What's On Michigan's Schools' Plate Post-Election?

The elections are over. In all the discussions about the national level, you may not have noticed some of the state-level results.

[Did you notice the local results? Two of the candidates who endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform--Jeff Gaynor and Harmony Mitchell--were elected. Donna Lasinski won a state representative seat, and has vacated her AAPS school board seat. The board will appoint a replacement.]

On the State Board of Education, two GOP activists took the open seats, formerly held by Democrats. One of them was formerly held by Board President John Austin, who lost his bid for re-election. (Kathleen Straus had decided not to run again, and Democrat Ish Ahmed lost.) The winners are former state Rep. Tom McMillin and Whitmore Lake GOP activist Nicolette Snyder. McMillin and Snyder are on record as opposing Common Core standards.

The House of Representatives maintains the same balance of Republicans and Democrats, although with term limits, some of the faces change. 

Ally and Advocate: Michigan Parents for Schools

Here is where we mention a wonderful state organization, Michigan Parents for Schools. If you haven't checked out their web site or Facebook page, now would be a good time to do so. 

Don't Blink, You Might Miss Something!

Earlier this year, the DeVos family ("education reform" activists and bankrollers) indicated that they felt "pension reform" should be the number one priority for the legislature

According to Michigan Parents for Schools, there is a good chance that this will come up in lame duck session. Writes Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools: 

Two topics may come up in lame duck, one of them being a long-simmering proposal to replace the state school employee retirement plan (MPSERS) with individual 401k-type accounts. For the last few years, new hires have been covered by a hybrid system (part pension, part 401k, with no retirement health benefits). However, the proposal to end MPSERS entirely is much more sweeping and would involve huge costs as current employees and schools no longer paid into the system. (Emphasis added.)

If you thought that would mean saving money (even though it is clearly an attack on teachers and their benefits), you would be wrong. In the short-term, it would cost a lot--and it isn't even clear it would save money in the long term. Read more from the State of Michigan's Office of Retirement Services

According to MIPFS: 

The other potential issue is raised by a package of bills just introduced by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton). These bills (SB 1165-1169) would create a "Parental Choice In Education Program," replacing the current school funding system with "education savings accounts" for each pupil, funded primarily with tax dollars, which they would use to purchase instructional services from "authorized providers."
This proposal closely mirrors the "Oxford Foundation" and "skunk works" proposals from a few years ago, both of which were designed to make school districts a thing of the past and to encourage purchases of online courses from various providers.

Follow Michigan Parents for Schools (you can get on their email list) for regular updates on state-level legislation.

Introducing AAPS School Board Candidate Hunter Van Valkenburgh

Hunter Van Valkenburgh writes:

1. My Background

 I am a self-employed attorney in Ann Arbor, specializing in family and probate law.  Prior to law school, I taught Social Studies at Southfield High School from 1996-1999.  I've also been a licensed builder and mechanic.  My wife Aina Bernier teaches 7-8 grade Science at Ann Arbor Open, and she has been doing that since 2000.  We have twin 15 year old sophomores at Community and Pioneer high schools.

This is my second attempt at getting on the Board.  In 2014, I was fifth out of ten candidates for four positions.   Many of the same issues on which I ran still bedevil the district, and I hope to make a positive change on the Board.


2. When I Serve on the Board of Education

My first priority is to focus our resources to the greatest extent possible on increasing instructional time for students and their teachers.  Many studies have shown that this is the single greatest factor linked to high achievement.  Smaller class sizes and more individual attention will make a bigger difference in closing the achievement gap than anything else we can do.

Related to the above, I want to review the current regime of diagnostic standardized tests that are imposed on our students.  The data from these tests may have some limited utility, but the cost in dollars and instructional time is significant, and there is no relationship between test taking and achievement.  You don’t help a cow grow by weighing it repeatedly.

I want to develop a more collaborative model for working with our employees to solve the challenges facing the district. The district’s approach has been a top-down imposition of conditions on employees, and attempts to work collaboratively such as the custodians’ offer to form a workers’ cooperative have been rebuffed.  If there has to be sacrifice to balance the district’s budget, those making the most should sacrifice first.

3. The Educate Ann Arbor Platform

The Educate Ann Arbor platform aligns perfectly with my own values and opinions about many aspects of running public schools.  I endorse it without reservation.

Introducing AAPS School Board Candidate Jeff Gaynor

Jeff Gaynor writes:

1.    My background:

My two daughters attended the Ann Arbor Public Schools, K-12, and we hosted over a dozen international exchange students who went to Pioneer H.S.

I was a classroom teacher for 38 years, primarily in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. I taught for 18 years at Clague Middle School following 10 years at Bach Open, and shorter assignments at Carpenter and Northside Elementary Schools.

I graduated from the Science and Arts program at Detroit Cass Tech.  I earned my B.A. at U-M (Social Studies major), and M.A. at EMU (Language Arts).

My teaching career included:

  • Classroom teaching, Grades 1–8;   Math, Social Studies, and English Language Arts, grades 6-7, and American History, Grade 8.  Substitute Teaching K-12;
  • Presenting multiple times at statewide Math (U-M and MCTM), Social Studies (MCSS), and Technology (MACUL) and nationwide teacher conferences;
  • Co-authoring books on math instruction and assessment, and contributing to a book on conducting Literature based reading groups,
  • Being selected for three month-long international study trips; to Belize (2005), to Turkey (2009) and to South Africa (2013),
  • Collaborating with community resources, including the School of Education, the International Institute, and LSA at U-M; arts programs at the AADL, and serving on the UMS Teacher Insight Committee.

2.    When I serve on the Board of Education:

I will bring the same principles to the Board as I did to my classroom:

Open and Honest Communication: I will inform the community on a regular basis, just as I did my students and their families as a classroom teacher.  We know that Ann Arbor is an excellent school district, with motivated students, engaged parents, and committed teachers. We don't need incessant Public Relations chatter at Board meetings. Instead we'll openly and honestly explore the challenges that we do face.  I will reach out to, seek input from and collaborate with our staff and the public, not see them as obstacles to a high achieving district.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving:  The board is the community’s representative and voice, and it is imperative that we give direction to the administration and examine the information they use for decision making.  This extends from financial stewardship to achievement data to equity concerns.   We must not stop with rhetoric, but make sure our practice matches our ideals.


 Integrity over expediency:  Whether it’s the way we treat employees or the way our actions affect neighboring districts, we must consider the welfare of all, rather than make decisions with an “us vs. them” mentality.  We must fight and act against the anti-public education policies in Lansing.  As we expect excellence from our staff and students, we must exhibit the highest intellectual and ethical standards ourselves.

3.    Educate Ann Arbor Platform Items that resonate:

Every one of them, without reservation.  These are principles I have been promoting as a teacher, as a parent, and as a proponent of effective and high quality public education.


Introducing AAPS School Board Candidate Harmony Mitchell

We asked school board candidates who have endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform to write a short post introducing themselves; describing what they are most interested in working on when they are on the board; and a bit about what most resonates with each of them about the Educate Ann Arbor platform. 

Harmony Mitchell writes: 

My family relocated here from the Washington, DC Metropolitan area in 2012, in search of a place to nurture and raise our  family. While the majority of my experiences with the Ann Arbor public schools have been positive I began to notice a trend that I had seen before. Looking for answers I visited my children's school often and questioned why things seemed to be declining. Through discussions with other parents it became clear that the community was not being heard. I am graduate of Hampton University, an advocate for finding forever homes for children in foster care, and supporter of parent teacher collaboration. I reside in Ann Arbor with my husband Lester and our four children Aaron, Ariel, Trenton, and Eva.

Some of the things I look forward to working on as a board member are:

  1. Closing the achievement gap. 
  2. Improving equity among the teaching staff. 
  3. Reducing the amount of testing. 
  4. Improving relations between the board and the community. 

None of these goals are easy tasks but I will not give up.

When it comes to running a school system there is no most pressing issue. The answer is complex and as tedious as building a house. The easy answer would be to suggest, a balanced budget. This is a fair answer, but it does not speak to the kind of education, equity, and experience the student and staff will obtain. Like a house there are many fine details involved from minor, paint color, to major, plumbing and the roof involved. So while we can certainly lay a strong foundation with a balanced budget, if we don't build a functioning structure it will not matter. It is my hope that each board member brings their perspective to the table with the goal of better serving the students, staff, and community in mind. 

I endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform because it spoke to me as a parent. Understanding that parents are partners in the education of their children is important. Furthermore recognizing that parents should be able to opt out of standardized without consequences is just as important! We need to make sure that the community as a whole is involved with the public education process. 

Introducing AAPS School Board Candidate Rebecca Lazarus

We asked school board candidates who have endorsed the Educate Ann Arbor platform to write a short post introducing themselves; describing what they are most interested in working on when they are on the board; and a bit about what most resonates with each of them about the Educate Ann Arbor platform. 

Rebecca Lazarus writes:

As a mother of 2 children, who attend Logan Elementary, I have learned the importance of being an involved parent.  I’ve found that most parents want the same things for their children as I do --- To have them:

  • Attend schools that are safe, clean, and well maintained;
  • Receive a good education with caring and supportive teachers and staff; and
  • Have equal access to innovative programs and state-of-the-art resources that will prepare them for success in a global market.

I am confident, I will bring a new perspective to the District. I have a wide business background in insurance, technology, government, business development, and marketing. I’ve negotiated and managed contracts and budgets both private and public. And I have several years of government experience working for 2 Mayors.

I’m currently serving as Logan’s PTO Council Representative and manage their website. I’m also honored to serve on the District’s Classroom Advisory Bond Committee for Technology and Environment.  Our purpose as a committee, is to research and make recommendations to the Superintendent regarding how to improve classrooms and support students and teachers in a dynamic learning environment.

Another reason why I am running, is to make sure our education dollars are spent wisely!

As your School Board Trustee, I will:

  • Oversee District spending, to ensure sound fiscal management, and reduce waste;
  • Review agreements, to ensure buildings are safe, clean, and well maintained without increasing taxes;
  • Make sure all students have equal access to state-of-the-art resources;
  • Be accessible and work hard to address your concerns; and,
  • I will leverage my relationships with state and local governments to ensure Ann Arbor receives its fair share.

I love this District and the community it serves. I want to bring a fresh perspective to the District regarding “diversity” and how we embrace our cultural differences.  Our students come from 85 countries and speak 64 different languages. There is a lot we can learn from each other. Every student, teacher, staff member, and parent is special and unique, and together, we make Ann Arbor strong! 

This election is very important, not only for Ann Arbor, but for our Country. So, please register to vote.  And I ask for your support and vote this November 8th.

Watch: League of Women Voters School Board Forum


The League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area is having a televised forum of the Ann Arbor Public Schools school board candidates. As mentioned in an early blog post, there are eight candidates for three positions

This is a Community Television Network televised forum. It will be shown live on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 7 p.m., and then will be available on demand at https://a2ctn.viebit.com/

Also note: Washtenaw Community College is also funded through our taxes, and the forum for WCC trustee candidates will be on Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.

Toolkit Post: How To Follow Ann Arbor School Board Decisions

If you are an interested (but busy) citizen, you may want to know how to follow the school board's actions and decisions. When is it important to go to a school board meeting? What happened at the last school board meeting? Given that many meetings go late in the evening, you may not be able to make all--or any--of them! That doesn't mean that you can't follow what is happening.

The examples here are of Ann Arbor's system, but much of this applies to other public school districts as well.

Ann Arbor's System: BoardDocs

In Ann Arbor, the school board notices, policies, agendas, attachments and minutes all flow through BoardDocs, which can be found on the Ann Arbor Schools web page under the Board of Education. BoardDocs is fairly easy to use once you get used to it, but at first it seems as if everything is hidden (because it kind of is--everything is "embedded.")

This is the BoardDocs logo. Many public organizations use BoardDocs or something similar. Click on the link to get to meeting packets, agendas, information about meetings (for instance, where and when they are), and board minutes.

If you go into BoardDocs and choose a meeting (in this example, the one that happened on June 29, 2016), you can see that the meeting will be held at Forsythe Middle School at 7 p.m. "View the Agenda" is a choice on the right. There are other tabs you could choose instead, such as "featured" (which includes a list of upcoming meetings) and "policies" (which guide the district). 

If you want to share a particular meeting, there is a share icon in the top righthand corner. Here, for instance, is the June 29th, 2016 meeting link.

Going deeper into the June 29th agenda, and clicking on the "Ratification of Employment Agreements," the final disposition of the employment agreements is displayed (because this meeting has already happened). So at a glance you can see what the motion said and that the motion carried. Above where it says "Motion & Voting" are attached copies of each of the union bargaining unit's Tentative Agreements. If you choose one you will be able to open it and read the attachment in its entirety. Each of the individual links makes up what would be a traditional "board packet." You can tell that there are attached documents because as you look over the agenda, on the left hand side next to "Ratification of Employment Agreements" there is a small icon that looks a bit like pieces of paper.

But Where Are The Minutes?

Sticking with the June 29, 2016 meeting as an example, scroll down to the consent agenda.

Typically you will find the approval of minutes under the consent agenda. But you might notice that there is no icon here, so how do you read the minutes? Great question, and unless you play around with the system there is no good way to figure this out.  

IF you click on F. Approve Minutes of the June 15, 2016 Study Session/Regular Meeting, then you see this: 

See the icon next to the words View Minutes? That will take you to the actual minutes. 

Although board meeting dates and times for the entire Board (not the subcommittees) are posted on the Ann Arbor schools web site here, that does not include agendas or meeting minutes.

On the plus side: Once you learn to use BoardDocs, the system is fairly easy to use. The documents are attached to the agenda items and can be opened as PDFs. 

On the minus side: It takes a bit of time to learn to use BoardDocs. Agenda items sometimes do not have the documents added before the board meeting. It is not always easy to find the minutes for a meeting.

More Things To Know

When you do find the minutes of the meetings, you may be very disappointed if you are hoping to understand what actually happened at the meeting. Typically, the minutes have the decisions and the votes, but at most a sentence about the discussion that took place. This is unfortunate, because ideally the minutes give an idea of the history of what has happened.

[Local blogger Monet Tiedemann covers the meetings when she can at AnnArbivore, sometimes giving both previews and live blogging the meetings. Lauren Slagter of the Ann Arbor News generally covers them as well.] 

The Ann Arbor school board meetings are generally taped by CTN and can be livestreamed here. At the current time they cannot be watched on demand, and if the school board meeting gets moved (which happens fairly often), they are not always taped. 

So that is a quick summary about how--and where--to follow the school board. 

First Step for School Elections: Help People Register to Vote

If you are reading this, you already probably know that it is an election year. While many people are aware of the presidential election, many fewer people understand that a lot of "smaller" races will be on the ballot--including candidates for the Michigan Board of Education and candidates for local school board races. 

Every year, people lose out on the opportunity to vote because they are not registered to vote. This might sound obvious, but it's not. If you are an advocate for public education, your first job is to get your neighbors, friends, students, random strangers registered to vote.

Courtesy of AIGA's Get Out The Vote Campaign. This poster designed by Keir DuBois. There are lots of other posters too, that you can download and post.

Courtesy of AIGA's Get Out The Vote Campaign. This poster designed by Keir DuBois. There are lots of other posters too, that you can download and post.

You can champion candidates until you are blue in the face, but if someone is not registered, she or he cannot vote. So--the first step to getting people to vote in local school board elections is ensuring that they are registered.

Here's how to promote voter registration

Step 1. Ask people

Ask people--but especially people who are new voters or recently moved to the area: are you registered to vote in...Ann Arbor... Dexter... Ypsilanti... Saline... Chelsea... Manchester... Whitmore Lake... (you get the picture).

If the answer is No, I Don't Know, or I Just Moved, you can check whether someone is registered (at the correct address) through the Secretary of State using this link

For renters, especially, who move frequently, keeping registration up to date is important.

If the answer is Yes, I am registered to vote, then go to Step 3.

Step 2. Help someone register to vote

The last day to register to vote for the November 2016 election is October 11, 2016.

Applicants fill out an application, at a Secretary of State's office, online, or in person at a city/township clerk's office. [If someone registers online, that person has to show up in person to vote the first time.] The application is simple, and you can print it out and bring it in to the city/township clerk's office.

(If you are only talking to one person in a family, remind that person to tell their other family members to register too!)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Michigan law says your voter registration has to match your driver's license/state ID address, so often updating both at the Secretary of State is the thing to do.

Step 3. Campaign for Candidates.

Talk to your friends and neighbors about the down-ballot elections, such as the Michigan Board of Education and the local school board elections. For that, you have a little more time, until Election Day itself!

Teachers (Parents, Students): You Can Be Your Own Best Advocates

It's the time of year when teachers start thinking about the coming year. What do they want to accomplish in the classroom in the coming year?

Cathy Fleischer, EMU Professor

Cathy Fleischer, EMU Professor

It's a good time, too, to reflect--whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a citizen--on what YOU want to advocate for over the coming year. 

Many teachers approach the topic of advocacy with a bittersweet feeling. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair: I'll ask a pilot how to fly a plane, not a CEO. Why won't policymakers listen to educators?

In order to change that dynamic, teachers need to find their voices. 

EMU Professor Cathy Fleischer has become an expert on coaching teachers to advocate for the issues that matter to them (you can take workshops or classes with her), and the National Council of Teachers of English has an Everyday Advocacy website that is worth perusing.

As the home page of the website states beautifully: 

We are teachers.  We know what happens in the worlds of schools.  So why isn’t anybody listening to us? Join us on this site as we explore ways to become advocates for teachers, for teaching, and for student learning. Learn how to enter the public conversation in ways that are smart, safe, and savvy.
Find your voice and help change the conversation. Become an everyday advocate.

The website coaches you through three core ideas:

  1. Storytelling as Advocacy
  2. Identifying and Framing an Issue
  3. Taking Action

It follows that up with details on how to create an Action Plan

NOTE: The Association for Library Service to Children also has a program called Everyday Advocacy. The website looks a lot different but the core idea is the same. They are asking people to Commit, Collaborate, and Contribute--to engage with their communities and advocate for libraries. Visit that website here.

The core ideas--identifying YOUR issues, taking action on them--resonate very much with Educate Ann Arbor's goals and focus. So if you feel like you need some inspiration or some tools to tackle tough issues around educational policy, know that whether you are a parent, teacher, student, or citizen (or most likely, more than one of these!)--you are not alone. 

Know that whatever topic is near and dear to your heart (school funding, equity, testing, language learning, libraries, governance, professional development...) there is plenty of work to be done.

As Fleischer writes, "Begin."

Join us by endorsing our platform.

Ready, Set, Go: School Board Candidates Start Campaigns

In Ann Arbor, there are eight candidates for three school board seats. Each seat is for a 4-year term. 

Washtenaw Intermediate School District districts

Washtenaw Intermediate School District districts

The following candidates are running for school board in Ann Arbor: 

  • Jeff Gaynor
  • Jeremy Glick
  • Rebecca Lazarus
  • Simone Lightfoot
  • Deb Mexicotte
  • Harmony Mitchell
  • Hunter Van Valkenburgh
  • Don Wilkerson

Unlike Ann Arbor city council, candidates don't run in "wards," but they run district-wide. 

Educate Ann Arbor will be asking each candidate to endorse the Educate Ann Arbor platform, and we will be sharing more information about those candidates who do endorse the platform--that way you will know where they stand.

[You can also endorse the Educate Ann Arbor platform. It's easy. Just fill out this form!]

Andy Thomas decided not to run again. Thank you Andy for your service!

If you are in another district in Washtenaw County, you can learn more about who is running in your district in this article

It's probably also worth noting that current Ann Arbor school board member Donna Lasinski is running for a Michigan House of Representatives seat. She won her (Democratic) primary, and if she wins the general election, there will be another vacancy on the Ann Arbor school board--after the election. 

What Is The Educate Ann Arbor Platform?

If you agree with Educate Ann Arbor, please join us!


Educate Ann Arbor is a group of parents, teachers, school staff, students and citizens who care about our public school systems and work toward educating our community about public education.

  • We believe parents should have an active voice in their children’s education.

  • We believe teachers are professionals and should be treated as professionals.

  • We believe in teacher-driven assessment.

  • We support the rights of teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school staff to unionize.

  • We endorse community-driven decision-making.

  • We insist the State of Michigan make school funding a priority.

We believe the State of Michigan:

  • should support collaboration between districts rather than pit districts against each other by focusing on per-pupil funding;
  • should forbid public funding for for-profit public schools and charters; 
  • should work to ensure school districts across the state have the capacity to provide students and teachers with the kinds of opportunities available to students and teachers in Ann Arbor;
  • should allow local district control of curriculum within state standards;
  • should protect student data from corporate data mining.

We believe our local school districts:

  • have an unhealthy focus on testing and data collection, which is detrimental to the art of teaching and experiential learning.
  • should reduce district mandated testing and oppose state and federal overtesting, while supporting teacher-driven assessment
  • should reduce the use of testing in teacher evaluation
  • need to promote full transparency in board decision-making, including saving special briefings for emergent situations, providing adequate notice for agendas and documents, and allowing access to meeting videos after the meetings.
  • should work to insource services when possible (reverse outsourcing)
  • should work to safeguard student data
  • should tolerate and abide by state legislation, while seeking to advocate for the values of the community
  • should ensure a focus on equity and the reduction of disparities in outcomes among students based on race, ethnicity, national origin, class, and disability.
  • should work on the state level to provide students and teachers across the state with the kinds of opportunities available to students in Ann Arbor.

We believe parents:

  • are partners in the creation of excellent school systems.
  • have the right to opt out of district mandated testing, just as they have the right to opt out of health education and holiday celebrations like Halloween

We believe teacher evaluation:  

  • should be fair, consistent, and in keeping with professional standards; and to the greatest extent possible should not use standardized tests to measure teacher performance;
  • should be primarily focused on positive supports and improvements.


If you agree with our platform, please join us!