AAPS BOE Reviews Goals at Annual Retreat

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education retreat (August 19, 2015):

GO Where Meetings Matter:

2:00 PM The Ann Arbor Board of Education resumes session for the 2015-16 school year with its annual retreat. This year, the retreat is held at a new meeting space: GO Where Meetings Matter.

2:10 PM Board President Deb Mexicotte calls the regular meeting to order. All of the trustees are present, except for trustee Andy Thomas . He walks in just as the board votes to move into an Executive session for client/attorney privilege. The vote is unanimous. Doors are shut and the board is in executive session.

3:04 PM Mexicotte came out to say they were running a little over their anticipated time in executive session.

3: 47 PM The doors are open. The executive session has ended, and the trustees are taking a brief recess.

Vice President Christine Stead

4:04 PM Vice President Christine Stead presents the retreat agenda. She thanks everyone for sending in agenda items for her to include. Asks for any additions to the agenda. Review of 2015 Board Goals (not necessarily how board operates, but district goals). Enrollment targets, initiatives. Looking at benchmarking study by Plante Moran on district enrollment, size, etc. 2016 goals.

AGENDA draft:

  • Review of 2015 BOE Goals
    • Enrollment targets
    • New programs and initiatives
    • Review of progress vs. Plante Moran operational assessment
  • Development of 2016 Goals
    • BOE
    • Superintendent, AAPS
      • AAPS Financial Sustainability (moving past growth strategy, partners needed, revenue and fund equity requirements)
      • Competitive, relevant programs across AAPS
  • BOE Operations
    • Meeting structure, time management, location(s), starting and ending times
    • Policies and participation (report out from groups, public commentary)
    • Committee review and sharing of reports across BOE
    • Timing for sending review material to BOE prior to meetings
  • Community relations
  • Rebuilding relationships with teachers, key stakeholders
  • Major BOE Reports, calendar/timing
    • Achievement data: AAPS vs state and federal mandates
  • Superintendent Evaluation Timeline, Tools, Process

4:06 PM Set some goals for 2016 year. Also look at operational goals (how board functions). Thomas yells “Change the agenda,” harkening back to the last board meeting that was ended prematurely.

4:07 PM Also will look at community relations, rebuilding trust and relationships with key stakeholders. Also looking at calendar, financial reports. Superintendent eval. Major milestones to put on the calendar.

4:09 PM Regarding community relations, Susan Baskett asks if they could revisit the idea of school liaisons, where each board member would be assigned to a school.

4:10 PM Trustee Simone Lightfoot asked to make sure Rising Scholars and summer school were included in the review of new/key programs.

4:12 PM Mexicotte asked that student voice be something that they speak about. Maybe coordinating with superintendent’s student advisory. Form a “think tank” of sorts, where the students work on projects during the year.

4:14 PM Superintendent Jeanice Swift : all of the 2012 Focus Schools within the district have been released of that status due to two things: the gap between the top 30% and the bottom 30% has narrowed, and the bottom 30% has improved their performance to at or above state levels of achievement. Will be announced in the near future. Two schools remain as Focus Schools (not part of the 2012 Focus School Cohort). While a great celebration, “no one is declaring race won.”

4:16 PM Enrollment: Swift reviews enrollment data (MDE data). Increase in non-resident enrollment. Trustee Donna Lasinski clarifies that this data shows non-resident enrollment (Schools of Choice students) only. Swift says not expecting the percentage of Schools of Choice students to increase, because the overall enrollment numbers are going up. Mexicotte says the raw numbers will go up, but the percentage will not.

4:21 PM Lightfoot says she’s surprised by the raw numbers of Schools of Choice students. A little over 4% of AAPS students are Schools of Choice.

4:24 PM Thomas clarifies the district is gaining more from Saline than they are losing, “putting that urban legend to bed.” Lasinski notes that there is a young adult special education program at Saline that would be a draw for some district families.

4:27 PM Lightfoot wonders about School of Choice transfers from Whitmore Lake. Based on the failed annexation, Lightfoot asks if AAPS has seen any significant increase in enrollment from Whitmore Lake students. Mexicotte replied that until the Whitmore Lake district is dissolved, she does not imagine any significant change in enrollment would occur.

4:29 PM Swift says they need to look closer at development within the district boundaries, which could affect district enrollment and facilities. Lightfoot brings up that they will need to look at transportation contract. Looking at partnership with city to help cover transportation costs, as the city approves more development. Need to talk about how to partner together and share the cost. Mexicotte points out that more students=additional money from foundation allowance.

4:32 PM Swift says that the district has intentionally kept schools within the beltway of the city but they will need to consider building on the outskirts, as district enrollment grows. Swift says she’s excited to discuss adding to current facilities or possibly build new.

4:36 PM Swift discusses the core values. Three legs of the stool: community engagement, student achievement, and stabilizing the fiscal strength of the district. Adding to those three: building leadership capacity and ensuring there is a strong leader in every school building and in every district position, and focusing on “care.” Launching fall theme: We Care.

4:39 PM Stead notes that they are discussing both 2015 and 2016 goals.

4:40 PM Student Achievement: Swift breaks down all three tiers of support. Tier I: every day, every student received quality instruction. Should be 80% or more of students. Tier II: Targeted intervention for students who are functioning at 1-2 grades below. 15-17% of students. Tier III: Intensive intervention. About 1-3% of student population.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift illustrates the pyramid of tiered instruction
Superintendent Jeanice Swift illustrates the pyramid of tiered instruction

4:44 PM Thomas asks how the tiers worked if schools had a different breakdown of tier percentages, if there are students that have greater need, using Mitchell Elementary as an example. Swift says that at Mitchell, “it’s a whole school intensive” situation. Title I funds and partnerships with UofM have allowed for more intensive help, smaller groups for learning.

4:50 PM Trustee Patricia Manley points out that there needs to be good teams in place in order to provide the intervention. Swift says that what’s changed is that every school has designed a tiered plan. Previously, schools used to have to figure it out each time faced with a student who needed the support. Now schools have plans in place. Baskett says that the culture has changed to where now educators feel it’s okay to say the student isn’t learning and can formulate a plan. When the district has concentrated on a specific area, such as when they focused on literacy, they have made significant strides. Baskett says now she’s pushing for math.

4:54 PM Middle School Program Improvements: Lightfoot notes that the middle school program needs to be focused on. Mexicotte said that the myth of the exodus of families during middle school does not exist. The data does not show a significant amount of students who leave during middle school. Stead says that she doesn’t want to dismiss the idea that the district middle school program doesn’t need to be focused on. Lightfoot says that families choose to do something different for middle school because they see  a problem within the program. Baskett and Manley say there needs to be more of a focus for middle school. Stead agrees.

4:59 PM Swift says they launched that work last year, working with the middle school principals. One of the special projects launched was an enhancement to the middle level program. Focuses on some of the structures lost during the cuts in previous years. Now implementing Project Lead the Way in every middle school. Middle school pools are back. Streamlining their day. The middle school principals are excited about this, asserts Swift.

5:01 PM Stead emphasizes that she wants on the calendar a focus on middle school. Parents need to know about the improvements made at that level. Despite Stead being on the board and a parent of a Forsythe Middle School student, she says that she doesn’t know about any of the “behind the scene” special projects. She would like to know. Swift says she believes in middle school. She was a middle school principal, and she knows the middle years are “when they win or lose the game, with their kids and with the parents.” Excited that they have five “rockstar” principals leading the middle schools. Swift is asking that the board let her spend a few months getting the middle school program lined out, right around the December-January time, would like to roll out a program. Wants to do a comprehensive study with parent focus groups. Wants to do it one time and do it right.

5:06 PM Baskett acknowledges that middle schools are better now than they were in the past. She says to look within the district. Lasinski would like to explore giving middle school students more opportunity to go outside, maybe during the advisory period. Thomas would like to make more improvements to the advisory period. Mexicotte says that when she was on a middle school advisory board, they were looking at shutting down the advisory period since they found that it was “worthless,” that it wasn’t rigorous enough or enriching enough. Not enough choice is provided.

5:12 PM School Start Times Minor modifications of bell times this year were made to “just streamline some things,” according to Swift. Not only are high schools are aligned to 7:45 AM this year, but 30 minutes on bus time has been gained. Moving forward, there will be a yearlong focus endeavor on start times in the near future.  Lasinski emphasizes that they make decisions based on data, not on public opinion.

5:17 PM Swift: middle school enhancements are going to cost us money. So will changing start times. The board agrees that it is an investment.

5:18 PM Mexicotte says that they are data driven. She asks for the data that shows her “really, really, really” that there would be significant improvement for them to make changes with start times. For example, lots of schools have experimented with year-round school and haven’t seen the data change. While AAPS hasn’t moved to year round school, they have still seen student achievement increase. Stead notes that when schools add more days, more time in school, those schools have seen greater achievement. Just spreading the same number of days over a year doesn’t net growth.

5:21 PM Mexicotte’s knee jerk reaction is that every time the district talks about extending school year for students who recuperating is not a problem, she thinks of students with special needs. Within education, there is a nine-week recuperating period. This has been an issue for special needs students, making sure that they can get the support they need.

5:24 PM Summer Programs Report: Hundreds of students participated in summer programs, and not just the students who “have the means.” Swift says that they are “bridging in ways that they are able.” Mexicotte says she has heard the most positive feedback from families about the summer school program and the personnel at the summer schools that she has ever heard. This was seconded by many of the trustees. Six programs fully enrolled, as was the A2 Virtual+ Academy this summer.

5:28 PM Swift wants to make sure each school gets something that is special and unique.

5:29 PM Before dinner break: Superintendent Report, enrollment data. After break, the board will focus on new programs, Plante Moran report.

(L to R): Superintendent Jeanice Swift, Board President Deb Mexicotte, Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Vice President Christine Stead, Patricia Manley, Andy Thomas.
(L to R): Superintendent Jeanice Swift, Board President Deb Mexicotte, Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Vice President Christine Stead, Patricia Manley, Andy Thomas.

5:31 PM Break for Dinner

During the break, Thomas made sure to tell me that the district is not spending any funds on the meeting space. The owner is donating the space to the district for this meeting.

6:13 PM The board reconvenes.

6:14 PM Plante Moran Operational Assessment Report Lasinski say that she was the one who asked to add reviewing the Plante Moran report to the agenda. Since she’s been on the board, she’s heard this report referred to many times. While not looking for a line-by-line review, she wants to know how it’s still relevant. The report had been commissioned by the board in June 2014 after cuts had been made and they wanted to have an outside review of their operational practices. Mexicotte acknowledges that while the “front of the house looked good, the back of the house looked as if how did any part of it look good.”

6:15 PM Between the Plante Moran and the Listen and Learn Reports, Swift says she had learned a lot. The Plante Moran report showed several areas where the district could streamline processes. By refining their district financial procedures, New World Systems implementation came out of the report. Fully tech based system for the past year and a half. Now that payroll is on the system, HR and Finance will now be able to communicate. Swift acknowledges that the rollout of the New World Systems has had some challenges.

6:18 PM Analysis determined AAPS  was paying significantly more per square foot than other districts in SE Michigan, which led to the district issuing an RFP for custodial and grounds. HVAC – use of a particular contractor, where the contractors were in the building a lot, and possibly abusing the system. ~$200K was saved by streamlining the process.

6:20 PM Too many people reporting to IT executive director. In the process right now of refining that. Will have an assistant executive director and will be for less money than previous configurations. Several positions were eliminated in the previous years. Online registration system recommended and implemented.

6:23 PM Thomas asks that more of the recommendations be brought to the Performance Committee to discuss more.

6:26 PM Swift recommends doing a comprehensive look at the district every 18 months or so, saying that’s “really good fundamental practice.” Comprehensive external facilities analysis should be done.

6:35 PM Lightfoot said that they have done a “good job of keeping the dust off” of the Plante Moran report.

6:36 PM New Programs and Initiatives 

One of the initiatives, Rising Scholars, has not quite lived up to what it was initially intended to be, says Lightfoot. Manley presses her on how she would want to change the program. Lightfoot says she doesn’t like how few students in each building actually participate in the program. Baskett mentions that the program has turned out to be distinctly different from school to school. Lightfoot is concerned that the students in the program were only students who already had the supports at home in place.

6:39 PM Baskett wants to know if Rising Scholars has been adequately funded to make significant change. If it’s a program valued within the district, Manley thinks they should fund it well.

Trustee Susan Baskett
Trustee Susan Baskett

6:40 PM Lightfoot calls Rising Scholars the district’s signature program for students of color. Mexicotte disagrees and says she has never thought of it that way, but more that it is a program to get more students in the talented pipeline. That it takes a subset of students who had the capacity, the skills and the talents, but maybe haven’t been given the opportunities. She asks if that program should be expanded if it’s not meeting those goals, or should different programatic pieces be focused on.

6:43 PM Baskett asks for a review of the program in depth to make sure it’s really good. Lightfoot says she’s open to redefining the goals, or expanding it. She wants to “shape it the way it needs to be.” She assumes it’s more likely that they can fix that one program rather than making several more new programs. Mexicotte wants high impact in greatest number of students. They need to “find the sweet spot” of that number. Lightfoot wants the impact to be greater for the amount of money the district is spending.

6:48 PM Baskett asks if maybe they’ve outgrown the goals of Rising Scholars. Thomas suggests that there be a more in-depth discussion on programs centered around “students who need some help.” He asks that this discussion be put into the Performance Committee.

6:51 PM Since she came to the district, Swift says they’ve worked to align the program between the schools. She’s hearing the need for support for behavior and for achievement.

Rising Scholars emerged out of the failures of programs tried in the past: the AVID and the PASS programs (previous programs within the district), says Mexicotte. Typical failures as a district – they thought that the program was the whole of it. There’s the follow-up, the commitment, the consistency. Rising Scholars was another step towards supporting students.

Lightfoot wants a program that doesn’t need engaged parents. Swift says that they have worked to do that with the Pathways to Success campus. Pathways, however, serves a different group of students than the Rising Scholars program.

Swift wants to know more of the challenges of the program, do some systems thinking about the program. Stead asks that there be more standardization with Rising Scholars. Mexicotte agrees, saying a “centralized floor” needs to be put in place.

7:04 PM Stead asks that they keep a closer eye on the time. Mexicotte suggests that they need to think of an alternative time because they still have a lot more on their agenda. Might have to schedule a Retreat 2.0 to cover everything on their agenda. Lightfoot says she’s more about “what we can get done,” not what time it is. Mexicotte says there’s a public perception that they need to work on timing.

7:06 PM Summer School Baskett’s frustration: glad to hear more students in summer programming, but she thinks that they may need to look at school calendar if so many students are taking advantage of summer school. Swift says she would be happy to have a study session on summer school to go more in depth on the philosophy, purpose and goals.

Lightfoot brings up the issue of cost for summer school.  Despite the number of scholarships, not enough students are able to attend. Lightfoot wants to mandate summer school as “much as the law allows,” for C and D students. Thomas thinks it’s disgraceful that they would charge tuition for summer school. Swift clarifies that it is only for high school. Thomas also says that they have to “get over the notion that being a C or D student is acceptable.” Swift agrees, saying when she first came to the district, she “couldn’t believe” that the district charges for summer school.

The true cost of summer school needs to be evaluated, Mexicotte says. Imagine, she says, if there were a number to build towards to provide summer school for every student who needs it.  A study session will be held to further explore idea of summer school.

7:18 PM Gifted & Talented – a phrase “within our market,” says Stead. But since the district doesn’t use that phrase, she says, parents don’t think the district offers it. The district needs to be able to clearly explain how gifted and talented programming instruction is presented. Lasinski says that it is too much dependent on the individual teacher. Not always excellent at articulating the gifted and talented programming that AAPS provides. Swift says that the district’s Tier I instruction is “lightyears away” from what some of other districts are offering as Gifted & Talented.

7:26 PM Stead suggests they need to do a systems analysis of all of their programs. They have discussed Rising Scholars and now Gifted & Talented. They need to really be able to identify what happens in each of those programs. “This is worthy of some discussion,” says Mexicotte. Thomas suggests giving it to the Planning Committee.

7:29 PM Project Lead the Way: Swift wants to implement it across the district over the next three years. The board has given her their approval for the program.

7:31 PM STEAM program: demand for the Northside STEAM program has been three times greater than what the district has capacity for. Will be investigating facilities around the district to offer in a second building.

7:33 PM Language Immersion School: Swift would like to explore the idea of a Language Immersion school. As soon as a student steps foot on the school’s campus, all instruction is provided in that language. Families have been pushing Swift for a language immersion program.

7:38 PM Time Check

Stead asks how they would like to spend the remaining hour and 20 minutes together.

Some of the agenda can be moved to committee meetings. Discussion of the superintendent evaluation will be moved to the Planning Committee, suggests Lasinski. The Planning Committee will also review the skeleton schedule of major BOE reports provided to the board by Swift. They will review and present to the Executive Committee.

7:44 PM Community Access For the 2015-16 year, Swift has worked to get the board meetings live streamed on the district website, as well as on TV. Will be live-streamed and will be archived. Still working on getting it live-streamed to the website. Top priority of meeting: board can do their work. Second priority: citizen access to meetings. Based on the district’s analysis: video taken at meetings held at schools look and sound better than meetings held in the AAPS downtown library.

BOE Operations

7:49 PM Location of meetings: Choice to leave the downtown library location was due to construction and accessibility. Thomas would prefer to have meetings in one of the district’s own buildings. He would just as soon not go back to the library. Lightfoot loves having meetings in schools. While she has heard complaints from the public about meeting location and length, she filters that through the fact that people were upset about the contract.

One of the advantages of the library, Lasinski says, was that she felt she was meeting with each of the members. Manley didn’t like sitting up above the audience at some of the schools this summer. Lasinski asks if there was a financial incentive to leave the library. Mexicotte replies that the district has a contract in perpetuity with the library, which stipulates that if the district requires meeting space, the library must provide it. Mexicotte does not want to be on the stage. It’s a business meeting they are trying to conduct in public. She misses the collegiality of conducting business within the community. Wants the board to be consistent. Wants a more collegial feeling between the board and between the board and the community. Despite the crowding in the library, Mexicotte says she gets more of a feeling of community.

Thomas suggests Scarlett Middle School as a good location. A large enough space for large audiences. They want a good location to meet in and a good location for the public. Manley says she would be open to Scarlett. Stead suggests Huron. Prefers not to be in a location where people are above the board. Doesn’t want to be shouted down to. “It’s not helpful for us to stay connected.” She worries that it could escalate to an unsafe situation.

Stead brings up the issue of safety of the meetings. They initially moved the meetings to a location where they could screen people legally for guns. In the library meeting space, trustees aren’t able to see many of the people who are behind them. Because of the work the board does, there are often people who are disgruntled. She wants to feel safe.

8:09 PM Lasinski codifies the criteria for a meeting place: not above or below members of the public. Want to have a comfortable place for conversation between the trustees. Want to feel safe for both those who are doing their business and for the members of the public to express their opinions. If a building is found to meet that criteria, will try it out for next week’s meeting.

Mexicotte says they “may have important business to conduct at the next meeting.” Will want to have an appropriate location for it. [Is this a reference to the rumor of a tentative agreement with the AAEA?]

8:15 PM Meeting Structure

The board discusses the structure of their meetings. There is a specific flow to them, says Thomas. They want to get public input before business, reports so they get details, first briefing then second briefing. Just because something is a hot button, doesn’t mean that issue should circumvent another topic. Basic meeting structure is fine, says Lasinski. Thomas says that they were getting heat because the public was mad at them.

Thomas wants to give time limits for student performances, awards, and association reports. He also asks that they enforce the public commentary policy, asking that speakers give their names and places of residence. Lasinski appreciates the student performances, saying that it gives her a greater insight into the district.

To change the structure of their meetings, says Mexicotte, they would really have to commit it. They’ve tried changing structure, but always seem to “ooze” back to the structure they are in right now.

8:23 PM Lasinski says the trustees are “the custodians of what is important to the district.” The board has kept their eyes on what is important to the students, and have not been swayed away from that by the passion around the room. She says that when the board discussed Everyday Math, even when there was a lot of passion from the members of the public, she knew they were focused on what was important to the students.

8:26 PM Student performances should be scheduled September-April, suggests Thomas. He acknowledges that there is always going to be budget discussions and possibly contract discussions late in the year and that time should not be taken up by student performances. Lightfoot disagrees. She wants to celebrate students, saying the student performances are some of the highlights. What is needed is better balance, she says.

8:29 PM Stead says that there should be better communication by the committees, giving the trustees more time to review material before the regular meetings. Instead of having to chew through material at the regular meetings, the trustees would be better prepared to vote if they had more time to review reports.

8:34 PM The board should have time to review seminal reports before the meetings. Larger reports should not come the day of, says Mexicotte. Constituents expect the trustees to know what is in each report. If reports are given ahead of time, some of the trustees will not be reading through it the first time. Thomas says that it will ensure that there’s at least a two week gap between performance committee meetings and the board meetings unless they switch committee meeting times.

8:38 PM Board Meeting Start Times

Given that many of the trustees work full-time, Mexicotte says she doesn’t see that they can move the meeting times earlier. Executive sessions are scheduled before.

8:41 PM Association and Student Reports

Mexicotte wonders if they should include association reports once a month, rather than at every regular meeting. [There are six associations that are given the opportunity to speak at each regular meeting.] She also suggests they put a four to five minute time limit on the reports, to help shorten meeting length. Stead says “four minutes is plenty.” Associations have a seat at the table and if they don’t have enough time, they can ask their constituents to  sign up to speak during public commentary. Mexicotte asks if the trustees think it’s important to give the associations a seat at the table. The trustees affirm that it is.

The board decides that association reports will be given at the first meeting of each month. The associations will be given a four minute time limit.

8:47 PM Public Commentary

Lasinski wants to be able to follow up with people who speak at public commentary. Executive Assistant to the Board of Education Amy Osinski records names of public commenters. Lasinski feels as if “she hasn’t been properly been introduced” to the people who are doing public commentary. Mexicotte says they’ll discuss this topic more.

8:52 PM Community Relationship 

Mexicotte says they must find a time to discuss this. May find time before next regular meeting.

8:53 PM Unfinished Business of the Retreat

Civic engagement, student voice, community relations are all items they need to discuss before the next meeting. 2016 Goals need to be finalized. The board goals are about the board, not the district.

Next regular meeting will be held August 26: Not too much business says Swift, but they have carried over some of the items that were not covered at the last regular meeting. Will meet at 3:30 to have a “Retreat 2.0” to finish business from retreat. Will break to go to executive session at 5:30, then go to the regular meeting at 7:00PM.

8:58 PM Meeting adjourned

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, August 26, 7:00 PM. Location yet to be determined. [confirm date and location]

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