AAPS Superintendent Search Nears End

Also: Stone High School requests new name

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Jan. 26, 2011): At last week’s meeting of the AAPS school board, trustees discussed changing the name of Stone High School in order to update the school’s public image.

As the result of a lengthy process with the school’s stakeholders, Stone principal Sheila Brown has suggested “Ann Arbor Technical High School” as the new name. Board members suggested replacing the word “Technical” with “Technological,” and Brown was open to that idea. The final decision on Stone’s re-imaging will be made at the next regular board meeting, on Feb. 9.

Board president Deb Mexicotte also outlined the remaining steps involved in choosing a new AAPS superintendent, a process that’s expected to conclude by late February or early March. District residents will be invited to participate in the candidate interview process during the week of Feb. 28.

The board meeting also included an update on a partnership between AAPS and the University of Michigan Depression Center, as well as the unveiling of School of the Year and Teacher of the Year awards from the University Musical Society.

Stone High School Re-imaging

Interim AAPS superintendent Robert Allen described to the board how both board committees had reviewed the proposal to change the name of Stone High School. Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent for secondary education, added that Stone had followed an extensive process, including site visits at other alternative schools, in order to come up with a new name.

Stone: Proposed New Name, Colors, and Mascot

Stone principal Sheila Brown then explained that the process of working to re-image Stone High School led to a recognition of the school’s emphasis on technology. She said a name change to Ann Arbor Technical High School would lead the way toward highlighting the school’s commitment to using technology, such as: credit recovery classes, the Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw program, the Options Magnet program, and the toddler tech program in their childcare setting, each of which has a strong online component.

Brown continued by saying that the principal’s advisory team approved the colors black and gold, and that students school-wide voted on a new mascot and chose the Knights. She then introduced Stone student Olivia Fisher to talk about the proposed changes.

Fisher argued that Stone changing its name would mean that other schools will stop looking down on the students there. She spoke of how she was led to Stone, and how her first impression was very positive, which was different from the school’s reputation. “All I heard before I went were the bad things, like ‘Stone is a place for stoners,’” Fisher said. “But when I got there, all I saw were loving teachers, a loving principal, a lot of technology, and new computers.” She added that a name change would help colleges to know what makes Stone special, and closed by saying that “This name change means a lot to everybody.”

Brown suggested that should the board approve the name change, her advisory team – as well as parents and staff – would like to host a celebration in the fall. She then invited questions from the board.

Stone: Board Response and Questions

In response to a suggestion from Allen, Brown reviewed the process of site visits she and her team had used to re-imagine Stone. She described how other alternative schools had students taking a larger and larger percentage of their high school classes on college campuses, and how that might be something to try at Stone. Students who don’t want to attend college can be advised toward vocational training, Brown added.

Trustee Christine Stead asked how students would be made to feel at home at Stone when they are also being asked to handle the responsibilities of a college setting at a young age. Brown responded that the models for this kind of learning provide classes at a student’s home school in the first years of high school, then gradually add classes at a college campus. She stressed that other campuses, whatever they may be, would need to commit to a joint program with Stone, and take responsibility and accountability for working with younger students.

Trustee Susan Baskett suggested that including the word “Technical” in the new name implies more of a hands-on vocational setting, and asked if Brown would consider instead stressing technology in the name. Mexicotte supported the idea, saying that Stone is so much more than vocational training, and asked if Brown would consider the word “Technological.” She noted that the school can still be referred to as A2Tech, and even shortened to A2T. Either way, Mexicotte said, she is supportive of a name change.

Brown was open to the suggestion of swapping “Technological” for”Technical,” and said she would report the idea back to her stakeholders.  She did not think that most students associated the word “technical” with vocational training. Fisher added that it depends who the name should appeal to – parents or students.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot responded that she was in support of a name change along the lines of the suggestions by Baskett and Mexicotte, and argued that, “As adults, we have a responsibility to see things that kids can’t see.” She thanked Brown for being open to a small twist on the name.

Calling Stone “a gem in our system,” Glenn Nelson added his support to moving forward with a name change. He said Stone High School graduation ceremonies are a real celebration, and that it’s an institution that has reached out and wrapped its arms around students who have run into problems but are now willing to work for a high school education.

Brown agreed, saying that Stone students are special, turnaround kids, and that it’s important for Stone to maintain its sense of purpose during the re-imaging. “We have no intention of losing that foundation of why Stone is there and who our population is,” she asserted.

Trustee Irene Patalan reminded the board that the Stone High School building “has had an interesting life that a lot of our buildings couldn’t touch.” She said she appreciates the mindfulness that went into this proposal, and expressed support for the process of re-imaging. “This is affirming,” Patalan said. “We want to be stronger and better than who we are now.”

Mexicotte concluded the discussion by saying it was inspiring to feel this new name developing. Brown announced that now that the mascot has been unveiled, students would have until March 4 to submit graphic arts representations of the Knights. Mexicotte suggested that the logo should include the acronym A2T.

Outcome: This was the first briefing on the Stone High School re-imaging and name change. This proposal will return to the next regular meeting, on Feb. 9, for a second briefing and a vote.

Superintendent Search Update

Mexicotte reported that the postmark deadline for submitting applications was Jan. 25, and that the search firm, Ray & Associates, had received 45 completed applications so far and was expecting a few more. She explained that the consultants are currently doing background checks and taking a deep look at the applicants, and that they are pleased with the diversity of the applicant pool. She also reported that Ray & Associates said the pool is a little better than the firm has been experiencing recently due to the economic downturn.

Mexicotte then outlined the remaining steps in the process leading to the selection of a new AAPS superintendent.

  • On Feb. 9, the board will meet in closed session in the afternoon to receive the search firm’s recommendation on a short-list of candidates, and to narrow that short-list to a list of approximately five semi-finalists, which will be shared publicly at the regular board meeting that evening.
  • Following the closed session on Feb 9, the board will determine the interview questions to be asked of each semi-finalist, which will then be shared at the regular, 7 pm meeting on that day.
  • During the week of Feb. 14, the board will hold open interviews with each semifinalist, and will narrow down the list of candidates to two or three finalists.
  • During the week of Feb. 21, the board will conduct site visits at the finalists’ workplaces, which Mexicotte described as “a reference check on steroids,” and an excellent way to get a snapshot of where candidates are coming from.
  • During the week of Feb. 28, each of the finalists will be brought back for a short, open interview with the board, as well as an interview with the community. The community will be asked to evaluate the finalists, and that information will be immediately reviewed by the board. The board will then move forward with choosing a final candidate with whom to enter into negotiations regarding salary, benefits, and specific start date.

Mexicotte added that the board has to make sure they have laid good groundwork and done their due diligence at each decision point. She also noted that the board is committed to taking good care of the candidates.

AAPS-UM Depression Center Partnership

Representatives from the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC) attended the meeting to highlight some of the center’s accomplishments in working with AAPS staff, and to outline the next steps they will be taking.

Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent for secondary education, opened the presentation by giving an overview on the UMDC. She explained the overall goals of the program as providing depression awareness and suicide prevention education and support for frontline personnel, while ensuring sustainability of the programs by using a train-the-trainer model.

Program Update from UMDC

Anne Kramer, a social worker at the UMDC, explained that 15% of teens have had depression by late adolescence. A small minority – only about one-third, she said – get the help and treatment they need. Therefore, Kramer suggested, it becomes the responsibility of those around them to respond to the risk.

Kramer reviewed the training programs that are part of the UMDC-AAPS partnership, including a Depression 101 overview, suicide alertness training, and suicide intervention training. She made it clear that regular school staff members are not expected to come out of the training as mental health professionals.

Trish Meyer, the center’s program manager for outreach, provided the board with a rundown of the organization’s four-year history. Meyer said the program started in 2007, teaching AAPS staff members the basic skills needed to assist in suicide prevention and making education on more advanced techniques available as well. From there, Meyer said the program increased its influence in the district, working with staff, administrators and students. This was accomplished through training sessions and public forums to raise awareness about the issue.

In the fall of 2009, the center launched a peer-to-peer support program, educating high school students on how they can identify signs of depression and connect individuals with the support they need. “We all know that teens are more likely to listen to their friends than a group of well-meaning adults,” Meyer said.

This past year, the center has continued to work in local schools, providing training for all staff members in the three comprehensive high schools. The center also continued with the second year of its peer-to-peer program. The new year saw students attend a conference to learn more about raising depression awareness. These students then worked with the center and school administrators to develop their own campaigns.

Meyer mentioned Skyline High School as one example. Students hosted an educational assembly, wrote letters to someone who helped them in their lives, and distributed bracelets with the slogan “stigma hurts, awareness helps.”

Looking ahead, Meyer said the center is looking to expand its programs with additional sources of funding. The group has already received $25,000 from the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research and is looking for more from sources, such as fundraising events held by the center and individual donations.

John Greden, the center’s executive director and a physician, spoke about how important the partnership between the university and the district is. “In academia, many people say ‘publish or perish,’ and I believe ‘partner or perish,’ is something we all need to do,” Greden said. “About 85% of suicides in America are linked with clinical depression. Our focus is prevention; we need to find these things earlier.”

UMDC: Board Response and Questions

After finishing the presentation, Greden and the other UMDC representatives fielded questions from the board.

Hunter, as well as multiple board members, expressed appreciation for the UMDC partnership, and thanked the UMDC representatives for their hard work.

Trustee Glenn Nelson asked Greden about support options for the families of those affected by depression. “Depression affects everyone in the family – that’s part of the reason this has been a community effort,” Greden said. “Our job is working with you to avoid problems and protect families.” Greden suggested that the UMDC could offer an informative community program or series on the “mysterious adolescent brain.”

Lightfoot asked about depression occurring earlier than the peak ages of 15-24 identified in the presentation, and also asked if there were ways for parents to access the program directly. “The peak ages are 15-24, but you also see (it trickling in) even during infancy,” Greden said. “Untreated, these things hang around, so our goal is to find them.” Regarding parent access to resources, Greden allowed that even though help is out there, it can be hard to find needed services.

Baskett was curious about how unique the partnership between the university and the district is. Greden said that, while many other centers in the state and nation were trying to do the same thing, he felt they were pretty early in the process. “I think this community is, in some ways, setting a prototype,” he said.

Mexicotte closed the question session by asking whether specific groups or stressors received more attention during training. “It’s important for our staff to know the range of stressors,” she said. “It’s important to speak to and acknowledge them to ensure that we’re not overlooking a student that might otherwise be helped.” Meyer said that the training sessions emphasize including perspectives from all kinds of individuals.

Graduation Requirements Policy Review

Nelson presented an update of Board Policy 6100, crafted by the board’s performance committee, which would bring it in line with current practice regarding setting graduation requirements. He explained that the proper process is for the board to set the graduation requirements [as specified in Board Policy 5050], and then for the board to direct the superintendent to implement them in Policy 6100.

Baskett proposed a friendly amendment to reference retention as well as promotion in the policy, which Nelson accepted.

Outcome: A second briefing and vote on this policy review will occur at the board’s next regular meeting, on Feb. 9.

Board Actions

There were no second briefing items at this meeting, and a brief consent agenda including minutes approvals and gift offers was approved unanimously, in addition to two items: insurance premiums and expense reimbursements.

Actions: Approval of Insurance Premiums

Allen introduced this item by explaining that the administration needs to get board approval for any expenditure over $100,000 and that insurance costs exceed that limit.

Nancy Hoover, AAPS director of finance, added that the AAPS insurance agent, The Hylant Group, gets insurance bids, and that the bids come back just before it’s time to renew the policies, which is why this was scheduled to be approved at one meeting instead of two.

Hoover then pointed out a slight decrease in auto insurance costs due to the district’s bus fleet now being insured by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District as part of the transportation consolidation. In response to a question from Baskett, Hoover noted that the exact terms of the insurance coverage are still being negotiated, and that the final cost may be reduced by up to $10,000 from what administration is requesting.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to grant the interim superintendent or his designee the authority to approve the district’s annual insurance premiums for fiscal year 2010-11.

Actions: Approval of Expense Reimbursements

Outcome: Without discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve expense reimbursements for conference attendance as submitted by trustees Glenn Nelson and Simone Lightfoot.

Board Committee Reports

The 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.

Baord Committee: Performance

Nelson reported that the performance committee discussed the following at its last meeting: the proposal to change the name of Stone High School; the achievement report being drafted by administration; an update on the social and academic climate work going on in the schools; and the district’s equity work.

He then reported that his committee is recommending to administration that the achievement plan’s format be very similar to the strategic plan as laid out on the district’s website – a one-page, printable summary, as well as a multi-page document with more information and links to the many programs in AAPS that are directed toward achievement.

Nelson noted that the district will be conducting social climate surveys in the middle and high schools to complement the high school surveys that were recently completed. Regarding the district’s equity work, he noted that an upcoming study session will be dedicated to examining whether or not what the district is doing now is exactly what it should be doing a year or two from now.

Board Committee: Planning

Stead reported that her committee reviewed the need for the district school improvement team (SIT), and how it would be useful to have an executive summary of this work as a way of enhancing communication with the community.

Like the performance committee, planning also looked at the Stone High School name change proposal, and asked a lot of questions, reported Stead. She complimented AAPS assistant superintendent of secondary education, Joyce Hunter, and Stone High School principal Sheila Brown for the process they followed in selecting a new name.

Stead also reported that her committee’s task force on education legislation had met with one representative and has scheduled other meetings. In addition, the reform principles approved by the board in December are continuing to be circulated to other districts in the state.

Regarding the special education millage coming up in May, the planning committee reviewed the kind of information they would like to have compiled in order to translate what the millage will mean for AAPS in terms of the upcoming budget. Stead noted that the timing of the millage is fiscally responsible, as the outcome will be known before each local district has to finalize its 2011-12 budget.

Stead announced an upcoming mixer being hosted by one of the district’s larger contractors, Johnson Controls, at which local historically underutilized businesses will have a chance to meet with other district contractors and AAPS facilities staff.

Mexicotte commented on the committee reports offered at this meeting, saying that she really appreciates all the hard work being done in the board committees, as a lot of work is coming up in the next couple of months.

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 this meeting, the board heard from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the PTOC.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Priya Menon, a junior senator at Skyline High School, spoke for the youth senate. Menon touched on Skyline’s trimester system and a survey conducted by the youth senate on voting age. She stated that the scheduling system causes problems when it comes to scheduling of advanced placement classes, dual enrollment or split schedules. “Overall, the trimester system, like school itself, is bittersweet with both its assets and flaws,” she said.

Menon then moved to the voting age survey. The youth senate had surveyed students at Pioneer and Huron high school on topics related to lowering the voting age. The study found that, while a majority of students felt that their peers did not understand the power of voting, most of them would vote if they were allowed. “There should be more of an emphasis put on the power of voting in the educational curriculum, especially for the freshman and sophomore classes,” Menon suggested.

Association Reports: Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education

Maria Huffman of AAPAC addressed the board on the progress made by her two special needs children, and thanked all staff members involved with her children. “All beginnings are hard until trust in a new system structure is established,” she said. “Change is hard but good.”

Huffman outlined the format of the district’s upcoming disability workshops, explaining that they are an opportunity for 4th graders to gain insight into the lives of those with disabilities, and help to build students’ empathy. She added that parent volunteers are still needed for some sessions.

Finally, Huffman thanked SISS (student intervention and support services) staff for researching options for a young adults program, and noted that such a program would have a lot of parent and community support.

Association Reports: Parent-Teacher-Organization Council

Amy Pachera updated the trustees on a brainstorming meeting hosted by the PTOC, which was attended by nine AAPS schools on Monday, Jan. 24. The meeting allowed schools to share ideas on the topic of enrichment. “It was a great evening of collaboration, a great evening for schools to see what other schools are doing,” Pachera said. She also announced that the PTOC would be hosting a similar meeting on March 21 to discuss fundraising ideas.

Pachera encouraged all PTOs to take advantage of officer training on Feb. 8 and treasurer training on Feb. 10, coordinated by the PTOC and facilitated by the NEW Center.

She also announced that the PTOC is still looking for a recording secretary and a corresponding secretary, and encouraged any interested PTO member to contact Martine Perreault to volunteer.

University Musical Society (UMS) Awards

The meeting featured a special presentation honoring recipients of the University Musical Society‘s school of the year and educator of the year.

Claire Rice, UMS interim director of education and community engagement, was on hand to present the awards, which recognized “exemplary work in arts education and work with the UMS program.”

UMS: School of the Year

Rice honored Angell Elementary School as the program’s school of the year. Gary Court, Angell school principal, and Joan Singer, Angell enrichment coordinator, were at the meeting to express appreciation in receiving the award.

Gary Court, principal of Angell

Gary Court, principal of Angell Elementary School, receives the plaque honoring Angell as the UMS school of the year. (Photos by the writer.)

Court mentioned Angell’s commitment to arts programs, such as “Opera for Fourth Graders,” as one of the school’s points of pride. He also noted that receiving this award will motivate Angell to continue its work with UMS.

Singer added that the school’s longstanding relationship with UMS has been extremely beneficial for students. “Angell elementary has a longstanding history of pretty intense collaboration with UMS,” she said. “This will motivate us to continue to promote beauty and art through drama and music.”

UMS: Educator of the Year

Joey Parins, the director of student development at Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, was honored as the UMS educator of the year. Parins, who was honored for her efforts taking her students to UMS performances, thanked everyone from the UMS to her children to her students. “Ann Arbor Public Schools is truly fortunate to have UMS,” she said. “The performances have such an impact on the students.”

Joey Parins

Joey Parins, UMS teacher of the year.

AAPS fine arts coordinator Robin Bailey thanked Rice specifically for her work on the UMS-AAPS partnership, and mentioned that in addition to the many benefits for students, UMS has also offered “fabulously diverse” teacher workshops.

Multiple trustees also expressed appreciation of what UMS had to offer. Nelson felt that the district’s partnership with UMS provided skills that some may undervalue. “Things like perseverance, doing one’s best and working with others, all those skills are as important as arithmetic and writing when you’re an adult,” Nelson said. “This is not just an added-on thing that’s nice to have.”

Trustee Andy Thomas added that he felt the program’s affect had an impact on the district as a whole. “We are fortunate for strong arts and music at all levels of Ann Arbor Public Schools,” he said.

Michigan School Principals Week

Interim superintendent Robert Allen read a resolution passed by the Michigan State Board of Education, which names Feb. 14-18 as Michigan School Principals Week. The resolution seeks to “raise awareness of the valuable contribution of principals,” and asserts that principals are essential to learning, that they serve as a liaison to the community, and that expectations for principal leadership have increased in the 21st century.

Allen noted that he wanted to read the resolution at this meeting in order to “give everyone some time to think of wonderful ways to honor our principals.”

Superintendent’s Report

Allen had a number of accomplishments to share with the board.

He began by announcing that Skyline High School principal Sulura Jackson had been named high school principal of the year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. Jackson will be formally recognized at the Feb. 9 school board meeting.

Allen’s report also highlighted the success of some schools in the Solo and Ensemble and DECA competitions, and charity work completed by students at a number of schools.

He also thanked Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications, and Pioneer High School administrators for coordinating a recent visit to AAPS from Peter Cunningham, the assistant to the U.S. secretary of education. Cunningham met with teachers and administrators at Pioneer before answering questions from a government class. “I was there for the question-and-answer session, and our students did a wonderful job asking pertinent questions,” Allen said.

Public Commentary

Mandy Koons, a junior at the University of Michigan, invited the board and community to attend a benefit gala for UM’s Dance Marathon, a campus group that pairs teams of college students with families with disabilities to provide physical therapies such as tree climbing and dance classes, and raises funds for children’s rehabilitation. In response to trustees’ questions, Koons announced that tickets are $65, and the gala will take place on Feb. 11. She invited the public to view the group’s website at www.dmum.org for more information.

District School Improvement Team

The state of Michigan requires that each district convene a district-wide school improvement team (SIT) made up of members of all levels and parts of the organization. Each individual school is also required to have a SIT, which reports its activities to the state as well.

Lee-Ann Dickinson-Kelley, AAPS interim deputy superintendent for instruction, spoke briefly about the district SIT process, and requested that two board members be appointed to participate. She explained that the administration has identified four dates on which they will hold one-hour meetings to complete the work of the district SIT, including a self-assessment and other required documents.

Nelson noted that he had been on the district SIT when he was first working with the board, and that he found it very useful for learning about the district. Mexicotte added that the work of the district SIT is important because the strategic plan needs to be aligned with the district SIT in order to receive funding.

Mexicotte then asked board members who would be interested in serving on the district SIT to contact her soon, and that she would appoint two board members to participate at the next regular meeting.

Agenda Planning

Stead suggested that administration bring back a plan for including revenue enhancement initiatives at one of the March board meetings. She requested a scenario-based model regarding the passage or rejection of the special education millage in May, as well as a multi-year view based on the $1.8 billion deficit in Michigan’s general fund.

Items from the Board

Nelson personally congratulated principal Sulura Jackson on being named Principal of the Year. He also highlighted the partnership between AAPS and The Neutral Zone, a teen center, as another partnership providing great opportunities for students. Finally, Nelson asserted that the wider world is undergoing a “major revelation” that education is the key to well-being, and he challenged the community to maintain its investment in AAPS.

Patalan thanked Nelson for his comments, and added that, “We are all in this together.” She also stated that the quality of public education is a driving force behind people’s decision to come to Ann Arbor.

Baskett asserted that AAPS was a wonderful district and whoever is chosen to be its next superintendent should “feel privileged to be here.” She also acknowledged that the board has received correspondence offering input on the superintendent selection, and she encouraged additional community input. Lastly, she invited the community to visit a school on the second Monday in February, this year’s National African-American Parent Involvement Day.

Lightfoot also congratulated Sulura Jackson, as well as Elaine Brown, AAPS assistant superintendent of student intervention and support services, who received her Ph.D. in mid-December. Lightfoot also argued for the importance of “keeping our eyes open” as the state embarks on a process of congressional redistricting based on the most recent census counts.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice-president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot (who joined the meeting at 7:45 p.m.). Also present as a non-voting member was Robert Allen, AAPS interim superintendent.

Next regular meeting: Feb. 9, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

Eric Anderson, who’s interning with The Chronicle, contributed to this report.