Newport Road Sidewalk – Improving Safe Routes to Schools for Wines/Forsythe/Skyline

For those that missed the public meeting held last night (Jan. 22nd), the city held a public meeting at Forsythe to discuss putting a sidewalk from Wines to Riverwood Drive.

A summary of the meeting agenda and presentation, as well as a feedback form can be found here:

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/project_management/Pages/newport.aspx

Please let the city know of your support.  There currently is not a sidewalk connecting this highly-traveled section of Newport for our students.  Newport Road improvements are scheduled for this summer.  Adding a sidewalk here should coincide with road improvements.

The AAPS is responsible for the sidewalk in front of Wines to the M14 bridge, which can be funded through sinking fund dollars.

Legislative Advocacy: Update

On Monday, January 27th, the Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE) will host a coffee with local legislative leaders to discuss what’s important for public education for this next legislative session.  

While folks had prepared for a discussion on a handful of bills and new changes coming up, I argued for a focus on improving funding.  Without more funding, schools will not be in a position to improve children’s success or enhance supports – all of which require more funding.  Even expansion of GSRP seats does not fully cover the cost of the program – meaning more funding is needed from each school’s general operating budget to expand that program.  

We are not doing our students a service if we dance around the core issue of significantly declining funds with many increased and unfunded mandates.  The political context of having $1B in incremental revenue is equally important.  If state legislators choose not to invest in education when we are emerging from a Recession, that is a competitive disadvantage for the the state of Michigan.  We have lost population as we endured the Great Recession.  If we want to attract businesses here, we need to invest in education to ensure a talented work force exists here AND that employees have a good place for their children to be educated.  These are just a couple benefits to investing in education, but they are relevant to improving our economy.

There has been no significant increase in funding to public schools since Snyder has been in office.  We are no longer in a Great Recession.  We must invest significantly more in education if we want Michigan to be on a different path for its future in every measure that is important: economic growth, employment, home values, student achievement, a healthy population, a safe and fun place to live for every stage of life.  

Our message to our local legislators on Monday will be to focus on adequately funding education as a core concern.  The other bills before them (teacher evaluation, holding students in 3rd grade, pension reform 2.0, etc.) are distractions that aren’t going to vastly improve the classroom environment in the near term.

Tax cuts: If no one has drawn any parallels from George W. Bush’s tax cuts that he implemented in his first term to the current proposed tax cuts, why?  What did we learn from that?  Further, what does international data show about economic health and tax rates?  The Economist, OECD and World Economic Forum study these things a lot.  General findings are that the overall economy suffers when the tax base is too low.  In Michigan, there are many proposals to continue to permanently reduce funds to the SAF and others, while we have many areas that require significant investments in order to catch up from long terms of under-investing (schools, our infrastructure in roads & bridges, healthcare).   

Please contact your legislators and share your priorities with them.  We are at the start of a new legislative session.  Funds are available.  They should continue to be available.  How should they be invested for the best possible benefits to our state?  Education has to be at the top of that list.

Community Engagement & Partnerships: Assessment Advisory Committee, Blue Ribbon Panel, UM Partnership

Anyone interested in engaging in an effort to look more closely at student assessment should consider participating in the Assessment Advisory Committee (details from the AAPS News can be found here, including an application and the commitment requirements: http://news.a2schools.org/assessment-advisory-task-force-now-accepting-applications/).  This will be important work, as student assessment continues to be debated.  There should be a balance with objective, comparative assessment that should be able to enhance learning (including differentiated instruction), ideally that meets state and other requirements, but isn’t ‘taking over’ instruction.

A Blue Ribbon Panel has been in place for this year and continues to meet.  They will hear the Listen & Learn report on Friday, January 24th.  The group is comprised of community leaders, which come from a broad spectrum of organizations.  This group can be an important voice and connection with our broader community.  It is one mechanism, of many, to enhance our partnership with our community.

In addition, the BOE asked for more focused discussions with UM – an organization residing in our city where we share mutual interests in the success of our respective organizations.  We need to work together more closely to ensure success.  EMU and WCC will be important partners as well.

AAPS Board Retreat: New Programs Coming Soon!

Dr. Swift proposed several new initiatives and programs as a result of her Listen & Learn tour.  The AAPS News provided great coverage of this list of programs, which you can find here: http://news.a2schools.org/dr-swift-shares-listen-learn-data-at-boe-retreat/

We essentially gave the green light to pursue these more fully; all of them are anticipated to be in place by Fall 2014.

Key initiatives include establishing a K8 STEAM program at Northside (yes, the A is supposed to be there: Art, which most know is quite important and complimentary to STEM, especially mathematics); the development of an integrated Pathways to Success Campus which will include many programs and supports for students that require more or different assistance; an expanded Early Childhood Education program that includes tuition-based pre-school, expansion of the Young 5′s program and more GSRP seats.    New language programs (including Mandarin, Japanese, etc.) will be introduced at key elementary programs.

There are other initiatives in discussion as well, including looking at our middle schools and introducing IB at elementary and middle school levels.  However, these will likely be implemented later than Fall 2014.

Importantly, the community engagement that began with the Listen & Learn tour will become the foundation and new operating rhythm of our district.

We are working on a new Superintendent evaluation process as well.  I will be working closely with Dr. Swift on this over the next month, and we expect to review potential processes in late February/early March.  Our timeline for this has not changed and is available here:

Superintendent Evaluation Timeline

Our Perspective on the State of the State Address 2014

I was so pleased that Dr. Swift accompanied Jeff Irwin at the State of the State event last Thursday.  In a recent AAPS News article, Dr. Swift provides a much more informed perspective on how districts have experienced education funding.  In a nut shell, the additional funds have NOT gone to children in the classroom and the net impact of the many new unfunded mandates/requirements/policies along with continued reductions in foundation allowance have led to a continued crises.

We need a much more articulate vision at the state level that understands the relationship between education and the economy.  With many bills proposing additional further permanent cuts to state revenue and the SAF, we continue to head in the wrong direction with GOP leadership.  The tax breaks remind me of former President George W. Bush’s tax break – and how well that worked out for every family and then the country as a whole.  Anyone see a parallel here?

Read Dr. Swift’s perspective here: http://news.a2schools.org/aaps-superintendent-education-support-lacking-from-lansing/

As the state emerges from the Great Recession, our children should be invested in to make up for the 13 year recession that Michigan suffered.  If we don’t invest where we need it as our economy recovers, we put ourselves on a permanent path to the bottom.  Pay close attention to the Governor’s budget – due out February 5th.

Looking Ahead: 2014

Much has changed over the past year for the AAPS.  There are positive signs all around us – in our district, community and beyond.  Michigan, and the US, has emerged from a major recession.  Employment is up and the GDP continues to beat expectations.  New buildings continue to go up in Ann Arbor, and other signs point to something better than a strong recovery: a vibrant community.  The New Year’s Eve party last night was fun for our community and its visitors in town for the Winter Classic, which will be another fun event – making Ann Arbor a great place to be!

That feeling is true in the AAPS as well.  Our new Superintendent has worked tirelessly and respectfully to learn about our district, hear from our community and apply her own experience to making needed changes in our district – all in a ‘can do’ manner that is responsive, reflective and positioning AAPS for a very bright future.

Last summer, I published a post: A Vision for the Future: http://k12christinestead.com/tag/aaps-vision-for-the-future/, laying out a path for our future that was both about sustainability and reinvigorating our district, programs and resources to be more competitive in an ever-changing time.

Since then, much on that list has been tackled and will continue to unfold over this next year.  I am as excited as anyone could be about what lies ahead for our district.  Some of those changes include new programs (A2 Virtual+ has already launched and much work is being done in a collaborative manner to identify and implement new programs that resonate with what is needed and wanted by our community).  Our partnerships are only strengthening with companies very interested in strong STEM-related programs.  I expect that to continue and grow this year.

I would be remiss to not acknowledge the mighty difficulties that all traditional public education organizations have incurred under the current legislative leadership.  That is not unique to the AAPS.  But perhaps even that will ease a bit this year, if for no other reason than that this is  an election year and our state revenue projections have continued to exceed projections – despite permanent reductions in some revenue sources.

The AAPS is also showing that we are bringing people together to create a bright future for our students and community.  A new benchmarking tool and an external performance audit, as well as a panel of community stakeholders – all of these are part of that open-ness and willingness to bring people together, improve transparency and communication and put the AAPS on a stronger foundation altogether.

I look forward to 2014.  Detailed findings and plans will emerge over this next month.  This will be a great year for the AAPS and our community.  Looking forward to 2014.

EAA Bill Being Pushed Through Senate This Week

I have written much about why this is an issue for all of us in the past.  We now have a year of bad experience with the EAA to bolster my concerns from last year.  Steve Norton sums it up best on his communication out this morning.  Please visit his site and send a note to your legislators today.  From Steve:

As an experiment, the EAA has been pretty disappointing. Staff turnover has been huge. EAA schools lost over 25% of their enrollment from last year to this. Hundreds of children who had received special education services were suddenly and suspiciously found not to need those (expensive) services. Discipline and student safety have remained hot issues. While EAA officials claim their test scores show huge growth, they use their own tests and no comparative MEAP results are available yet.

If that were not enough, the EAA’s annual audit reported continued problems with their internal procedures to track spending. Analysis of documents extracted from the EAA under several FOIA requests show that EAA officials hardly blew their noses without checking first with officials of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, the group founded by billionaire Eli Broad to further the “corporate school reform” agenda. Most recently, the Dean of the EMU College of Education resigned from the EAA’s board earlier this week.

But in my mind, the most disturbing thing is the sad comment of a student at EAA’s Mumford High School: “I miss having books in our classroom,” he said.

But why should all Michigan parents be concerned about the EAA? After all, it’s only for those “failing” schools, right?

I think there are two important reasons.

  1. If you think this won’t affect you, think again. Expanding the EAA is a central part of a larger effort to undermine local public schools, as we saw one year ago in the frenetic “lame duck” session.
  2. Most importantly, how can any of us stand by while state takeover, untested technology-driven “teaching” methods, and a laser-like focus on test scores are forced onto anybody’s children?

Yes, the bill is much less bad than in its original form: the EAA is limited to taking over 50 schools (including the 15 it currently runs), and its authority to create new charter schools is also limited, though not removed. Strangely, they have insisted on allowing the EAA to charter brand new schools within a 2 mile radius of an EAA takeover school and in a district run by an emergency manager. But just because the proposal is less baddoes not make it good law.

While they were more careful this time, and brought out a stripped down bill to expand the EAA, do not be fooled. They gave us a critical look into their strategy last year when proposals to create a powerful statewide EAA, many new kinds of charter schools, and an “a la carte” school funding system, were all in play at the same time. All those proposals were originally drafted by the same person: Richard McLellan, a long-time Lansing political operative who was the force behind the failed school voucher proposal in 2000. Those proposals are still there, just not out in the open. In fact, Mr. McLellan wrote a memo to House Education chair Rep. Lisa Lyons asking that she not reintroduce the “new forms of charters” bill, but instead try to accomplish the same aims in a piecemeal fashion. They are not giving up.

Why do we still oppose the bill?

  • There are still many provisions in the bill that have nothing to do with helping struggling schools, but put the EAA in a position to take over more schools and/or create new kinds of charter schools. This stuff doesn’t belong.
  • The whole EAA approach is based on the notion that the way to help struggling schools is to take them over and toss out everyone who used to work there. There is no partnership with the local school district (which still has responsibility for other struggling schools), no voice offered to the community, and no role offered to those who have been working in that school and with the children in it. This is not the way to create successful, long term change.
  • The EAA’s technology-driven curriculum, which depends on an online system to deliver “leveled” content to each student, is at best an experiment; EAA officials admitted as much during testimony. There are rules for experiments, none of which this bill follows – most importantly, there needs to be a way to tell if the experiment is doing more harm than good and pulling the plug if necessary. This bill does not even contemplate the notion that the EAA might fail. All it would do is subject kids to a never-ending round of restructuring and experiments.

Do you think this is the way to help schools dealing with the corrosive effects of poverty? Would you want your kids put into this experiment? Let your State Senator know that there are better ways to help struggling schools and still have communities run their own school systems. We can do it without state takeovers, and we can do it without undermining community-governed public education.

 

Please go to MIPFS to send a quick note: http://capwiz.com/miparentsforschools/issues/alert/?alertid=63019831&MC_plugin=4461 

State of the State’s Public Education Efforts

It’s hard to list out all of the absolute craziness that the state has been up to over the past few months, but I will do my best to summarize, starting with the most recent:

  • Today the House Education Committee moved the new rating system (yes – another brand new rating system after their non-sensical color-coded brand new rating system released this Fall; which was right after their brand new ‘Focus School’ system released last Fall) out of committee.  This is a letter grading system, meant to mimic Florida’s.  See Ruth Kraut’s comments on the topic here (especially Okemos’ parents group assessment): http://a2schoolsmuse.blogspot.com/2013/12/today-at-michigan-capitol-will-two.html
  • The House Education Committee is working on a bill that would prohibit 3rd graders that aren’t meeting standardized reading test thresholds from being promoted to fourth grade.  Steve Norton gives a great description of how much sense this bill makes here:
  • Getting all children to read is easy, right?We at MIPFS absolutely believe, as I am sure you do, that we should do all we can to ensure children are able to read – and to understand and evaluate what they read. Steps to catch children who are having trouble should start early. This kind of effort takes smart people and resources for quality programs.The bill now in the House Education committee, HB 5111, doesn’t address any of these things. It’s based on the idea that getting any child to read “proficiently,” no matter what struggles they face, is a simple and clear task. Schools and teachers who don’t accomplish this feat are simply “not doing their jobs.” The answer? Punish kids – and make their parents angry.They’ve softened the bill a bit since it was first introduced, but the basic thrust is still the same. Instead of helping schools serve challenged students, instead of providing the resources schools need to run quality reading programs, the bill proposes simply to hold students back.

  • Rush to solidify the EAA: The Dean of EMU’s School of Education resigned and faculty are protesting the schools continued support (they are the endorsing body that these charters are run through) of the EAA.  Rumblings of lack of support have been in place from the start – partially because of the model and lack of a comprehensive, proven program.  The state hired the leaders of a highly-publicized failed model in Kansas and brought that team here.  In year 2, students are leaving the EAAs and the sponsoring college’s support is eroding quickly.  Our government’s response: we will see them likely pull this out of committee and get to a vote before the wheels come off of the EAA bus.
  • Idiocy in implementing the Common Core: moving toward the Common Core takes a lot of work.  Schools have been preparing for this for years.  Yet, for some time this summer, our government refused to fund any aspect of the common core.  Here is the degree of idiocy: because there were references and resources related to the common core on our state’s Department of Education website, they took the entire site down.  Then they allowed parts of the site to go back up once it had been scrubbed of any reference to the Common Core.
  • Michigan wins the award for having the absolute greatest amount of FOR PROFIT charter schools in the US.  That’s impressive!  But consider this: how does your voice, as a parent advocating for your child, stack up against shareholder value?  This is the ‘choice’ our state government has worked so hard to provide.  With 40% annual turnover in teachers (due to low salary, among other things) and a for profit model, I cannot believe that these are sustainable models that will serve all children the way traditional public schools were meant to.
  • More choice: ‘Virtual Schools’ – ah yes, we needed yet another law helping our kids get what they need.  Soon, it will be required that all 5 – 12 grade students have access to virtual classes.  Yes, AAPS is competing in this space with the launch of the A2Virtual+ Academy, but this model is not intended to serve all kids.  The state’s interest in the law is primarily that it’s cheap.  That’s it.  We are interested in having flexible options for those that need it, without compromising quality.  Keep in mind that the Governor’s daughter’s private school prohibits virtual courses.
  • Funding: less is more, right?  Last February, the Governor’s FY15 budget removed any incentive-based funding for performance and financial best practices.  We will see how this actually plays out.  In addition, the state had $800M more than projected in the last revenue conference.  How much of that went to traditional public schools?

These are your elected state representatives and tax dollars at work.  We talk about being focused on students, but most of the work these folks do related to education do more to erode the system entirely than help one student progress.  Worse, a whole generation of students will have less opportunity, which will impact all of us for many years to come.  We need less state-control; more local control and policies that actually help improve our children’s opportunities.

Sticking with WiHi and ECA

The AAPS BOE voted to continue with the consortium agreement that runs WiHi, ECA and WAY, with the direction to administration to limit our new seats for next year’s class to 40 at WiHi, 35 at ECA and 10 at WAY (primarily for any expelled students since we no longer have COPE as a community resource).

The meeting was interesting.  Scott Menzel, WISD Superintendent that oversees all WISD-related programs, agreed with us that the financial statement we received from David Duggar last week was inaccurate.  He was at least excluding revenue from Medicaid.  More importantly, programs that ought to be cheaper per pupil were shown as more expensive.  There were many other aspects that did not make sense.  While AAPS was going through a lot of leadership changes, WISD never bothered to reach out to us to ensure that we were aware of changes in contract language, etc.  We will need better communication on our part, and theirs, to operate in good faith.

Program sustainability is a concern.  WiHi has yet to cover its expenses and the startup costs were apparently $750,000 (we were led to believe they were $250,000).  We do have concerns about sending our students to programs that are viable.  This program will gain traction, I believe, as it becomes more established.  It is only in year 3.  I do hope it succeeds.

At the same time, more AAPS students will be better served with additional and more comprehensive IB program options in our own facilities, which we will also explore the development of.

ECA is incredibly expensive based on the figures we were shown (that none of us believe).  Here again, our concern is sustainability.  There are options we should pursue regarding dual enrollment that would create similar benefits with more college programs (WCC, UM, others).  We should explore those as well.

The WAY program is particularly concerning, with an expensive operation in a mostly online model; it also is yielding a graduation rate of 11.1%.  90% of the students are not graduating.  We can do better by these students and the work we are embarking on to rejuvenate and reconfigure our at risk education supports and programs should help that.  It is with this context that we wanted to significantly limit our seat allocation for this program.

Enrollment for the programs are in January.  We can close the loop on this for FY15′s budget as soon as we know the enrollment figures.  It is possible that if we are slightly over in one area, we would approve enrollment – as long as we make sure we are budgeting for those seats as well.

Mitchell School Literacy Fund – An Innovative Investment in Our Students

Kevin Karr’s leadership at Mitchell Elementary continues to inspire the kind of change and impact that is having an impact on everything going on there.  Kevin launched the Mitchell School Literacy Fund this week and I wanted to share it with more people so that more of us can participate in helping Kevin and his team have the kind of impact they are striving for at Mitchell Elementary.

Please take a moment to watch their video on summer reading:

http://bit.ly/1h0WFGL

If you can, please donate to their fund:

http://tinyurl.com/mit-lit-fund or find the fund through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation at: https://www.iphiview.com/aaacf/AccountInformation/tabid/495/dispatch/accountselection_id$95507_hash$2323f859f2d6ad00696210772f51bf9f9a10d3f2/Default.aspx

Kevin and his team have established this fund to create a permanent endowment to provide free books and family literacy events.  Last summer, they were able to provide 1300 books to K-2 students in order to help those students and families mitigate against loss of progress over the summer in literacy and reading.  There is no shortage of data linking the importance of maintaining skills over the summer, and the loss in progress for those that are not able to.

I strongly endorse what Kevin is doing.  He has an amazing staff and they are doing amazing things at Mitchell Elementary.  I hope you will take a few moments and be part of having an impact for the Mitchell Elementary community.

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