning.” Stead questioned the relevance of the IB program to the 21st century, and was reassured by Okema and Norman that that program exceeded district goals.

In response to questions from Baskett, Okema agreed that some elements of the IB are somewhat Euro-centric, but that it has more recently broadened to include wider influences, such as works of literature in translation from around the world. History in an IB program can be based on European, Asian, or American history, and individual IB schools can choose the focus for their schools. Nelson added that the mathematics element of the IB is not Euro-centric, and math did not develop first in Europe.

Norman then introduced how the IB program would look in Washtenaw County, and reviewed the rationale for its creation. Though there is not currently an IB program in this county, she pointed out, there are currently 33 IB programs in Michigan, including in Oakland and Macomb counties. She noted that over 80% of 800 county families surveyed were interested in a local IB program, including many homeschooling or private school families. Norman also pointed out the economic development opportunity that an IB program would bring the county by attracting international business.

Washtenaw International High School, as it is now being called, would be created as a county-wide consortium, and would grow to serve 600 students. Norman stated that the IB school will have a high commitment to equity, and to supporting students with a wide range of abilities. In similar fashion to the Early College Alliance (ECA) which AAPS just joined, teachers from participating districts would staff the IB.

The IB school would be located at the former East Middle School site in Ypsilanti. Enrollment would be based on lottery, with slots allocated in proportion to the size of each member district. In addition to the 600 county students, Norman explained, up to 80 additional students transferring from other IB schools worldwide could eventually be accommodated. Norman explained that an additional program – the IB Career Certificate program (IBCC), with more of a focus on technical education – could be added in the second year of the program.

Norman reviewed the elements of the consortium agreement. The school would be governed by a board made up of the superintendents of each participating district, as well as the WISD. She explained that the WISD will be the fiscal agent of the IB. The consortium is looking for grants to fund start-up costs, but the WISD is willing to lend the program some of the necessary funds. The program is set to use 100% of the foundation allowance per student, and is planning to be fully enrolled for 150 9th graders in 2011, adding one grade per year year. Baskett asked about the application of the waiting list, and Okema explained that any students on a waiting list will only be able to join the IB during the first two years of high school.

Patalan asked about the support of students with special needs or other difficulties, and Okema assured her the IB would meet their needs. He also mentioned that students are allowed to return to their home schools if they so choose.

Though he expressed general interest and support of the program, Thomas stated multiple concerns. First, he pointed out that it seems like enrolling 600 students might be optimistic. Okema said that a critical mass of roughly 600 students makes the program cost-effective, creates a desirable school climate, and allows more curricular options. Norman added that current student interest from possible member districts confirmed that 600 was a good number.

Thomas also questioned the IB’s proposed location on the very eastern edge of the county. Hunter said the planning committee did consider other sites, but chose the former East Middle School because it was the best fit. Roberts also pointed out that roughly 70% of the population of Washtenaw County is centered around the East Middle School site. Norman confirmed that it is anticipated that students will be transported to and from school by parents, or drive themselves. There is parking available, and the school is on an AATA bus line.

The board had some discussion of what a reasonable driving distance would be to the school, and what enrollment would be expected to be from each participating district. Thomas requested that the planning committee bring more concrete estimates of enrollment to the second briefing.

Baskett asked about how the lottery will work to address equity. Norman answered that the planning committee used guidelines from Los Angeles, which focus on creating anticipation within the county’s middle schools so that all students will feel qualified to apply if interested. Then, in contrast to the ECA, the lottery would not be amended if the diversity of student populations were not proportional to the county populations. Norman also allowed that adjustments can be made by the governing board if the school’s equity goals are not being met.

Baskett also asked about necessary teacher contract adjustments. Norman answered there is a sub-committee of district union representatives meeting to work out those issues, including: the school’s calendar, extracurricular support, structure of the school day, and number of preparation periods. Salary and benefits would be handled by the member districts, but teacher evaluations would be handled by the IB.

Outcome: The district’s participation in a county-wide IB school will come for a second briefing and decision at the next regular board meeting.

Special Needs Service Provision

Elaine Brown, AAPS assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services, presented the board with the first briefing of a renewal contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates (PTA). PTA offers physical, occupational, and speech therapies to complement full-time AAPS special education staff. The total PTA contract would be for $592,592, with AAPS funding roughly 17% of the contract, and the rest supported by federal special education grants.

Thomas asked about the breakdown of AAPS staff versus contracted staff for special education services. Brown’s staff confirmed that all three physical therapists are contracted. Of the occupational therapists, five are contracted, and eight are salaried AAPS employees. All 43 speech therapists are AAPS employees.

Nelson pointed out that there will be a special education renewal millage on the ballot in the spring. While the need for these services does not go away legally or ethically, Nelson pointed out, the failure of this millage would cause a larger proportion of the general fund to be used on special education services.

Trustees asked that additional cost breakdowns comparing last year’s services to this year’s projected service be brought to the second briefing at the next regular meeting.

Outcome: The annual contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates will come before the board for a second briefing its next regular meeting.

Association Reports

As an item of business at the meeting, the board reapproved the slate of associations from which it invites reports at each regular board meeting. Mexicotte noted that other groups could be added later if the board desired. The six groups are: 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 Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the PTOC.

Association Reoprts: Youth Senate

The Youth Senate’s report was focused on lunch at the high schools. Nikila Lakshmanan, a junior senator from Community High School, reported that Community’s 40-minute lunchtime offered off-campus privileges, as well as tutoring and extracurricular activities, and was universally enjoyed by Community students. At Pioneer, she said, lunch also works smoothly, as all students eat together, and seniors are allowed to eat off-campus.

In contrast, Lakshmanan highlighted lunch concerns brought to the Youth Senate from the other two high schools. At Huron High School, she said, some students are upset by the new lunch schedule, which splits freshman from the other students. Finally, Lakshmanan reported that many Skyline High School students feel that their lunch area is already overcrowded, and are concerned about the addition of another grade next year.


Melanie Raubolt thanked outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts for four years of excellent leadership, and welcomed Robert Allen and Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley to their new roles as interim superintendent and deputy superintendent of instruction, respectively. Raubolt reported that it is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness (AAC) month. AAC technology helps people with communication disorders to connect more effectively with those around them.

Raubolt noted that some buses have been late due to new drivers, and construction – AAPAC hopes these issues will be worked out soon. Lastly, she thanked Haisley Elementary School’s principal for implementing training in positive behavior support for all staff, and encouraged other schools to offer similar training.


Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC. She mentioned that the group is seeking a recording secretary, though the rest of the board is set. The PTOC participated in training from the NEW Center regarding legal obligations and management of PT(S)Os, and found it extremely useful. The PTOC will hold its annual launch party on Monday, Oct. 18 at Logan Elementary. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Superintendent’s Report

Roberts gave the final report of his tenure as AAPS superintendent. He praised multiple students, teachers, and community groups for their recent successes.

Students in Transition

In a study session before Wednesday’s meeting, the board was introduced to Azibo Stevens, the district’s new liaison to WISD’s Education Project for Homeless Youth (EPHY). According to the federal McKinney-Vento Act, a student should be considered homeless if they “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This does not necessarily mean homeless students are living on the streets; it could mean that they are “doubled-up” with another family, living in a motel room, or staying at a shelter.

Azibo Stevens, AAPS liaison to WISD's Education Project for Homeless Youth

Azibo Stevens, AAPS liaison to WISD's Education Project for Homeless Youth.

Stevens explained to the board that this definition is broader than many school personnel are aware of, and thus, the population of homeless youth attending AAPS is likely much larger than the number of students receiving services from EPHY.

He said it is important to identify homeless youth in order to encourage them to access the support services available to them through AAPS and EPHY, such as help with transportation, advocacy, food, and in some cases, extra academic support.

In response to questions from the board, Stevens suggested that AAPS staff could help to identify and refer students to him by noting those students whose address frequently changes, and posting homeless liaison contact information in the main office of each school. He also pointed out that many families are unlikely to self-identify as homeless, even if they meet the definition, and that in order to reach qualified families, it may help to ask parents if their family is “in transition” rather than “homeless,” which is a more stigmatized term.

Consent Agenda Approved

The consent agenda included minutes approvals, gift offers, and one second briefing item – the utility easement recommendations reviewed by Randy Trent at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting. With no questions on the easements, or any other item, the board unanimously approved its consent agenda.

MASB Delegates Chosen

Mexicotte announced that the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) delegate assembly this year will be held in Grand Rapids, and that it was a good opportunity to be part of shaping the MASB. Lightfoot and Nelson volunteered to attend, and the board approved them.

Organizational Meeting

At its previous meeting, the board had voted to hold its annual organization meeting before the November election, because the five trustees on the November ballot are running unopposed. At Wednesday’s meeting, Mexicotte again noted that should something unforeseen happen, such as a write-in candidate winning a seat, the board could hold another organizational meeting. Trustees then voted to suspend the bylaw that states the organizational meeting should happen after the election, and proceeded to reorganize themselves.

All four officer positions were filled by uncontested self-nomination, and approved by the board. The new configuration of AAPS school board officers is: Deb Mexicotte, president; Susan Baskett, vice president; Andy Thomas, secretary; and Irene Patalan, treasurer. Each officer swore to “abide by the bylaws, rules, and regulations of [their offices] as to the best of [their] knowledge and ability.” Upon Mexicotte’s request, Lightfoot agreed to remain the board’s parliamentarian.

The standing board committees were also reconfigured. The board has two committees: planning, which is proactive in exploring upcoming areas of concern or interest to the board; and performance, which is focused on the assessment and evaluation of current AAPS programs, activities, and initiatives.

Mexicotte noted that the committee representation she was about to suggest was based on trustees’ interests as ascertained in one-on-one discussions with her before Wednesday’s meeting, as well as on the areas in which trustees have shown vigilance and concern. She then requested that Stead, Baskett, and Patalan sit on the planning committee, chaired by Stead; and that Nelson, Lightfoot, and Thomas sit on the performance committee, chaired by Nelson. All of her suggestions were accepted by the board.

While other administrative committee appointments had been made during the previous meeting, Mexicotte explained that a new committee had been formed – the guidance counselor advisory board. She requested that she be able to appoint herself to serve on the new committee, and the board approved that request.

As part of the organizational meeting, the board also sets its calendar. They meet twice monthly, usually on non-consecutive weeks, and the meeting dates for the rest of 2010 have already been posted.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board considered the remaining meetings for this school year. Of the suggested slate of dates, Nelson pointed out that the board was scheduled to meet during the district’s February break, and suggested moving that meeting to the beginning of March, and the other March meetings down a week. The board agreed to take advantage of March 2011′s five Wednesdays, and set the following as its 2011 meeting dates: Jan. 12 and 26, Feb. 9, March 2, 16, and 30, April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25, and June 8 and 22.

Agenda Planning

One amendment was made to the board’s calendar – an executive session for the purpose of attorney-client privileged communication was approved for Wed., Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. [Since the meeting, a study session was also added for 7 p.m. on that day.]

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustee Glenn Nelson, Simone Lightfoot, and Christine Stead. Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, superintendent of AAPS.

Next Regular Meeting: Oct. 13, 2010, 7 p.m., at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, fourth floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]