November 25, 2014
Hello Ann Arbor Public Schools Community,
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
– Melody Beattie
It is a very positive time in the Ann Arbor Public Schools as we move into this Thanksgiving holiday break. We appreciate the exemplary work of our teachers and staff over this fall, the robust partnership of our highly engaged parents and the consistent support of our Ann Arbor community. We have so much for which to be grateful.
Recently, we have received excellent news in the Ann Arbor Public Schools in five key areas:
- student achievement outcomes are significantly improved over previous years,
- notable awards and designations at both school and the district level have been announced,
- a Fall, 2014 enrollment count confirms a significantly increased enrollment with the majority of that increase coming from among our own Ann Arbor students who have chosen to attend AAPS schools this year, and
- a recently published outside district financial audit presents a clean opinion for district finances and demonstrates that the difficult steps we have taken to stabilize the budget over the previous year are beginning to show positive results – through increasing revenues and minimizing the projected use of fund equity, we have stabilized the budget.
Certainly, there is much work yet to be done to continue our district improvement process; yet, as we come into this Thanksgiving week, there is a great deal for which to be grateful.
Following the Listen and Learn: We Are Ann Arbor tour last year, we have been busy this year working on the goals that our district stakeholders prioritized: continuing the improvement of student achievement, updating and enhancing educational program offerings to engage more of our Ann Arbor students, improving district fiscal condition and planning for long term financial sustainability, upgrading the maintenance and cleanliness of our physical buildings, offering consistent opportunities for public engagement, and ensuring frequent and accurate communication, responsiveness, and improved problem-solving in day-to-day operations of the district.
Student Achievement Improved
AAPS students, staff, and schools continue to regularly achieve state and national distinction and recently released ACT scores place AAPS among top-performing districts nationally. While we have seen improvement in student achievement across all groups of students this year, there remain five key areas where we continue a laser focus on realizing more dramatic gains – African American, English as Second Language, Hispanic, Special Needs, and students impacted by poverty. While AAPS has realized significant gains in overall student achievement during 2014 and currently ranks among the highest performing districts in Michigan, we will continue the critical work to eliminate disparities in achievement across student groups; improving student achievement for all students is a priority that lies at the core of our critical mission. For additional information on student achievement progress, see the full report on our website at: a2schools.org
Award: National Blue Ribbon School
In November, Martin Luther King Elementary School was designated a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized 337 schools as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. These schools demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels. If we consider how special this award is – it surely sounds ‘cool’ – let’s reflect for a moment on how rare it truly is. Recognizing 337 schools from among approximately 100,000 schools in the U.S. (only 8 schools in Michigan) – this is an extremely high bar – it is the equivalent of ranking in the top 0.3% of schools nationally in critical measures of student success. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honor for King Elementary school is in recognition of our students achieving very high learning standards and making notable improvements in closing disparities in achievement. The award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating successful schools where students master challenging content. The award indicates the quality of King Elementary Schools, and reflects positively on all our Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Award: AAPS Named to the College Board’s 5th Annual AP District Honor Roll
It was announced last week that Ann Arbor Public Schools was placed on the College Board’s 5th Annual AP District Honor Roll for significant gains in student access and success. This information comes directly from the College Board’s statement: Ann Arbor Public Schools is one of 547 school districts in the U.S. and Canada being honored by the College Board with placement on the 5th Annual AP® District Honor Roll for increasing access to AP course work while simultaneously maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams. 2014 is a milestone year for the AP District Honor Roll, and more districts are achieving this objective than ever before. Reaching these goals indicates that the district is successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are ready for the opportunity of AP. Since 2012, Ann Arbor Public Schools has increased the number of students participating in AP while improving the number of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher. Achieving the AP District Honor Roll status indicates that Ann Arbor Public Schools is improving in the critical measures of access, opportunity, and achieving success outcomes for all our students.
AAPS Enrollment Increased
Enhanced educational programs are successfully launched this fall, and student enrollment is increased by almost three times that of any prior year in more than a decade. This enrollment includes 255 additional students from within AAPS boundaries who chose Ann Arbor Public Schools this fall, as well as more than 200 additional Young 5 and kindergarten students. This kind of growth from within our district boundaries and at the earliest primary grades brings an unparalleled opportunity for sustainable district growth over the long term. Of particular note, as enrollment has increased this fall, we have taken steps so that class sizes have decreased overall in the district. For more detailed information, please review the Fall, 2014 Preliminary Enrollment Report located at: a2schools.org
Financial Audit Outcome
As demonstrated by the November, 2014 audit, the district fiscal outlook is stabilized as indicated by a significantly diminished use of fund equity this year over that of recent years. A solid budget plan is currently in place to add to fund equity during this school year, and this will be the first addition to the district rainy day fund in several years. It is notable that this improvement in fiscal sustainability was achieved without additional cuts in direct services to students and classrooms. Certainly, this stabilization of finances has come in part as a result of the continued sacrifices from our AAPS employees as well as other ongoing austerity measures, and this ‘tightening of the belt’ remains a challenge for all. While we continue to advocate at the state level for additional support for Michigan public schools, we are taking the appropriate steps here in Ann Arbor to work responsibly within our current fiscal reality. We must maintain fiscal responsibility and ensure future viability for the organization within our current resource allocation. This 2014 audit report demonstrates that we have achieved a stabilization of the AAPS budget through increasing revenues and closely monitoring expenditures. Though there remains much work to accomplish in this area, we have realized a significant step in district finances this year. For more information, the full audit report may be accessed at: a2schools.org
Community Forums: Continuing the Conversation, 2015
The process of improvement will continue over the coming year. We will continue to listen and engage with our Ann Arbor community in order to learn and work together to serve our children well. We will soon launch this year’s community tour: Continuing the Conversation, 2015. We will host several public forums in schools across the district between January and March. Please watch for upcoming announcements of dates and locations; I hope that you will join us for one of these face-to-face meetings or respond with your feedback to our online forum.
I want to thank the Ann Arbor Public Schools staff for their incredible work this year; they are an exemplary staff and they are the primary reason that our school district is top performing and our children discover, grow and succeed at school each day. Ann Arbor also benefits from a highly engaged and supportive parent community that serves as a rare gift for our children and staff. As a result of strong partnerships across students, staff, parents, and community, the signs of health and success abound around us in Ann Arbor. Quality public schools are directly connected to positive, engaged, and caring communities. The success of high-performing Ann Arbor Public Schools reflects the success of a vibrant Ann Arbor community.
It is an exciting time in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, as we are on a pathway of growth, of innovation, of success; we are currently extending and enhancing the quality for which Ann Arbor Public Schools has long been well known across Michigan and around the world. Ann Arbor Public Schools is an exemplary district that is on the move.
Thank you for your support of our children and the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and thank you for the opportunity to serve. I wish you and yours a safe, warm, and restful Thanksgiving holiday.
Jeanice K. Swift
Jeanice Kerr Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools