AAPS Board Ponders Search Process

Also: District to participate in international school

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Oct. 13, 2010): Robert Allen’s first board meeting as the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) interim superintendent saw the school board pick up the threads of two previous, unfinished discussions.

The first conversation concerned a decision about whether to allow trustees to review the full set of applications that will eventually be submitted for the superintendent’s job. Trustees did not come to a decision on that question – it was tabled pending input from the consultant hired to assist with the search for a new superintendent.

The second discussion involved the merits and risks of joining the countywide consortium that is creating a local international baccalaureate school. The board decided to join the consortium.

The meeting also included the second part of an update on two of the district’s three comprehensive high schools – Huron and Pioneer. The first half of the update, on Skyline High School, had been presented to the board in June, but the Huron/Pioneer presentation was delayed due to inclement weather that evening. The substance of the update and discussion surrounding the three high schools will be reported in an upcoming article.

Superintendent Search Update

Board president Deb Mexicotte reviewed a discussion from the board’s Oct. 6 study session. At that session, the board had weighed the implications of allowing individual trustees to have access to the full set of applications for the superintendent position. At issue was the question of whether allowing such access would mean that the applicants’ names could be made public early in the search process. The board requested that Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, look into the legal implications of allowing access. They also asked Comsa to determine whether superintendents in Michigan need to hold an administrator certification.

At last Wednesday’s board meeting, Mexicotte reported on Comsa’s responses to the board to those two questions. First, she said, Comsa had explained that superintendents in the state of Michigan are required to hold a superintendent certification, but that such certification is not required in order for someone to be hired. If the board chooses a superintendent who does not hold a Michigan certification, he or she would need to enroll in a certification program within six months of beginning work at AAPS, and would have three years to complete the program. In Comsa’s experience, Mexicotte said, this kind of requirement should not be seen as an impediment to the board’s selection of superintendent, as this is a typical and reasonable state requirement.

Secondly, Mexicotte reported, Comsa told the board that Michigan law does allow for trustees to look at all of the applications without every name being made public, as long as the search firm retains ownership and possession of the application files. However, Comsa’s explanation that trustees’ access to the applications would be legal within certain parameters did not solve the board’s dilemma about how to proceed.

Christine Stead spoke strongly about believing the board should not review any applications until a list of semi-finalists is brought to them by Ray & Associates, the firm hired to help with the search. She argued that the information would be a burden, and that reviewing applications beyond those presented to them by Ray & Associates would be a sign of distrusting the process. “At some point,” she said, “it brings in the question of why we hired a search firm.”

Andy Thomas concurred, saying, “There are certain things just better off not knowing … only bad things can come of trying to dive into this too deeply.” Irene Patalan agreed as well, saying that with extensive community input on development of the candidate profile, that profile should be able to lead Ray & Associates to the right candidates for the semi-finalist list. “I don’t want say that we’re putting together this process, but then look like we’re second-guessing it,” she stated.

Simone Lightfoot, Susan Baskett and Glenn Nelson rounded out the other side of the debate. Lightfoot stated that her reason for wanting to review all of the applications was not because she didn’t trust Ray & Associates, but because she felt it was her responsibility as a trustee to verify that the candidate profile was applied to the search. Baskett added that trustees should respect each other’s decisions to look at the applications or not, and suggested that the board should have further discussion with Ray & Associates regarding this issue.

Nelson asserted that he was not clear on how it could be harmful to have individual trustees read through the applications. He argued that if – in reviewing the applications – a trustee finds a few more files that warrant review beyond the list of semi-finalists produced by Ray & Associates, the cost of reading 13 instead of 10 applications, for instance, is minimal.

In Nelson’s scenario, Stead countered, if a colleague were able to find three more candidates that he or she thought were viable, Stead would feel compelled to review the entire applicant pool as well. That, she argued, would not be the district’s best use of time, energy, or resources, and would require the timeline for the search process to be extended. “I don’t believe I can conduct a national search better than [Ray & Associates] can,” she concluded.

As the possible tiebreaker of any motion brought before the board regarding the issue, Mexicotte then weighed in. She stated that she would not be comfortable with a motion that would allow trustees to mine the applicant pool and “cherry pick” candidates for board review. However, she said she would support a motion to allow trustees to review the applications if information they gleaned was used to rework the candidate profile, or simply to see how the profile had been applied.

The board then briefly discussed whether they wanted to get input from Ray & Associates on the issue while the consultants are in town from Oct. 25-27 to gather community input for the candidate profile. There is a regular board meeting scheduled for Oct. 27.

Stead and Lightfoot each argued that this decision is part of the district’s internal process and does not require input from the search firm. Thomas suggested that Mexicotte contact Ray & Associates in order to get a sense of their level of comfort with the trustees reviewing the full application set, but Mexicotte declined, saying she believed it would be more efficient for the board to get its questions answered in a group.

Baskett and Nelson pointed out that there might be costs associated with Ray & Associates attending part of the next board meeting, such as missing the opportunity to run a community forum at that time, or having to pay for another night of hotel costs for the firm to stay in town.

Mexicotte noted that Ray was already planning to meet with the board at its first November meeting in order to present an aggregated report of the community input they collected. She requested that Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications, discuss with Ray & Associates whether it would be efficient for the search firm to meet with the board during the Oct. 27 meeting. Margolis is responsible for setting the schedule of community meetings with the firm.

Outcome: No motion was brought forward about how to proceed, and the issue was tabled pending possible input from Ray & Associates.

International Baccalaureate Consortium

Interim superintendent Robert Allen introduced Naomi Norman, director of assessment, planning, and research for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent for middle and high school education, as two members of the international baccalaureate (IB) consortium planning committee. Norman and Hunter said they did not have a formal presentation planned, but were available to answer any remaining questions trustees might have. The IB consortium was presented as a first briefing item at the previous board meeting. Here’s a summary of what the IB program is, from The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:

[Bert Okema, an IB consultant] 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 [Naomi Norman, director of assessment, planning, and research for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District] that that program exceeded district goals.

At last week’s meeting, board members stated some concerns with the number of participating districts countrywide, the size of the proposed IB program, contingency plans if enrollment targets are not met, ensuring diversity in the student body and staff, and the hiring process for teachers.

In addition, similar to the board’s discussion at the first briefing on the program, a significant part of the conversation centered on the school’s proposed location in the former East Middle School in Ypsilanti. Andy Thomas argued that while the building itself is nice, he believes that many parents would have a negative impression of the school based on its location. He listed the old Ford plant, abandoned businesses, and open fields of weeds that he passed en route to visit the school, and expressed concern that other county districts would keep “dropping out” of the consortium just like with the transportation consolidation.

Norman took issue with the term “dropping out” as applied to the IB consortium and said that three county districts are simply just not bringing the IB consortium for a vote because they don’t feel they have support in their communities. She asserted that the IB is not a program just for high-income communities, and pointed to successful IB programs in Pontiac and Southfield as examples. Norman also noted that the planning committee had included data in the board packet to show that driving distance has not been an impediment to oversubscribing other IB programs in Michigan.

Deb Mexicotte countered Thomas’ assertions as well, saying that the location suits a number of goals. The building is modern and beautiful, she said, and its location in Ypsilanti centers it in the county in terms of population density. Mexicotte noted that the school is also right off the highway, which would make it easy for commuters from the western side of the county. She also pointed out that there is a huge amount of interest in IB programs east of Washtenaw county, if there was ever a need or interest in allowing out-of-county enrollment. Finally, Mexicotte argued that this program could be used as a catalyst for economic development in the same way that Skyline High School helped the North Maple area to develop.

The proposed IB program anticipates an enrollment of 600 students. Hunter explained that while some schools use their IB program like an Advanced Placement (AP) program, and have fewer than 600 students, those programs are not offering the complete IB program. In order to achieve the full program, a critical mass of 600 students is needed, asserted Norman. A desire to have the Washtenaw County IB program be a complete program is one of the reasons why the planning committee decided not to pilot the program inside one of the county’s existing schools. At the building in Ypsilanti, there is opportunity for program growth.

On the topic of mitigating risk, Hunter said that districts choosing not to participate would forfeit any spaces allocated to them in the program, and those spaces would then be reallocated to other participating districts. If the location does turn out to be an impediment, Hunter continued, that issue would be addressed by the oversight committee of district superintendents, and recommendations would be brought to the board. Norman also pointed out that the consortium agreement allows for the possibility of having multiple sites if the consortium decides to pursue that option. The Oakland County IB program, on which the Washtenaw program is modeled, has three campuses.

Regarding the plan for ensuring diversity among teaching staff, Hunter acknowledged that the IB’s hiring committee would be composed of representation from the participating districts, and that the committee would strive to ensure balance and equity. In terms of the hiring process in general, Norman reiterated that there is currently a team of union leaders developing a fair and equitable way to do hiring. The plan will be to start by hiring only teachers from within the participating districts, and then going outside the consortium, if not enough highly qualified teachers in the correct subject areas want to transfer, Norman explained. She added that district teachers will be allowed to transfer to the IB in proportion to the number of their district’s students who would be admitted to the program.

A motion was made to join the consortium, and trustees offered their final comments.

Andy Thomas and Susan Baskett noted they supported the concept of an IB program with reservations. Thomas said he would honestly prefer that the IB be a district initiative rather than a countywide one, but that he agreed with Hunter that if the consortium does not move forward, a charter school or private school will step in and offer an IB locally.

Baskett maintained her concern “regarding the lack of proactive commitment to diversity.” She also asserted that she wants to be sure “we are not de-facto keeping kids out with the Euro-centric curriculum.” Still, she agreed that joining the IB consortium was worth the risks and would be a good addition to the many paths to high school graduation currently offered by AAPS.

Irene Patalan said simply that she was in support of offering the best education possible in all different forms. She said that she agrees that the location could influence people, but that there is a need for the IB program, and that she believes it will be successful.

Glenn Nelson joked that “since there are different kinds of yes votes for this proposal,” he wanted to be clear that his vote was a “very enthusiastic yes.” He stated that he believes the IB program will consider moving to the county because of this school, and conceded, “Sure there are risks. Life is a sequence of risk analyses, … but I think this is exciting.”

Simone Lightfoot concurred with Nelson, saying that she was also enthusiastic. Regarding the location, she argued, “There has always been a challenge when crossing Carpenter Road, and the economic times are forcing us to think outside the box and make some connections.” [Carpenter Road is typically used to indicate a demarcation line between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.]

Outcome: Approval of the IB consortium was originally on the board’s consent agenda, but was pulled out for separate consideration by Patalan. In a roll call vote, a motion to join the IB consortium passed unanimously.

Consent Agenda

With the IB consortium approval pulled out for separate consideration from the consent agenda, the only second briefing item left on it was approval of the contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates (PTA) for a portion of the district’s special education services. Robert Allen reported that some information had been added to the meeting’s board packet to clarify why this year’s contract contains some lower costs compared to the previous year. Elaine Brown, AAPS assistant superintendent of student intervention and support services, explained that the decrease in occupational therapy costs was due to the fact that PTA would be servicing AAPS fewer hours over the same number of weeks.

Outcome: In addition to the PTA contract, the consent agenda included a series of minutes approvals and gift offers. It passed unanimously.

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 Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard reports from the BPSSG, the AAPAC and the PTOC.

Association Reports: Black Parents Student Support Group

Sylvia Nesmith reported for the BPSSG, which met on Sept. 27. Nesmith said they had hosted Mark Thatcher from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who reported on how history affects discipline in our schools, and how that can affect student achievement. She also noted that the BPSSG held a tailgate promotion at the Huron/Pioneer game, and invited parents to sign up. It was a test, she said, and was successful. Lastly, Nesmith noted that the BPSSG will be hosting a superintendent search forum at the Second Baptist Church in fellowship hall in lieu of their next regular meeting. She thanked AAPS for their support, and continued collaboration.

Association Reports: Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education

Lauren Roland gave the report for the AAPAC. She said they met on Oct. 4, and heard an update on the superintendent search process. Roland noted that the AAPAC is pleased to hear that Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, the district’s new deputy superintendent of instruction, will attend Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) meetings in order to increase collaboration between special education and general education. AAPAC is also interested in expanding adaptive physical education and positive behavior support to all schools, and plans to hold three workshops for parents throughout the year, including one on IEP/5o4 plans, and one on the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES). The PAES program simultaneously provides for assessment, training and exploration in basic vocational, money management, and proper work behaviors within the context of a comprehensive curriculum.

Association Reports: Parent-Teacher-Organization Council

Martine Perreault reported for the PTOC. She plugged the association’s third annual launch party, which will take place on Monday, Oct. 18. The launch party is not open to the public, but every PTO and PTSO officer throughout the district is invited to attend. This year’s theme is “What can your administration do for you?” Perreault asked any PTO/PTSO officer who had not already received an invitation to feel free to attend.

Board Committee Reports

The board’s two standing committees were just reconfigured at the last board meeting, and the new chairs gave their first reports to the full board at last week’s meeting. Christine Stead, Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan sit on the planning committee, and Glenn Nelson, Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas sit on the performance committee. Board president Deb Mexicotte does not sit on either committee.

Performance Committee

Nelson, as the newly appointed chair of the performance committee, reported that they met on Oct. 12. The two main agenda items at their meeting were receiving an update on the AAPS preschool and family center, and upcoming changes to the district’s teacher evaluation system.

The preschool serves over 400 students, Nelson said. Highlighting the wait list of approximately 70 children for the preschool’s Head Start program, he noted that even with the grant support brought in by preschool staff, the program is not able to serve all the children who are eligible and who would benefit from it. Nelson reported that preschool staff is concerned about maintaining sufficient funding, and outgrowing available space.

Regarding the teacher evaluation system, Nelson said the main question is how elements will be added to the system to bring it in line with new legislation requiring that measures of student growth be part of evaluating teachers’ work. Teacher evaluation will be discussed again at the committee’s next meeting on Nov. 16 at 9 a.m. at the Balas administration building.

Planning Committee

Stead began her first report on the planning committee by thanking Patalan for being an excellent role model as committee chair. The two main items they covered at their meeting on Oct. 1, Stead said, were a review of the lab schools program, and agenda planning for the year. She praised the lab school as an excellent opportunity to partner with the University of Michigan, and invited the public to the next planning committee meeting on Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. at the Balas administration building.

Superintendent’s Report

Robert Allen began his first report to the board as interim superintendent by thanking the trustees and the school community for their welcome and support of him during his first few days on the job. Allen also thanked former superintendent Todd Roberts for his extraordinary leadership, and wished him success.

Allen remarked on various successes experienced by individual AAPS schools and by the district as a whole. He also announced that AAPS will be performing an emergency management drill on Saturday, Oct. 23, and that 175 volunteers are needed for the event. To volunteer, he said, people can contact AAPS director of communications, Liz Margolis at margolis@aaps.k12.mi.us or 734-994-2236.

Student Reinstatement

In AAPS, a student who has been expelled is able to petition the district’s student discipline committee for reinstatement to the district. The committee holds a reinstatement hearing, and makes a recommendation to the board on whether to allow the student back into the district. Two members of the board – Lightfoot and Stead – sit on this reinstatement panel, along with various district administrators.

At last week’s meeting, the board considered a recommendation from the student discipline committee not to reinstate a student, referred to as “Student A.” Stead moved that the board not reinstate “Student A,” but that it allow an assessment of what programs would best suit the student so that she/he could progress academically.

The only discussion came from Lightfoot, who said she wanted to be certain that the district made it very clear to the student’s family what the student would need to do to return to the district in the future, and that all possible resources are provided to the student to aid his/her learning in the meantime. Mexicotte clarified that “Student A” would be allowed to petition the district for reinstatement again on Aug. 1, 2011.

Outcome: The motion not to reinstate “Student A” passed unanimously.

Agenda Planning

Stead suggested that the board should consider a resolution against charter schools being introduced in areas where high-performing schools already exist. She also advocated for developing a process to review local charter schools.

Items from the Board

Thomas reported that Mitchell elementary will be starting a kindergarten reading club in November. He also noted that this program will be made possible by a grant from the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund, which Thomas started to honor his late wife.

Nelson gave a “shout out” to the Washtenaw Literacy project for the good work they do.

Patalan thanked Slauson Middle School for a chance to address a delegation from Hikone, Japan.  She also noted “how nice it is to see [Robert Allen] at end of the table.”

Baskett announced that the Freedom Fund dinner is coming up, and reminded her colleagues that board members’ attendance will be supported by the district. The Freedom Fund dinner is sponsored by the local branch of the NAACP, and recognizes students who have earned a respectable GPA. Baskett noted that this year’s speaker will be Keith Owens.

Mexicotte offered three items. First, she said she was “trying to model good behavior” by reporting on her attendance at the transportation committee meeting (TSC), and encouraged other board members to report on their participation on community committees during future board meetings. The TSC, Mexicotte said, is looking at ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements, changing the lighting in Skyline’s parking lot, and other issues.

Secondly, Mexicotte said she was struck by an idea during Nelson’s earlier update on the district’s preschool. Noting the success of the AAPS preschool, and the prioritization of early childhood education by U.S. Dept. of Education secretary Arne Duncan, Mexicotte mused that perhaps the AAPS preschool would be able to secure additional funding as a model early childhood center if the center were highlighted to state representatives.

Finally, Mexicotte spoke directly to her colleagues on the board of education in Saline regarding their decision not to add a clause to their anti-discrimination policy to add protection for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) students, staff, and parents. Saying that she understood they had wrestled with the issue, Mexicotte called on Saline’s school board to bring the issue back for further review. “There is a heightened risk to students who are LGBTQ students just like there is to female students, minority students, and any other students who have come late to the table of full civil rights. I think if [the Saline school board] brings this forward after some reflection, they will get to a place where their students, staff, and parents can be supported.”

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

Next regular meeting: Oct. 27, 2010, 7 p.m., at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. October 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm | permalink

    I attended an IB school, though my graduating class was under 100, not the 600 the consortium says they need.

    Regarding Baskett’s concern that, “we are not de-facto keeping kids out with the Euro-centric curriculum,” I found the curriculum to be very global. I especially saw this in the English course, which included a required section on literature in translation, and the works selected included those by authors of color.

  2. By jcp2
    October 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm | permalink

    I also attended an IB school in Canada that was just a subset of classes within a larger high school. I think there were about 28-30 students in each IB class, with 2/3′s of them taking enough classes for the whole diploma and 1/3 taking only a selected portion of the class offerings. Our entire high school class was about 400 students.