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FPS: Unfinished Business 2013 / 2014

We have unaddressed problems with Farmington Public Schools that cannot be ignored.

The first step of the 2014 / 2015 Budget Process has already started and begins to be actively developed on Tuesday, 01/07/2014. But under whose leadership and whose objectives and goals will this Budget be developed? FPS needs a Budget, a new Superintendent, and a new Bond issue before the start of the 2014 / 2015 school year. We are sitting idle in the aftermath of a failed Bond two-step followed by resignations of a Superintendent and Board member.

Superintendent Zurvolec has resigned, but has forgotten to leave. The unsolicited input I have heard over the years from administrators and parents is FPS has been in decline. The Bond proposals only reinforced that perception. The Bond Issue two-step and Sue’s resignation paints a picture of someone out-of-synch with the school Community and unwilling or unable to regroup and address the District’s needs consistent with the Community perspective. A comprehensive and thorough external Superintendent search is needed and will extend close if not indeed past the end of the school year and Sue’s stated departure date. The Board and Superintendent Zurvolec should follow former Superintendent Flanagan’s example and pursue an earlier departure (or step aside) by the current Superintendent and the hiring of an Interim Superintendent. The district was well served by Flanagan’s decision. FPS needs a 2014 / 2015 Budget that reflects a change in direction with corrective actions to improve the School District. Despite my respect , admiration, and positive working experience with Sue Zurvolec when I was on the Board, in the light of her resignation, I respectfully do not see her as now being in a position to meet the District’s needs.

The Board needs a Leader or Leaders to direct, initiate, and follow a data driven process to identify the current shortcomings of the School District, the research-based direction and framework of corrective actions, and the budget parameters needed to support those actions and redirect the educational enterprise of the District. Unfortunately the recent Bond two-step exposed the Board leadership as arrogant, tone deaf, and equally out-of-synch with the Community. Instead of recognizing themselves as the problem, the current Board leadership acrimoniously broad brushed the entire community with their lack of understanding and distaste for a vocal minority. The lack of a critical and analytical perspective cloaked in self-serving arrogance is not a promising platform from which to expect constructive leadership to fill the vacuum and serve this District’s immediate and critical need for a change in direction.

The proposition to encumber a community with $222 Million of long term debt for the benefit of a single enterprise was a major initiative. While being a clever marketing tool, to trivialize the investment in terms of a daily, weekly, or monthly outlay by a mythical average homeowner is neither a valid justification of the proposal nor an ethical basis or a legitimate claim by the FPS Board or Administration on a single dollar of any resident of the district. $222 Million is not a trivial amount to which the District is somehow entitled. Likewise, while comparisons to the level of indebtedness by other districts may be another clever marketing tool, it is a classic logical fallacy to use that comparison as a de facto justification of the proposal and ignores the current level of indebtedness as a communication of an intrinsic value by the community that should be respected, not attacked and held in contempt. A proven track record of finding the correct balance between district needs and the Communities’ historical perspective, ability, and willingness to support those needs should be a criteria of the Superintendent search criteria.

Sandyhook was and is a locked down school. It had several layers of lockdown. The analysis of the failure of those lockdown layers is available for review and understanding. After claiming to have already spent $250,000 on increased school security in 2013, a $20 Million price tag for a flawed and ineffective "solution" that itself has numerous negative consequences to an effective learning environment should have never survived a sober and critical analysis by the Board. It may have provided political cover in the highly unlikely event of a subsequent incident, but it would be equally highly unlikely to be an effective deterrent. During the first community input session of Farmington Forward, 15% of our time was brainstorming and evaluating how facilities could be changed to increase community-wide interaction with the schools. What happened to the values and learning benefits that raised that objective to being 1 of 6 priorities of the process when it was swept away by the school lockdown proposal? A Superintendent with the strength and conviction to stand up to knee-jerk emotionalism and reject an ineffective proposal should be a criteria of the Superintendent search process.

 Replacement of VCRs, failed sensors, broken floor tiles, holes in walls, broken toilets, broken drinking fountains, broken hand rails, leaking roofs, broken chairs, and broken desks are not suitable expenses to be financed by long term debt. Taxpayer provided educational facilities are a valuable and mission critical resource to a school district. Annual care, maintenance, and upgrade of those facilities are a primary responsibility of the "Trustees" of the taxpayers. Annual budget allocations to maintain the capacity of the district’s facilities is a primary budget priority. The Board’s decision(s) to shortchange this obligation to postpone other difficult decisions was a failure on their part that needs to be corrected. Recognition and adherence to the top priority of annual maintenance and upgrade of district facilities needs to be a criteria of the Superintendent search process and reflected in the 2014 / 2015 Budget.

FPS has imposed a school improvement bureaucracy, an instructional equity bureaucracy, a learning achievement coalition bureaucracy, a minority student achievement network (MSAN) bureaucracy, and a bi-lingual education bureaucracy into every classroom placing their own sets of demands on the focus, time, and energy of classroom staff reducing the instructional time shared by staff and student. The powerful State provided MEAP results (data provided to the detail of individual student responses to every question on the test) show the targeted student groups; Black, Hispanic, and Economically Disadvantaged as having consistently demonstrated a non-proficiency rate of 70 – 80% in Math, Science, Social Studies, and Writing at all Grade levels tested for each of the last (4) years reported. The tests signal an educational hole that has not been effectively responded to in at least the (4) years reported. This is a gross systemic failure. Yet over 20 years ago my children attended a Farmington school where the building staff did respond to lower than expected MEAP scores with a scientific approach to correct and eliminate learning deficiencies indicated by the test. They retested the students to verify the results. They interviewed the students to understand how the questions were interpreted by the students and why they selected their answers. They analyzed the results and identified common instructional problems to be addressed. Then as a building they modified their lesson plans to address those problems at the Grade level tested, to add or reinforce the age appropriate foundation of learning at earlier Grade levels, and to revisit, re-enforce and strengthen the affected learning areas in higher Grade levels. The use of this proven improvement process or any other equally successful improvement process remains an optional in this district, with its omission free of any effective accountability. A formal district evaluation of that school and its program demonstrated that the so-called achievement gap was reduced with the targeted groups listed above showing the greatest increase in learning achievement. As just one of many examples of what isn't working in the District today, the District currently dilutes classroom learning time with the preparation, administration, evaluation, and reaction to an MSAN Survey asking students if they experience a range of activities that MSAN deems important to the learning needs of all students in order to evaluate if minority students are receiving those activities in a manner that is relevant to them. This is a top down one-time annual evaluation of student feelings used to evaluate progress to providing relevant contextual instruction to minorities. Now go back to the list above and add all of the additional classroom disruptions by each of the other many-layered achievement programs. In contrast, if MEAP results were properly understood and valued, and adoption of the decades old process for improvement followed by some Farmington teachers, or other equally successful process, was mandated in every classroom, the result would be that actual measured learning discrepancies would be analyzed at the level of the individual student and all of the achievement improving strategies embedded in the layers of administrative programs would be incorporated directly into lesson plans where appropriate at the classroom level, ready to be effectively employed if and when they were needed by individual students. That is the power of the MEAP testing program. Effective tools tailored to the learning needs of individual students are built-in to classroom instruction plans ready to be effectively applied immediately if and when learning difficulties arise with evaluation and verification of effectiveness occurring with the next year’s MEAP tests. The overhead, bureaucracies, and classroom disruption of the current multi- layered programs and their associated costs would be extensively streamlined if not eliminated. A Superintendent who understands and values the MEAP test and the power of direct improvement in student achievement in every classroom and committed to effective accountability for their adoption, in contrast to the current "a test doesn’t make a student" dismissal of MEAP results, must be a criteria of the Superintendent search. A Budget directed to a focus on mandated classroom response to MEAP results and the elimination of these layers of top down achievement improvement programs, their bureaucratic overhead, and their classroom intrusions needs to be started with the 2014 / 2015 Budget.

From administration and parent input at all building levels, FPS has a discipline problem. Classroom discipline is a fundamental requirement for student learning and improving student achievement. In FPS we have daily battles between staff and building administrators on the removal of disinterested, unprepared, and disruptive students from the classroom. Some of the layers of achievement improve-ment programs followed by the District include by any means necessary directives that misplaces the responsibility and burden of a student’s classroom readiness and behavior on the teacher and makes it all but impossible to remove a student from the classroom. FPS needs a discipline Mission Statement: "FPS is an institution of student learning and achievement; FPS is neither a nanny nor a childcare service". FPS enjoys a talented staff and 90% of students who are prepared and ready to learn. FPS needs to value and protect their educational interests. FPS needs to treat the other 10% as truants, have the appropriate police department pick them up and process them as truants. A commitment to the re-establishment of classroom discipline as a top priority and the correction of the disinterested, unprepared, and disruptive student as the responsibility of the student and their guardian(s) should be a Superintendent search criteria.

At least (4) years of large groups of students consistently demonstrating a non-proficiency level of 70-80% indicates that the same students have progressed from elementary school through middle school and into High School with the same level of 70-80% non-proficiency in Math, Science, Social Studies, and Writing. Yet most if not all of these students received a Farmington Schools High School Diploma. A Farmington Schools High School Diploma should be a Certification of a higher level of a minimum portfolio of learning and achievement. Consistent with the current lack of a minimum standard of performance certified by a FPS High School Diploma, employers, community college administrators, and university administrators all report the need to remediate FPS High School graduates. Michigan is economically ranked 47th of the 50 States. As a Board member I pushed for increased High School Graduation requirements and as a lone voice on the 1997 Graduation Requirements Committee, I surveyed High School graduation requirements across the Nation. Michigan lagged the other States similar to our economic ranking with a very common gap of 6 credits. At the time, the District’s Executive Committee overruled the District Committee that proposed no increase and split the difference adding only (3) credits. This blithely ignored another finding of the survey that like Farmington, Districts in most other states were also looking to increase graduation requirements in 1997. The Superintendent and Board recently demonstrated their lack of understanding and commitment to any of these principles by reducing the Graduation Requirements for Farmington Central High School as if those students are children of a lesser god. The Federal Government is moving to where several States were in 1997, adding the passing of a Certification Test as a High School Graduation requirement. A strong commitment to the making of the FPS High School Diploma into a Certification and Standard of a high level of uniform academic achievement must be another Superintendent search criteria.

In order to develop a 2014 / 2015 Budget that aligns the FPS District with the Community and the financial realities of Michigan, I urge the Board to elicit the immediate leadership and involvement of a Chief Financial Officer or Treasurer of a large Farmington or Farmington Hills business, in partnership with an interim Superintendent, to lead the Board in the creation of a budget that prioritizes Facilities, Programs, and Staff in that order and develops a Bond Proposal to address the long-term facility infrastructure needs and those of higher student achievement.

In order to develop the prioritized criteria for the Superintendent search, I urge the Board to elicit the immediate leadership and involvement of a 3rd Party individual with a track record in the educational reform movement to lead and guide the Board in the selection of a new Superintendent and to ensure that the Budget Parameters and Superintendent criteria are aligned and consistent. Unfortunately, I perceive this precludes both the MSAB and Oakland ISD.

I look for the passion for quality education expressed by all sides of the recent Bond elections to now be directed at the Board to step up and take immediate action to realign Farmington Public Schools with the common consensus of the entire Community, develop a consistent 2014 / 2015 Budget, and find a new Superintendent that reflects and is consistent with that realignment. To a better New Year!

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