By Andrew Cluley- AAPS Communications Specialist
Four of the five Ann Arbor Public Schools 2015 Bond Committees are close to presenting recommendations to Superintendent Jeanice Swift and the Board of Education. The school board this week received an update on the progress being made in developing plans to identify needs and prioritize spending in the areas of athletic fields, auditoriums, the classroom environment, musical instruments and playgrounds. In 2015 voters overwhelmingly passed a $32 million bond proposal for upgrades in this areas, as well as purchasing new school buses and security upgrades.
Each of the Bond Committees are following the same process of assessing the current reality in the district, creating a vision for the ideal, collecting input from the community, school leaders and users of their particular focus item. The committees then will present recommendations for the top priorities for how the district should spend money raised when voters approved the bond issue in 2015. Recommendations are expected from each committee before the end of the year, other than the classroom environment recommendation. This recommendation will come in early 2017 after feedback is collected on pilot classrooms across the district that are getting new furniture this fall.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift says it’s exciting that the committees of community members and AAPS staff are thoughtfully creating a plan for the future, not just deciding how to spend the $32 million from the bond proposal. “They have established what is the ideal in each of these areas,” Swift says. “They have looked at models across Michigan, across the country and right here in our own city. U of M facilities often are a model that we say, ‘This is where we’d like to go.’ They have a thorough analysis in every one of the bucket areas of our current reality.”
Swift adds this important work is more than just identifying new items to purchase. “This whole body of work has one focus and that is to focus on the student experience while they are in our schools,” Swift says. “That it would be a rewarding and enriching experience and that we wouldn’t just take old furniture out and bring new furniture in, but we would leverage this opportunity to shift teaching and learning, while we’re shifting the furniture.”
Outdoor Athletic Fields and Facilities
Outside experts reviewed all of the ball diamonds, tennis courts, and soccer fields owned by the district and graded their current condition. Committee members then visited exemplars to create a vision for what the ideal is for the district. When it came to work on priorities for work, the committee has divided the district by middle school zones to ensure equity across the city.
Input was collected from principals, athletic directors, PE teachers, and area coaches according to Executive Director of Community Jenna Bacolor “In the big picture we want to support healthy development for children as they grow up in our schools,” Bacolor says. “The ideal would be for our athletic fields and facilities to be maintained at a quality that is safe, usable, weather tolerant, that children are able to learn, practice and enjoy outdoor sports throughout their careers with us.”
Fine Arts Coordinator Robin Bailey says this committee is currently working to align what outside professionals think are top needs with what are the top requests from each school. She says safety, aesthetics, lighting, sound, and curtains are the top priorities.
Flexibility, mobility, and durability are among the leading factors the Classroom Environment Committee used in the common rubric they developed to establish as the ideal classroom setting. Executive Director of Technology Merri Lynn Colligan says the rubric was created as a result of teacher surveys.
12 classrooms across the district will have new furniture installed to get an idea of which specific items are preferred by students, teachers, and the community. Colligan says planned open houses will provide the chance for everyone to share their thoughts. “We encourage people to go, sit and provide feedback,” she says. “In those locations we will have a device there that they can quickly fill out a little survey and give us the feedback so that our advisory group can look at that feedback and really look at what the recommendation should be against the criteria.”
Music teachers were surveyed about what are the most used instruments and asked to grade the instruments currently in their classroom. Pianos were all reviewed by Steinway officials who also determined which types were best suited for each location.
Fine Arts Coordinator Robin Bailey says training on techniques to help groups reach a decision was useful in creating the ideal for musical instruments and in all of the bond committees. “I so appreciated the Trego Ed training that really provided a good structure for these committees and also consistency in all of our committees,” she says.
Working to ensure equity and playgrounds that have universal access are some of the key topics discussed by the Playgrounds Committee. The committee also reviewed the existing conditions at all of Ann Arbor’s elementary schools with particular attention paid to the safety of play structures.
Executive Director of Elementary Education Dawn Linden says the Playground Committee will make a little different recommendation than the other committees. “Our goal is develop a playground guide, not to determine for all of our principals and school communities which play structures and which equipment they will get, because everybody looks different,” she says. “Some have plenty of structures to climb on but they don’t have enough ground level play, others have lots of ground level play and they need something.”