Back to school tour highlights some of the great work in Ann Arbor Public Schools

By Andrew Cluley

AAPS District News

With the start of the new school year there are a lot of exciting new changes across the Ann Arbor Public Schools.   Here’s a brief recap of some of the exciting news that Superintendent Jeanice Swift heard about and saw while touring all of the district’s schools in the first weeks of school.

Carpenter Elementary this year is focusing on the big rocks that really matter, things like caring for self and others.   Carpenter also welcomed about 30 more students this year than attended last school year.

Huron High School Principal Janet Schwamb says the school had a big boost in 9th graders this year. Staff at Huron, including about 22 new teachers, are working this year with district officials and building International Baccalaureate facilitators to develop inquiry based units.

Forsythe Middle School Principal Jerry Morrissey says he’s excited this year because of the positive nature he’s noticed from families. In meeting with parents he heard InfoSnap made the registration process faster. A fresh coat of paint has also rejuvenated the appearance of Forsythe.

Ann Arbor Open School had a great turnout for the parent coffee session hosted by the AAOC, and then an energetic welcoming assembly. New principal Meg Fenech says the staff has a great can-do attitude. She says the sense of community is great at A2 Open and she hopes to serve as long as the A2 Open family will let her.

Just days before Bach Elementary opened doors for the first day of school vandals defaced a mural painted in the spring by artist David Zinn and Bach students. Principal Alison Epler says the Bach community rallied together around the mural in a great way. The building is launching a theme of paying it forward this year, and Epler says staff already demonstrated this theme by working to improve the entrance to Bach in the days before students started.

A pair of veteran principals came out of retirement to lead Logan Elementary this year. Shelley Bruder and Kathy Morhous each say it’s going to be a great year because of their “teaming” as co-principal. Staff and families say the principals have quickly made a difference. The mother of a Logan second grade student thanked Superintendent Jeanice Swift on the first day of school for bringing on board two amazing women.

Bryant Elementary has a bit of a new look this year, thanks to some University of Michigan law students that made the school brighter with new paint. Principal Roberta Heyward says there really seems to be a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around the school this fall.

Pathways to Success Academic Campus is celebrating a new partnership with Zingerman’s this year. The program will give 20 students the chance to work at Zingerman’s as a hands-on learning experience aligned with classroom lessons. The staff has also worked on team teaching projects that are bringing together subjects such as a music and history class and a class combining civics with statistics.

Pittsfield Elementary principal Carol Shakarian remains focused on making the school a home away from home for students. They celebrated former student Chris Ekpiken appearing on the Food Network’s show Rachel Ray’s Kids Cook-Off with an assembly where Ekpiken made Hawaiian Pizza on flat bread and shared his story of overcoming bullying through cooking.

Lawton Elementary is in the midst of a building refresh led by students, parents and staff who worked seven days a week over the summer painting hallways and other improvements. A new buddy bench was also made by a student and a grandfather to serve as a place to make friends on the playground.

Dicken Elementary Principal Michael Madison welcomed back his entire staff from last year and is excited they are able to continue moving forward on their initiatives. This includes offering Project Lead the Way to help students with hands-on learning.

Students at Lakewood Elementary are enjoying a new gaga Pit built by several parents over the Labor Day weekend. Principal Michelle Seals was also excited to see that some new families coming to the district from Japan were warmly welcomed by some of the existing Japanese speaking families. This is a great example of the Lakewood community culture.

King Elementary dabbled with an anti-bullying club last year, and this effort to raise awareness and offer strategies to prevent bullying will expand this year. The school also added the flags of Argentina and Australia in the cafeteria. The building now has 32 flags flying, representing all of the homelands of King students.

Slauson Middle School is celebrating the biggest sixth grade class in years. These sixth graders will get a chance to have their voices heard through a student council that includes representatives from all three grades. Slauson has added the option for eighth graders to take high school math in the building rather than being sent to a high school.

A2 STEAM at Northside this year added seventh grade and middle school athletics as the transformation to becoming a K-8 school enters a second year. Superintendent Jeanice Swift notes that A2 STEAM at Northside doesn’t just use a lot of technology, but the technology is used well in service to learning.

Clague Middle School is another building in the district that has a new feeling thanks to some fresh paint. Principal Che Carter is proud of 8th grader Samantha Ruud who collected used sports equipment to donate to Detroit PAL.

Thurston Elementary School continues to grow, with the need to add a fourth kindergarten class and another pre-school classroom this year. Thurston also is now offering STEAM programing through “Project Lead the Way.”

Ann Arbor Public Schools K-12 International Baccalaureate program is growing from the ground up as Mitchell Elementary added another section of kindergarten as the school is at a peak in enrollment for at least a decade and probably closer to 20 years. Principal Kevin Karr says the IB development has reached the point where they’re working on specifics of the plan.

Scarlett Middle School students have a great new lab space for Project Lead the Way classes as a former shop area has been converted. Over the year sculptures made by students representing all 10 of the International Baccalaureate learner profiles will be unveiled in the media center as the school continues to work on the IB transition.

Allen Elementary is full of Superheroes this year. It’s the school’s theme and students will be discovering their talents over the year. Many of the students may find their talents include world languages thanks to Arabic teacher Shaima Basuni.

Pattengill Elementary Principal Melita Alston says the school’s focusing on strengthening ties with the community and uniting with partner school Byrant Elementary. Pattengill also has a strong bond with Pioneer High School thanks to the Trailblazer program, where high school students work with Pattengill students as classroom mentors.

Tappan Middle School teachers entered the year with a better idea of community resources available to help students. Principal Jazz Parks says some of staff’s professional development time this year was devoted to getting to know organizations like Hikone and Bryant Community Center, the Ann Arbor District Library, and 826 Michigan.

Abbot Elementary Principal Pamela Sica says the start of the school year is exciting to see all the students especially the young fives and those in Kindergarten that are going to school for the first time.   Coming up in the second half of the year Abbot will roll out STEAM programing through “Project Lead the Way.”

Haisley Elementary is re-energizing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports efforts by having students focus on choosing kindness.   The new starting bell time allowed for special classes to align better so teachers can meet and work together more frequently.

Eberwhite Elementary Principal Bill Harris says the school has a great mix with several new teachers that are a wonderful addition to an otherwise veteran staff. He says a great group of parent volunteers have helped students make a smooth transition into the school year.

Wines Elementary is celebrating earning a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School designation. The Wines community welcomed about 40 new families to the school this year and Principal David DeYoung says many of them are new neighbors that have moved to the district.

Pioneer High School is off to a great start and Principal Tracy Lowder says it’s because everyone on the staff is working together and doing a great job. Assistant Principal Kevin Hudson says they have a great group of students this year, including a large class of 9th graders.

Burns Park Elementary students are enjoying a new playground in front of their school this year, including a gaga pit. Third graders in Mrs. Crook class say in addition to recess on the new playground their favorite parts of school are music, art, reading time, computer lab, and physical education.

Angell Elementary has earned recognition as a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School. The recognition comes as the school continues to attract more students. Over the last three years enrollment has grown by about 50, while the school has maintained a diverse population. Students came from 40 different countries last year.

Skyline High School has doubled the number of students that can participate in the school’s magnet programs. The magnet programs are using co-teaching models to help offer more real-world application of skills. A partnership with the Dispute Resolution Center has Skyline’s Restorative Practice program in the second year of implementation.

An introduction to engineering class and a new graphic design class have both quickly become popular for Community High School students. The school is also expanding class options by offering some evening classes. The move comes as Community boosted enrollment by 50 students this year.

Here’s how the tour played out over social media.


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