Board OKs Global Education Partnership

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (March 9. 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

During tonight’s regular meeting, beginning at 7:00 PM, the trustees will hear two informational items: the NWEA achievement report and the monthly budget monitoring report.

There will be a first briefing on a Project Read recommendation.

Second briefings will be on the budget amendment and the Global Education Partnership with BCC.

Voting tonight will be on the budget amendment and the BCC partnership.

7:06 PM Trustee Donna Lasinski and Vice President Christine Stead come to the table. No other trustees are yet present. The board has been in executive session since 5:30PM, citing client/attorney privilege. Trustee Andy Thomas is now seated.

There are about 25 members of the public in attendance, 15 of whom appear to be students.

Trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Patricia Manley are now at the table.

7:14 PM Stead calls the meeting to order. President Deb Mexicotte will be late; Stead says she will be joining in about an hour.


7:15PM The agenda is approved without any changes.


7:16PM Jenny McKillop: AAPS graduate and parent of two Community High School (CHS) graduates. Youth for Understanding (YFU) is a non-profit international student exchange program in Washtenaw County since 1961. She expresses her concern over the BCC program the board is considering this evening. She predicts that two hundred students from one country in a community the size of Ann Arbor will keep those students are likely to remain isolated in a Chinese subculture in Ann Arbor. Vetting and providing support services for such a large group are going to be difficulty. YFU has firsthand experiences of having to re-home students whose parents

Three suggestions:

  1. if set program: include YFU and AFS in the promotions sent out to families seeking host families. Will ensure diversity.
  2. if in planning stages, let YFU and AFS be at the table to help guide.
  3. consider doing a smaller pilot program to access the impact of such a large number of students on the community. McCullough says that she and her counterpart at AFS would be happy to speak with the board.


7:22PM Superintendent Jeanice Swift highlights accomplishments and achievements around the district. She acknowledges the extra effort by the staff for yesterday’s polling. She highlights the special education millage in May, calling it a “great lever” that can be pulled.

Skyline High School has been released from its status as a Focus School. The improvement of students has increased. The bottom 30% have improved, as have all students. Twenty-two schools have been released from Focus School status this year, the most of one school district in the state.

Three CHS journalists from The Communicator covered the Democratic Presidential debate in Flint on Sunday night. STEAM Expo, ArtWalk of student art in businesses downtown Ann Arbor – artwork is displayed for the month of March. Laith al-Sadi, a CHS alumni, is a contestant on The Voice.

There is now a district YouTube channel, which catalogs videos from around the district.


7:41PM Planning Committee: Stead say the committee has not met since last board meeting. Next meeting 3/28 at 10AM at Balas Administration Building.

Performance Committee: Thomas say the committee has not met since last board meeting. The committee has heard the NWEA report, was “very impressed” at the kind of work the district has been doing collecting data from NWEA and immediately applying it in ways that improve instruction. Next meeting 3/16.

Governance Committee: has not met since last meeting.

INFORMATION ITEM: Monthly Budget Monitoring Report

7:45PM Jill Minnick: General Fund revenue exceed amount collected this year over amount collected previous year. Greater YTD tax revenue, special education reimbursements, etc. Expenditures greater by about 12%. Slightly higher salary costs, retirement costs, contracting costs. Variations have been budgeted for and were expected.

$17.6M in expenditures in line with expectations. Large cash balance in retirement payment of about $6M that will be recorded. Rest is attributable to positive outcomes of prior year.

On the whole, about 65% of budgeted revenues have been received; about 55% of expenditures have been recorded. In line with the time of the year.

Lasinski: Wants to emphasize that while there are large positive variances now in the General Fund, the General Fund should end the year up about $300K, not the millions that shows in the February report.

Thomas: financial reports for February only 9 days after the close of the month. He appreciates the timeliness of Minnick getting the reports to the board quickly, so they can identify variances that are “not easily explainable” or within expectations.

Stead appreciates the clarity of Minnick’s report.


7:53PM Swift: Excited to share the NWEA info, as this is one measure that has remained consistent over a period of a few years – a rare happening in the district’s data set right now. NWEA is one of two nationally normed set of data the district receives. Only other data that is comparable is ACT reports. NWEA is a longitudinal test, so parents can see growth over the course of the student’s time at AAPS.

Dawn Linden, Executive Director Elementary Education, explains why the district delivers the NWEA MAP:

  • adaptive structure provides more accurate instructional data for students at either end of the learning continuum
  • data informs instructional practice
  • establishes important national benchmarks

The NWEA MAP shows growth, not only achievement. RIT: Rasch Unit, an equal interval scale placing student scores along a ladder of difficulty. Lasinski asks if there is an expected year’s worth of growth with the NWEA, to which Linden says they have both.

How does the district use the NWEA MAP?

  • students: goal setting
  • teachers: differentiate instruction, monitor growth
  • school and district leaders: flexible grouping, proficiency projections – parents, teachers, students can enter in a RIT Score and be provided access to free online instructional data and learning resources aligned to the State Standards.

AAPS exceeds National Mean RIT at every single grade level, every single subject.

AAPS mean growth versus national mean growth: only exceeds national growth in math in grades 1 and 2. Linden says that part of the reason for the lower growth could point to the district’s “advanced learners.”

Elementary Mathematics Growth: 1st and 2nd graders exceeded expected growth for each of the past five years. 3rd through 5th graders did not meet expected growth for the 14-15 school year. Linden attributes the drop in growth to the test changing to be aligned to the common core standards. The 1st and 2nd grade curriculum had already been aligned to the standards, and those grades did not show the same kind of drop. The 3rd-5th grades are implementing the standards based curriculum for the first time this year. The district expects to see similar growth for the upper elementary grades next year.

Baskett asks how often teachers and students set goals around the NWEA. She wonders how parents can support the goals. She asks how the goals and the results are provided to parents. Linden explains that the NWEA progress report goes home twice a year.

Lightfoot wants to know why there are variances in how teachers are setting goals with students and how the data is being used throughout the district.

Lightfoot asks about the kind of professional development that is being done around math at the secondary level. She is concerned about students who did not “get the NWEA” treatment and are struggling with math in high school. Linden says they are looking at programmatic changes in the district math departments. Lightfoot asks if Linden feels they are getting enough from the board for professional development for math.

Swift says that this issue with math is not only limited to Ann Arbor, but is nationally a problem. Step one: teachers have all support and instructional tools they need. Step two: multi-tiered intervention programs are available across the grade levels. when a student enters high school, two to three years behind grade level, the standard way of delivering instruction does not work.

Lasinski: as a board, they have “vigorously support professional development.” Worried there’s a gap in the system – how are teachers being supported in the classroom?

Linden: Need to harness the expertise they have in the district. Curriculum Implementation Specialists – expert teachers who work with other teachers in their schools. May be coming to the board for money for release time.

Lightfoot: interested in offering compensation to teachers who can “close the gap.” She is concerned with the teachers “who are consistently delivering instruction in ways students do not understand”. Wants to identify teachers who struggle with delivering their instruction.

Swift refers to the new teacher evaluation advisory group. Part of the new evaluation is based on the performance of the bottom 30% of students. The district needs to achieve with every child, she says.

8:45PM Linden returns to the NWEA report:

Elementary Reading: Overall drop in growth for the 2014-15 year 1st-5th grade. Linden says they have been in the process of aligning the district’s curriculum to the state standards and once that is aligned, she says, they hope to see better growth.

3rd-5th graders exceed growth expectations from 2011-13. 1st and 2nd graders did not meet expectations in 2014 and 2105. All AAPS students did not meet growth after shifting to new 2015 norms.

Next steps:

  • complete Atlas curriculum alignement to State Standards
  • support teachers with PD
  • identify tools and actions to engage parents as partners in student learning
  • engage and empower students in their learning goals

8:51PM President Deb Mexicotte joins the meeting.

Thomas: thanks his colleagues for engaging in a “wide ranging and thoughtful” discussion on a wide range of items. Wants to refocus the discussion, however, on the goals of student growth and differentiated learning. NWEA is an effective tool to help further those goals.

Manley sees the test report as a key tool for parents to see exactly what their student knows. She says that it will be important for teachers to make sure they are talking with parents, maybe even more frequently than twice a year. She is glad to see there is PD for Balanced Literacy.

Stead emphasizes the national comparison the NWEA brings is important. There is nothing other than the ACT to compare the district’s students to students nationwide. She would love to have a test like this for upper grades, as well.

It is “bothersome” to her that the district is scoring as low as it is in reading. She thinks there needs to be an “overhaul” in the way professional development. Would like there to be a “no surprises” culture for parents, as well. Parents shouldn’t be surprised if their students aren’t doing well. You should expect a call if your student’s grades are dropping, she says. When students are falling, parents should be aggressively be pulled into the equation. As a district, she would love if they could have an operating rhythm of a no-surprises.

Lasinski asks if there are any plans to bring the NWEA to the middle grades. Swift says there are some other evaluations, such as PSAT, which might be a better evaluation tool.

Thomas: it was about five years the board decided to purchase the NWEA product. At that time, it was decided to implement it at Scarlett Middle School. Given the success the district has had with the NWEA at the elementary schools and the potential it has for driving student growth, he would like to suggest to Swift that they consider bringing forth a proposal that would implement the NWEA at all the middle schools.

Lightfoot: would like teachers have direct contact with parents when their students are dropping. Until the students graduate, “they are children.” It galls her to hear teachers say a student “didn’t advocate for him or herself.” Robocalls and emails don’t get enough of a response from their parents. While many know it, she says, teachers need to “improve in that area.”

Mexicotte: pleased to see the kind of data the district is getting from the NWEA work. Best part of it is the differentiated instruction that can happen as a result of the data. Continuing to develop the nuanced narrative of when it’s useful to look at growth versus achievement.

FIRST BRIEFING: Project Read recommendation

9:16PM Elaine Brown, Executive Director Student Intervention & Support Services, brings forward a proposal for a new reading curriculum for self-contained classrooms.

Project Read curriculum brings “innovative teaching and learning.” The curriculum provides students with concrete manipulative to help solidify their learning, Brown says.

Project Read phonics curriculum focuses on:

  • decoding
  • encoding
  • reading comprehension strategies

Linguistics curriculum:

  • systematic phonics
  • using morphology
  • phononlogy
  • spelling

Plan of Action and Sustainability

  • train secondary and elementary self-contained teachers in 2015-16
  • observe implementation in classrooms (on-going)
  • train K-12 self contained teachers during 2016-17 school year on the Written Expression component
  • train principals in the summer of 2016, so they know what they are looking at when they observe in classrooms.
  • Project Read instruction will be offered in ESY (extended school year)
  • conduct parent workshops
  • create a teacher consultant position for elem and secondary to train, observe, model, and support the implementation of the curriculum 2017-18.

Impact: 45 classrooms and support 280 students

Cost: $200K total, funded by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) Grant, over the next two years.

For the investment of $200K over two years, Lasinski asks the life expectancy of the curriculum and materials? Brown says the materials last at least five years.

Thomas asks if the Project Read program is specifically designed for students with cognitive impairment, to which Brown says it is. He also asks how reading is currently being taught to students. Brown says there isn’t a consistent curriculum put in place for students K-12.

Lightfoot asks about the cost of a “presenter.” Brown says it is for a trainer who helps instruct teachers on the implementation of the program. Lightfoot asks how often is the IDEA Grant available.  All districts receive IDEA funds for their special education population.

Stead suggests that the Project Read recommendation be moved into a special briefing item, since Brown said there was a “sense of urgency.” Lasinski says she understood it to mean as the urgency for students to grow in their reading abilities in general. Brown says timing is of the urgency for training.

The board votes to move Project Read purchase to a special briefing, which it means it will be voted on tonight.


There is no discussion from the board.

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Global Education Partnership with BCC

Swift argues that it is important for students to have cross-cultural understanding, experiences with international perspectives. She highlights the international partnerships AAPS has, from short-term exchange programs to longer one-year exchange programs.

Currently, AAPS currently hosts 53 exchange students from 26 countries. With BCC, proposing a two-year partnership.

The benefits of the BCC partnership, according to Swift:

  • enriched global educational experiences
  • enhanced student intercession exchanges
  • enhanced teacher-teacher intercession exchanges
  • multi-lingual proficiency through enhanced world language study
  • further develop cross-cultural competencies
  • increase cross-cultural understanding through multiple perspectives

Start off with 15 students in each comprehensive high school. The increase in revenue will be used for world language program, if there is monies available.

Stead: concerned about finding enough host families. If they find there is a little less demand than the board is thinking, do they figure it is worth proceeding?

Swift: committed to build a quality, enduring partnership. It is a value based decision, she says. Wherever the natural threshold is, the district is willing to start.

Stead wants to make sure that as they embark on this, they are considering adequate infrastructure so they are running the program well. To her, it is a distinguishing feature between a program run well or not.

Swift says her whole team would be fine if it starts out small and grows, so they can build up the program holistically.

Thomas: Of the 53 exchange student currently in the district, the majority are from Western Europe. If the district’s object is to have a truly world orientation, they need to expand beyond Western Europe. Wants to know if the district has actively sought feedback from other districts who have worked with BCC. Swift says there are several districts in the county [Dexter, Saline] who have begun relationships with BCC. There has been no negative feedback from those districts. Swift says they have vetted several companies, and BCC was that they felt was the best match.

In the agreement with BCC, it is stipulated that if by July 15, a host family is not confirmed, that student will not be brought over. The program will grow in a way that the community supports.

If it turns out there is a smaller number of students than is anticipated, asks Thomas, would the FTE position be a locked position or would it be flexible? Swift says that there is “more than enough work” to keep a full-time employee busy working with all the international programs.

Mexicotte says that it was her understanding that the coordinator would work with all international programs. Thomas isn’t worried about keep the position busy, but that the cost would be absorbed by the program. If there is fewer than 10 students, then the district would eat some of the cost of the coordinator. Swift agrees, then says since the USA Hockey team program is changing, the district will not be renewing the program coordinator position next year.

Baskett: acknowledges Jenny McKillop, the YFU field coordinator.  She says that what she has heard from out in the community is fear of a drop of commitment to AAPS students. Coordinator: for more than just the BCC program. Wants to do right for the students who would be coming over. She thinks there needs to be an examination of the international exchange programs to see what the contracts are and what their screening processes are.

F1 Visa: students who come under that visa must reimburse districts for their education. AFS and YFU students come under J1 visas and do not pay tuition.

Baskett thinks it’s a wonderful opportunity. Why not do this?

Lightfoot would like a review of all the international exchange programs. She asks if there is an exchange of students between China and AAPS. Right now, Swift says, it would be summer and winter intercession trips. Some of the proceeds of the tuition could go towards providing funds for students in AAPS to travel to China. Lightfoot asks if the district is looking to grow the program for students to leave AAPS and go to China for a year. Wants those travel opportunities for students “who are in the gap” to be able to go on those intercession trips.

First set of students who come would be 11th graders when they arrive. The students would return for their 12th grade year. They would need to be enrolled in a college concurrently. Ideally, Swift says, AAPS’s own staff would be fully certificated to deliver the college level material.

Mexicotte: the students will still be enrolled in the AAPS. They will be paying tuition to AAPS, but AAPS will not receive the foundation allowance. But the students must be taking a minimum of 12 credits at the college level. Swift says they have not done the dual-enrollment part of it with international students, but that part of it doesn’t come until the second year.

Manley wants to know where the students stay for the second year. Swift clarifies that they could stay with the same host family they stayed with the previous year, but the commitment is only for one year.

Manley also asked if the BCC students at Huron High School would apply for the International Baccalaureate  diploma. Swift says they are trying to figure that out. Mexicotte says she doesn’t believe the international students would be able to apply for the IB diploma, since they would not be doing the IB coursework their senior years.

Lasinski says she was 95% there with the program, until they started clarifying what happens with the second year. She asks if there had been plans to bring college level instruction to the high schools. Swift says it is the district’s intention to bring college opportunities into the high schools. Lasinski says she would be okay with that, but had hesitation moving towards that solely to support the BCC program.

Lasinski would like the district to reflect on capacity, citing the difficulties high school students in the district already have in getting the courses they want. It would not be comfortable to her to add early college if the student proportions of the program didn’t match the student proportions in the district. If by fulfilling the district’s priority, it needs to be done with capacity in mind.

Lightfoot would like to “blow up” the possibilities of higher level education at the high school level. The BCC students would need to apply to a college, get accepted, get an F1 visa from them.

First year of program is creating the foundation. Swift says it’s a two year contract.

Mexicotte: this has generated a vast amount of conversation in the community. There’s been a wide range of concerns: what if there isn’t enough, what if we get too many, what are buildings capacities, will this leave AAPS students behind? There have been some political concerns, as well, Mexicotte says. What is the government of China’s interests in having students attend high school in the United States?

If it turns out that this partnership does not dovetail well with district values, capacity, or international experience they were hoping for. They will be able to make adjustments to the program as they see how it works in the community.

Mexicotte thinks of AAPS’s students being friends with Chinese students, developing an understanding of each other that leads to peace, not conflict. Concerns with students here, and then with the world. To her, there is no reason not to move forward. If for some reason, it doesn’t fulfill their hopes for the program, then they can go a different direction.

Baskett again acknowledges Mckillop and her associate in the audience, directing Swift to talk to them. Swift says they will most likely put together an advisory group and will welcome people with that level of expertise.


The board will vote on:

  • the budget amendment
  • the BCC partnership
  • Project Read curriculum

Thomas asks to move the BCC partnership off the consent agenda.

The consent agenda passes unanimously, without the BCC partnership.

BCC Global Education Partnership Vote

Thomas is supportive of the program. It will improve and widen the diversity of the world language programming. Thomas  addresses some of the concerns he heard from community members and explains why he thinks the program is a good one.

The BCC partnership is approved unanimously.


11:13PM Lightfoot would like to review the international partnerships the district already has.


Lasinski: appreciative of the WISD’s testing of the 60-day rule on giving information on millages. WISD held a presentation 60 days out from the voting on the special education millage, and the turnout was very low. Lasinski says that it goes to show what happens when you hold informational meetings 60 days before voting – people don’t show up.

Thomas brags on his son, who was accepted in the University of Michigan French Horn program.

Mexicotte: whether or not the injunction stands, it is insulting that the state of Michigan had to apply this “draconian limit to free speech” to fix a problem there never was.


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