I am the Change. And It's Working.
This election everyone is looking for change in a response to the political crisis at hand. Our crisis in education began a bit before 2016. GOP attacks on public education have been particularly egregious since Governor Snyder took office, with GOP control of all branches of our government in Michigan. We have been weathering concerted attacks on public education since then. I am the change. I have worked hard to figure out how to protect the AAPS in our political reality - with significant changes in our local and regional strategy, programs, and leadership. And it's working.
Our political climate in this country has gotten worse. Education plays a foundational role in the preservation of democracy. Who we elect matters. That has never been more clear and more important than it is today. Education is the first, and last, bastion of democracy. I will continue to create an inclusive environment and a civil leadership culture.
When we were first weathering the storm of undermining and underfunding public education, we had some hard choices to make. Five years ago, we doubled-down on our commitment to students and to local strategies to preserve the kind of public education that our community expects and deserves. Here are a few signs of those strategies at work:
- In 2015, our Board of Education won the Kennedy Center and National School Board Association Award for our commitment to the Arts (at a time when many districts in our state were cutting arts and extracurricular programs);
- In 2017, through funds our community approved, we replaced 5,000 instruments across our school district;
- Each year, for the past three years in a row, we have been able to improve the salaries and benefits of all staff in our school district which I hope to be able to continue;
- Our teachers average salary is $78,545 in 2017-18, which is an important reflection on how much we value our teachers, how hard we have been fighting to manage our finances and invest in our teachers and staff, and the truth in the adage 'you get what you pay for' - and we want the best;
- We have launched 7 new programs over the past five years; all of which are implemented and benefiting students each and every day including: more world languages, PLTW throughout all 32 K12 schools in our district, the 2nd K12 IB school in the State, a comprehensive STEAM-based program that is now known as A2 Steam at Northside;
- Our students have opportunities to travel the world and the nation through our robust extracurricular programs that create a strong whole student experience;
- Our suspension rates have dropped significantly;
- We have added social and emotional supports across our secondary schools programs, including social workers, counselors, and other professionals;
- We are well-positioned to achieve 3rd grade reading performance so that no child suffers from ill-effects that automatic retention brings, thanks to the 3rd grade reading law;
- We have been able to improve our financial strength through a variety of strategies and we will continue to position AAPS for long-term financial stability;
- We have crafted policies to keep guns out of schools and our policies have been upheld by the State Supreme Court;
- We have grown by over 1,200 students over the past four years - no other district in Michigan has achieved the same.
Discussing our gun policies that I helped develop and recent efforts to improve social and emotional supports in schools to create a safer environment. Leaders Connect event with Elizabeth Moje, Dean, UM School of Education; Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools; Jeanice Swift, Superintendent, Ann Arbor Public Schools; and Rob Pasick, Professor at UM Ross School of Business and Host of the Event. Photo, courtesy of Leaders Connect.
Keeping Guns Out of Schools
A moment to celebrate: in 2015, we wrote policies to create a gun and dangerous weapons-free zone in the AAPS. On Friday, July 27th, after three years of fighting to keep our policies in court, the Supreme Court sided with us - allowing us to keep our policies in place! My statement, and Dr. Swift's can be found here. As I state then, this is a huge win for children and local governance. We don't believe guns belong in schools in Ann Arbor. We have a lot of data to support this position - and we know it's not the entire answer, but it's part of it! At the same time, there are three bills that I now anticipate the legislature will move forward with, as they specifically targeted the policies that I, and my BOE colleagues of 2015, wrote. We will be prepared for Phase 2 of keeping our schools safe. A big part of the work of the board involves being very aware of bills and policies that affect our public schools, and advocating for our schools to help shape better laws. I remain committed to that work!