Last year, when she was new to Ann Arbor Public Schools, Superintendent Jeanice Swift held a series of open forums at each school in the district and some public sites.
Called Listen and Learn, the meetings were a chance for Swift to glean ideas from staff, parents, community members and high school students.
Steve Binder attended a Listen and Learn last year. And on Thursday night, he was back at Forsythe Middle School to attend a follow-up meeting in a series called Continue the Conversation.
Binder, who was one of the first students to attend Forsythe in 1961, keeps a keen eye on what’s happening in the district.
And he likes what he’s seeing.
“It’s unusual that people actually listen, and they’ve made changes that seem to be appropriate to the messages they heard—like the IB program, and the STEAM program,” Binder said after the 90-minute meeting attended by about 25 people. “Things have been done! And the gentleman in the audience who commented on how rapidly the changes take place also had a valid point. They don’t only listen, but they do learn and they do something.”
Listen and Learn resulted in the following initiatives that were started this year:
Pathways to Success Academic Campus
A2 STEAM at Northside, which was transformed from Northside Elementary
International Baccalaureate (IB) corridor at Mitchell Elementary, Scarlett Middle and Huron High schools
A2 Virtual Academy
Early Childhood Preschool at Allen and Thurston
Young Fives classrooms across the district
Infusion of technology
Enhanced world languages
During the Continue the Conversation meetings, which run through March 31, participants discuss three questions:
What are the strengths of the Ann Arbor Public Schools?
What areas still need our attention?
What else would you like us to know?
At Thursday’s meeting, parents discussed such things as the need for more computers in classrooms and a stronger emphasis on nutrition, what to do when a student and teacher can’t connect, and how to make overwhelmed elementary teachers feel more appreciated.
Jaspreet Singh Sawhney noted that the effort and energy Swift has brought to the district has been a turning point in how parents perceive how the school system looks in the future.
“It’s wonderful to have to opportunity to be heard, to be heard, and to feel like you’re heard, which is sometimes even more important,” said Sawhney, who has two children in the district.
Ronny O’Brien, who has four children at Haisley, Forsythe and Skyline, said the fact that all parents in the district have a chance to be heard by the superintendent makes a huge difference.
“It’s just really nice to hear from Dr. Swift personally, and I think she does make connections and does want to know,” she said.
The remainder of the 2015 Continuing the Conversation schedule is:
Monday, Feb. 9 at the Balas Administration Building
Tuesday, Feb. 10 at Scarlett Middle School
Thursday, Feb. 12 at Slauson Middle School
Noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23 at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown
Tuesday, March 3 at Tappan Middle School
Monday, March 9 at Peace Neighborhood Center
Thursday, March 12 at A2 STEAM at Northside
Thursday, March 26 at Pathways to Success Academic Campus
Monday, March 30 at Community High School
Tuesday, March 31 at Ann Arbor Open
Everyone is welcome at the meetings, which run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. with the exception of the Feb. 23 meeting at the AADL, which starts at noon.
Unable to get to a meeting? No problem. You can still share your thoughts by going to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AAPSContinues