By Tara Cavanaugh
New AAPS Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Swift is visiting every school in the district to meet and hear from parents and staff (see full schedule here). She kicked off her first community forum at Angell Elementary on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Angell parents shared their feedback on the points of pride and concern about their school and the district.
Dr. Swift was joined by Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye and Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Dawn Linden. Board trustee Susan Baskett also attended the forum.
Dr. Swift ran the forum in an organized format that will be replicated in the other 31 visits to schools that she will make before the holiday break in December.
In small groups, parents answered four questions: What are you proud of? What are areas of opportunity and growth? What do we hope to achieve for our children and AAPS in the future? What are the top three priorities you would like Dr. Swift to address?
When attendees reported out their discussions to the audience, common themes arose.
A consistent point of pride was the unique feel of each school. “Neighborhood schools are important,” said Tom Braun. “That’s a facet of Ann Arbor that we want to have.”
Parents suggested that the district create a way for schools to share their best practices and learn from one another.
Strengthening the district’s relationship with the University of Michigan was also a common theme. U-M has many programs that help enhance education for AAPS students, such as the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching Learning Collaborative and the Spanish Language Internship Program. “That’s great,” said parent Stephanie Kahl-Burnstein. “So how can U-M be used at more schools?”
Parents also expressed a desire to better understand the effect of district finances on their schools: they wanted to know how the Tech Bond money is being used in classrooms and how budget cuts have affected schools and specialized services. (For a Tech Bond update, see here, and for a description of where this year’s budget cuts took place, see here.)
Overall, attendees’ top priorities concerned funding: how to help teachers who have lost teaching aides, how to attract more donations to the schools, and how to lobby the state government for more funding for public education. “The voice of Ann Arbor should go up, rather than the voice of the government coming down,” Braun said.
Dr. Swift was thrilled at the attendance –– Angell’s small auditorium was comfortably full –– and the feedback.
“I was interested to see the common themes that we heard: the cuts, the beauty of the neighborhood schools, the relationship with teachers, and the uniqueness of Angell,” she said.
“I think it’s wonderful that 40-some people would come out on a weeknight to help fill in that community dialogue. That’s amazing. That’s community.”
Parents were also pleased with the forum.
“I thought it would be more her talking to us about what the direction of the district was, and instead it was more of us talking to her,” said Candace Bramson. “That’s probably good because she can get a feeling about what people are concerned about before she decides how she wants to set her priorities.”
“I got a very positive feeling about the new superintendent,” said John Fohrman. “We’re grateful to have our daughter going here. There’s a certain thoughtfulness and synergy that’s here. They’re always striving for continuous improvement.”
Related on the AAPS News
- Dr. Swift’s Community Forum schedule
- Class sizes, transportation issues focus of Board of Education session Sept. 18
- Parents, administrators review 2013-2014 budget cuts
- Gov. Snyder’s education plan draws sharp criticism at Ann Arbor community forum