Farmington Schools Endures Challenging Year
In 2011, the district struggled with the demolition of four buildings, a lawsuit, tense union negotiations and tougher academic standards.
It seemed like the hits just kept on coming for Farmington Public Schools in 2011.
From a controversial building sale to unsettling news about academic performance under new state standards, officials often faced angry parents at board meetings. But the district also celebrated some significant milestones.
Here are a few of the year's biggest stories:
A controversial vote in January authorized the solicitation of bids for the demolition of elementary buildings closed in 2010, and Fairview Early Childhood Center, closed in 2006. Wooddale, Flanders and William Grace Elementary and Fairview Early Childhood Center were eventually leveled, but officials in January received an offer for Eagle Elementary, from the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA). There are no plans to develop the now vacant school sites, but Eagle Elementary is a different story.
Lawsuit over Eagle sale
The news of an offer on the Eagle Elementary building surfaced in May, when it was considered on the agenda of a public meeting. More than 100 residents showed up at a meeting in June to protest the sale, which was unanimously approved on June 14. In July, residents Eugene Greenstein of Farmington Hills and Melvin C. Sternfeld of West Bloomfield filed suit to stop the sale, claiming the Board of Education failed to follow board policies and procedures of the district. Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot ruled in September that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate they would be harmed by sale of the closed building. The ruling has been appealed, and the sale is expected to be completed Jan. 12, 2012.
Support services survive
School officials secured steep concessions from transportation, custodial and food services employees, after requesting proposals for outsourcing those services. While officials said the district's gloomy financial picture left them with no choice, union workers and their supporters urged them to keep the services in-house. In the end, the unions came up with $2.3 million in wage cuts, increased benefit contributions, vacation and holiday time accruals and more, which officials voted to accept.
Big changes at North Farmington
Long-time principal Rick Jones and theater teachers Dean and Sue Cobb retired at the end of the 2010-2011 school year – but they won't be forgotten. The school's theater wing was named in honor of the Cobbs, and the main school building is now the "Richard B. Jones Academic Center". The school's new principal is Joseph Greene, and Samantha Feldman, a 2007 North graduate, directed The Laramie Project this fall.
The environmental efforts of eight Farmington schools qualified them this year for "Green School" status. All of the schools are at the Emerald or Evergreen level, the two highest levels. The schools and their Green Team names are:
- Alameda Early Childhood Center (Alameda Pee-Wee Power Savers) – Emerald
- Dunckel Middle School (WE: Wildcats for the Environment) – Evergreen
- East Middle School (Titan Green Team) – Green
- Gill Elementary School (Gill Green Team) – Evergreen
- Harrison High School (HHS International Interact Club) – Emerald
- Hillside Elementary School (Hillside Green Team) – Evergreen
- Kenbrook Elementary School (Kenbrook Green Team) – Emerald
- Longacre Elementary School (Longacre Kilowatt Keeper/Green Team) – Emerald
County honors teacher
Honored among Farmington Public Schools Teachers of the Year, Beechview Elementary's Bobbie Blazo was named the 2011 Oakland County Outstanding Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Blazo was selected from a pool of 16 nominees evaluated in engaging students, meeting students' individual needs, demonstrating knowledge of the subject area and other criteria.
Farmington officials were pleased with the results of the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) tests earlier this year, and especially with an improving trend in mathematics. But districts across the state got a rude awakening in November, when the state released a look at how students would do on MEAP and Michigan Merit Exam tests under new, more rigorous standards that will go into effect in 2013-2014. The district has partnered with Oakland Intermediate School District on the development of new "Common Core" curriculum, and teacher training is underway.
The district's new International Baccalaureate (IB) program launched at Harrison High School this year, with 110 freshmen. Harrison principal Aaron Johnson told school board members in November that students from five continents are enrolled, and IB has brought new energy to the school. Thirty teachers have been trained and are writing curriculum for the program, which is for 11th and 12th graders, but students begin preparing for it in 9th grade.