AAPS Board OKs Modular Classrooms; Talks Suspension Rates

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting March 22, 2017): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Board of Education (BOE) regular meeting begins at 7:00 PM.

The trustees will hear the Student Conduct Report. Superintendent Jeanice Swift, Executive Director High School Education Paul DeAngelis, Executive Director Middle Level Education Jazz Parks, and Executive Director Elementary Education Dawn Linden will be on hand to present the report.

There are no first briefing items.

The 2015 Bond Furniture Purchase and the Modular Classroom Units Bid Recommendation are both up for second briefings.

The furniture purchase is for a total of $75,330.53, which will be paid using 2015 Bond funds earmarked for furniture. It will pay for the model classrooms at Bryant Elementary, Dicken Elementary, King Elementary, and Ann Arbor Open.

The modular classroom units are proposed as a temporary solution to the increase in student enrollment due to new real estate developments. They would be located at four elementary schools: Burns Park, King, Mitchell, and Thurston. The modular units would each consist of four classrooms, an office, a bathroom, and a hallway.  The cost would be $2,954,440,paid out of the Sinking Fund.

Voting tonight will be on the approval of the 2015 Bond Furniture Purchase and the Modular Classroom Units Bid Recommendation.

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7:01 PM Vice President Susan Baskett calls the meeting to order.

Present: Vice President Baskett, Trustees Patricia Manley, Harmony Mitchell, and Jessica Kelly. President Christine Stead will not be attending due to work obligations.

7:03 PM Trustee Jeff Gaynor arrives.

7:04 PM Trustee Simone Lightfoot arrives.

*There is one other member of the public besides me at this meeting.


The agenda is unanimously approved without change.





Superintendent Jeanice Swift talks about some of the highlights around the district. Some items of note: Lakewood Elementary and Huron High School both achieved “Green School Status.” The schools met certain requirements that showed their dedication to environmental stewardship.

The 32nd Annual College Fair will be held March 29, 2017, 6-8 PM at Pioneer High School. The district Climate Survey continues through March 28. Swift encourages all students, parents, and staff to take the survey.

Swift and Stead recently met with the International Baccalaureate (IB) evaluators. The evaluators are evaluating the effectiveness of the IB programme in AAPS. Swift says they are 1/3 of the way finished with the evaluation process. The visit is the very last step before the “yea or nay” on the IB certification in the district.

High school theatre programs spring plays: Community Ensemble: Fiddler on the Roof; Skyline High School Theatre: The Diviners; Huron High: Lend Me a Tenor; Pioneer High School: The Wizard of Oz.

2017 Sinking Fund Millage Community Tour: Swift says there will be opportunities at every one of the 32 schools to learn about the Sinking Fund Millage. There will also be district-wide presentations at the comprehensive middle schools.

Lightfoot asks about the evaluation of the IB component. The next step will be to learn more in June. Swift says they had a deep and robust conversation with the evaluators.

Lightfoot asks when students take the SAT. 11th graders take the SAT in April. Ninth and tenth graders take the PSAT. There are SAT coaches in each of the high schools for students to make use of.


Planning: Has not met since the last board meeting.

Performance: Lightfoot says they have a meeting slated April 20.

INFORMATION ITEM: Annual Student Conduct Report

Swift what were the strategies and structures we used to achieve this data. What worked and didn’t work. What are the next steps to improve. Swift says they are proud of the work done, but there is more work to improve.

High School Suspension Rates:

Six year trend: 43% decrease over last six years, from 6% to 3.4%. Swift says this percentage is the percentage of students who have had at least one suspension over the school year.

There is a disparity between ethnicities, with African American students being suspended at a higher rate than students of other ethnicities. Swift this is an area the district is extremely mindful of. While there has been a reduction from 14% to 9.3% over six years, there is a significant gap between African American student rates versus any other ethnicity.

There is also a disparity between special education students – suspended at more than 3xs the rate of non-special education students.

Swift says the district is not realizing the kinds of reductions in suspension rates of Economically Disadvantaged Students; 11.1%  Economically Disadvantaged versus 1.8% of Non-economically Disadvantaged Students.

Boys are suspended at about twice the rate of girls.

Middle School Suspension Rates:

Overall, the rate is about a third of what it was six years ago. The reduction of suspension for African American students, while reduced from 20.4% to 8.9%, is still disparate from other ethnicities.

Trends at middle school mirror the trends at the high school level, as well.

Elementary School Suspension Rate: 

Swift says they have gotten to the point where it is almost non-existent: 0.2%. When looking at special education students, the rate is 1.7%, reduced from 6%.


Swift says they recognize the devastating impact of an out-of-school suspension. At the same time, she notes, they realize how important it is that a classroom is a place of learning. They have put supports in place to help students be successful. They are always looking to achieve more: to achieve more in student success, to achieve more for teacher support.

Dawn Linden, Executive Director Elementary Education, talks about the social-emotional development support systems at the elementary level.

  • Positive Behavior Intervention & Support – at all schools
  • Responsive Classroom – in place in several elementary schools
  • Leader in Me – in three elementary schools
  • Mindfulness – at K-8 buildings

Linden says all these programs are about soft-skill development. She also highlights the Peer-to-Peer program, which connects students with each other.

Jazz Parks, Executive Director Middle Education, talks about the support systems at the secondary level.

Initially, students and staff are taught a common language of how to engage with each other. It involves teaching students to take responsibility for their behavior, actions, and feelings. Parks says they teach empathy to both adults and students. Self-control and self-regulation.

  • Positive Behavior Intervention & Support
  • Building Intervention Specialists
  • Where Everyone Belongs (WEB)- being phased out in the school it is being used in
  • Link Crew

Executive Director High School Education Paul DeAngelis presents the district’s shared values, PreK-12 grade.

  • Equity: providing even student the supports they need to develop skills for success
  • Relationships: work to build strong staff-student relationships
  • Progressive Models of behavior intervention and discipline.

Relationships are key

  • All hands on deck approach – every student matters
  • Achievement Team and Care Team processes systemically in place to support students in a proactive way
  • Reduced suspensions for insubordination by focusing on improving teacher-student relationships.

DeAngelis says there are still gains to be made.

Next Steps

  • Continue to monitor and review monthly discipline data with building administrators
  • Review school climate survey data for school improvement planning
  • Adding Intervention Specialists at elementary level
  • Continues professional learning for building leaders and staff – DeAngelis says this learning needs to be very targeted.
  • Strengthen proactive social/emotional supports and programming.

Swift says that while they are proud of reductions in suspension, but they are “just getting started” on this work because there is a tremendous amount of work to do. Swift says there is a rising tide of mental health issues in the community that are not being addressed. There is a national tide of rhetoric that students are hearing that they see reflected inside the schools, says Swift. There is a de-sensitivity to language, particularly racial language, that is happening.

Swift says they are finding students with higher level needs presenting at a younger age, which is why they would like to have Intervention Specialists at the elementary level.

Gaynor endorses the use of the BIS at the middle school level. As a teacher, he was impressed with the difference he saw with the students who interacted with them. He says it’s probably the most specific positive piece he’s seen in a long time. Gaynor affirms the focus on individual students, recognizing the importance. He says it is important to keep the data real.

Mitchell asserts that parents are key to solving this problem. She asks what kinds of support are in place for parents and families. Linden says they believe the first impressions are critical and work to make that a positive one. She says they need to do more to get into communities. They are working to make the relationship between school and home is trusting, which begins with listening to concerns.

Linden says having Intervention Specialists at the elementary level is going to be very important for that.

Mitchell asks what kind of behaviors qualify for “restorative justice.” Parks says insubordination is one of the behaviors, as are physical altercations. Done when there are three factors: an person who acted, a person who has been harmed, and a community at large.

Lightfoot is concerned about the mental health issues that Swift brought up. As stressors outside of school manifest themselves, it makes sense that it would show up in the schools, says Lightfoot. The growth AAPS is experiencing changes the dynamics, and they need to be mindful stewards of the district and monitor those dynamic changes.

Lightfoot asks if the data is sent into the state. She asks if they can do a “drill down” into comparison data from other districts. Swift says they will take that on as a task. Swift also notes that other districts are now following AAPS’s lead in not having mandatory suspension for weapons if they are asking the questions of intent. AAPS has always been asking the questions, following moral intent, says Swift. They are glad zero tolerance is no longer the law.

Lightfoot asks if they are on budget for the Behavior Intervention Specialists (BIS). While their material costs are covered, the staffing of them are not. In terms of elementary level BIS, Swift says they would want them to have specialists in one day a week. That one day a week would be where they could meet with students, check in with them, make plans, and set goals with students.

Lightfoot says she finds it interesting that DeAngelis noted that the bulk of suspensions at the high school level happen at the ninth grade level. Now that that has been identified, high school principals are on alert and thinking proactively.

Lightfoot also asks why WEB (We All Belong) is being phased out. Parks clarifies that they are taking aspects of the program and bringing it throughout the district. WEB is a program that the district pays for, and they are looking to eliminate that cost.

Kelly asks how the data of Economically Disadvantaged students is collected. Swift clarifies that is determined through the free and reduced lunch status of the students. She had noted earlier in her presentation that while they have seen the number of ED students decline over the past six years, she feels that there might be fewer people who are filling out the form, but who should be receiving free or reduced lunch.

Manley says she is taking off her hat as a trustee and as an educator, and says that she is looking at the data as a member of the community. If she were a parent or a grandparent of a student who has had one or more suspensions, she would look at the data and think “it’s not working.” She notes that there has been a slight rise in suspensions across the data from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Linden says there will be fluctuations from year to year.

Swift says they are dealing with providing “trauma informed care.” They are seeing more students who are experiencing trauma at “higher level” situations. No matter how many programs the district has, it is going to take a one on one intention. Swift says they are moving more towards that.

Parks says they are working with the adults to be more adept and more attentive to students who have experienced trauma.

Baskett suggests that one of the things that might be at issue is the political climate. She says it will be interesting to see the data from the 2016-17 school year.

Gaynor says he has heard in recent years that principals have been told to reduce suspensions, that whatever they have to do to reduce suspensions. The hypothesis is that in response to teacher and perhaps principals – perhaps there is a bit of a correction in the reduction in . He asks how principals are feeling about the district’s data.

DeAngelis says that it probably is easy for people to see that they told principals to reduce suspensions six years ago, because of the high rates. He is asking principals: where do we change the systems. There are always going to be students who are suspended, he says. For the parent whose student falls into that category, he wants to know their level of satisfaction with the support that is available for their students.

Swift says she appreciates the question from Gaynor. When six years ago, one in five African American students and one in five Special Education students were being suspended, she doesn’t doubt that someone asked for suspensions to be reduced. There were fewer tools the district was using at that point.

Manley says that at Thurston, where she was principal, for her, it was looking at the behaviors and making sure they were ones that could not be handled within the school.

Baskett puts in a plug for the Climate Survey. She calls out to parents and staff to call that out in the climate survey if it is truly an issue.

Mitchell says that if she looked at the numbers from six years ago, she would absolutely say “reduce the suspensions” because there was such a disparity between African American and Special Education students. They need to be sure they are looking at the issue from all angles. Why are they suspending that kid for “getting smart” and that kid over there also “got smart” but he didn’t get suspended.

Baskett asks about the costs associated with the programs. Swift says the most intensive cost is training the staff. They would like to find a way to build the costs of the program into the budget. Some PTOs have fundraised to help pay for some of the programs. Swift says having a program in a school should not be a question; it should be an absolute. She says that the trustees will hear more about including the programs in the future budget.

Baskett asks if the concepts of the programs are shared with parents at the beginning of the school year. As the students need to learn how to “do school,” so do parents. Linden confirms that they do it at the beginning of the year and continue it throughout the year.

When the district first began focusing on decreasing the suspension rates, they were working with some “blunt instruments,” says Swift. They saw a reduction in rates, but there were some groups that did not experience the same reduction.

Swift says they have a theory that it all hinges on poverty. Linden says it is all about access and opportunity. If you are going to make a difference in those categories, Linden says, it is going to have to be on an individual basis. There won’t be an overall system that will be put in place to address it all.

When Linden gives an example of how a teacher using the “responsiveness classroom” method, Baskett says that the method wouldn’t fly at some homes of some people in the community. She brings up the need for the schools to be communicating with parents and listening to parents to learn how they parent at home.

Lightfoot reminds them to not forget to ask the students for their solutions, saying the students are good at knowing what is going on. She also thanks Linden, Parks, and DeAngelis.

INFORMATION ITEM: Impact of Federal Budget Recommendation

Swift says they are preparing to make a public statement. Seriously concerned with recent release of President’s budget. Calls for a $9B cut to Dept of Education. $168M increase to charter schools. All will occur on the backs of students in public schools. 90% of students in the United States are in public schools.

Concern of repeal of Obamacare. School dollars in Medicaid only account for 1% of Medicaid dollars. Since 1998, school districts have been able to bill for medically necessary services which are delivered in the school day. When they are delivered during the school day, they are assured, students get them on a regular basis. That amount is about $4-5B a year to public schools. In AAPS, they use that money to reimburse costs, mainly related speech therapy and occupational therapy, and psychological services to complete evaluations on students. The revision of medically necessary services can make a lifetime of a difference for a child, says Swift.

Children will lose from a reduction of Medicaid dollars. It will impact the most vulnerable of our children in AAPS, across the state, and across the nation. Swift says AAPS doesn’t get the liberty of creating a budget as a political statement. They must create a budget that serves their students. If the dollars are removed, the need to provide the service doesn’t go away. The district would still provide the services, but the money would come from General Fund dollars. The impact to AAPS is in the 100s of thousands of dollars annually. Swift says they are considering the next steps in how to speak up in productive and effective ways. They will continue to stand up on the behalf of students. Even if the vote tomorrow does not go through, they still need to be vigilant. She asks for the trustees’ input and their direction for next steps.

Lightfoot thanks Swift for laying this out for them. If the district needs to pull from the General Fund in order to cover the costs of these mandated medically necessary services, the district will be forced to cut staff. There is an unraveling effect, she says. They are looking at the dismantling of institutions that help people. She asks if Swift is planning to discuss this with other 20J districts, districts.

Mitchell quotes Maya Angelou: “When a person tells you who they are, believe them.” The President and the Republican party has been telling America what they are, and there should be no surprise of what they are doing now with the budget. This cut will affect everyone in the district, regardless of if their students receive the services. The cuts made to the General Fund will be felt by all students throughout the district. It is not just a “their family issue, but an all families issue.” She urges people to make calls. She worries that the progress the country has made in 30-40 years has evaporated. She is questioning who we are as a country.

Gaynor wonders if they can help mobilize other districts to make statements against this. In Ann Arbor, they are preaching to the choir. Baskett says that while people might have heard about the Medicaid cuts, they might not have connected it to the impact that it will have on schools in general.

Kelly points to the Supreme Court ruling today – there will be impact felt across the board because of it.

Baskett says that as the district works more to improve social-emotional needs of students, they will find more needs. Fewer dollars to this subset of children does not make the needs go away, she notes. In order to pay for the services, the money will be taken from the General Education programs. Baskett notes that they may not be the winners of block grants, if that is the path they will need to go down.


SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: 2015 Bond Furniture Purchase

While this purchase is for four classrooms, Swift points out that furniture from the 2015 Bond is currently in 15 schools and in the schools that have been added to or renovated. New furniture is coming to every core classroom in the new future.

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Modular Classroom Units Bid Recommendation

Baskett notes that all the trustees have drawings to show where the modular units will be placed on the grounds of the four schools: Mitchell, Burns Park, Thurston, and King.

Manley asks about the location of the modular unit at Mitchell and at Thurston. Kevin Stansbury, architect at Mitchell & Mouat, confirms that the Thurston site will knock out some of the playground. Linden is working with Thurston administration to talk about the

Gaynor says there has been a question if the number of students the district has taken in from Schools of Choice has facilitated the need for the modular classrooms. Gaynor says he has confirmed that at these four schools, there is a negligible number of students who are there because of SOC.

Swift thanks Gaynor and says that they will be discussing SOC at the next board meeting. They monitor that data monthly, she says. In-district transfer numbers are harder to get at, but she will be bringing application numbers to the board.

Baskett clarifies that they are not adding the modular classrooms because of an increase in enrollment from SOC, but from new housing throughout the district.


9:19PM The trustees vote

  •  2015 Bond Furniture Purchase
  • Modular Classroom Units Bid Recommendation

The consent agenda has been unanimously approved. 


Gaynor asks for an update on the the Governance Committee’s work on examining the district’s LGBTQ+ policies. Swift says the committee met last Friday and will be bringing their policy work to the Executive Committee, and subsequently the Board as a whole.


Kelly updates the board on today’s Supreme Court decision. She expects the decision to have an impact on schools across the nation. There is the potential for the combination of cuts in the budget for those kinds of services, a potential for increased costs for the increases in services, and more students moving into the district to receive the services.

Kelly says she had her first coffee hour last week. She’s looking forward to her next one next month, April 21 at the Westgate library branch at 10AM. Find her near the Sweetwaters Cafe.

Gaynor is having a coffee hour tomorrow at 9AM in the Plum Market cafe at Plymouth and Green Rd.


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