Cronyism in the Ypsi Public Schools?

In a 4-3 vote last night, the Ypsi School Board voted to hire a new high school principal. And, as this newly hired principal, Justin Moore, coincidentally comes from the same school district in Champaign, Illinois as our new superintendent, Dedrick Martin, there have been charges of cronyism. The following clip, concerning Moore’s somewhat questionable qualifications, comes from the article linked to above:

…(Ypsi School Board) Trustee Andy Fanta said he researched Moore through calls to Champiagn Unit 4 school board members, district representatives and newspaper articles. Fanta’s findings led him to voice concern over Moore’s level of experience and minimal progress in student achievement at Centennial, from which he resigned after 18 months.

Fanta said the two board members he spoke with reported Moore was not experienced enough to do the job.

“I’m perplexed by why we would bring someone in that would need experience and to use our flagship school in our district – the one that everyone focuses on – as a training ground for an individual,” Fanta said…

Fanta further questioned how much progress Centennial High School had made academically and in testing. The school did not make Adequate Yearly Progress last year, although district officials confirmed improvements were made in state achievement tests and academics in a phone interview with last week.

Fanta also said he didn’t have enough information about the circumstances of Moore’s resignation, which came within months of an administrative restructuring at the school.

“This man was not successful in his term leading Centennial High school, which is the flagship high school in Champaign,” he said. “They’ve replaced the whole leadership staff at Centennial High School, so why would we do this?”…

Fanta’s concern is shared by many in the community, who feel that we need a principal with more than 18 months experience. The following letter comes from my friend Maria Cotera, who, you may recall, recently fought Dedrick Martin on his administration’s plans to close two neighborhood schools in Ypsilanti.

Dear friends of Ypsilanti schools,

Yesterday was another dark day for our district. In a 4/3 vote, the board agreed to let a beloved and effective high school principal (Jon Brown) go to make way for a young friend of our new Superintendent. Over 20 high school students spoke eloquently on principal Brown’s behalf, and they also defended their arts programs and band program which are apparently threatened with cuts. Not surprisingly, a majority of the board (Bates, Horne, Jackson, Brumfield) backed Martin. Someone needs to step up and replace some of these trustees as soon as possible or our district will continue to suffer the consequences.

More and more I realize that this is an issue that is larger than the closure of our beloved school, Chapelle, and its impact on families in our district. It’s a question of accountability and of the responsiveness of our public officials to the people whom they serve. This latest turn of events highlights the importance of an organization the reaches across schools, community organizations, neighborhood associations, churches, and city government. Such an organization is not about saving one school, but about ensuring that the people have a say in how our most important asset, our schools, are envisioned and managed. The Board meeting was packed with high school students and their parents, and I was struck by the fact that it was a whole different set of students and parents at that meetings around the school closure. Imagine if Chapelle and East Middle parents had been there in solidarity? It may not have changed the outcome of the meeting, but it would have sent a message: don’t mess with our schools.

So I guess I’m calling for us to think creatively about how we can bridge multiple divides: between north and south ypsi, and east and west; between elementary, middle, and high schools, between churches, community orgs, and the schools, etc. This is the only way we are going to take back our schools from an essentially unresponsive board and a clueless administration.

So, is it time to organize opposition, and recruit a slate of candidates who will hold Martin accountable?

[Note: Video of Ypsi High students speaking on behalf of departing Principal Jon Brown can be seen in the coverage of the Ypsilanti Citizen.]

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  1. Edward
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Why aren’t people outraged over what’s happening in our schools?

  2. Heidi
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Edward, People just don’t care, unless it directly affects them, even if down the road, it will affect them indirectly. How do you teach people to look at the bigger picture?
    I for one am furious! As a YHS graduate and generations of family that have lived in Ypsi. I was looking forward to moving back into the area and had dreams of my children going to Chapelle (where I went). But such is the times, it’s all about the numbers and state tests..and not having pockets of communities, like a neighborhood school brings about. People in the surrounding neighborhood are crushed, especially the neighborhoods of Wallace, Warner, Taft, Kirk, Mansfield, etc… There has been a long standing tradition in the area of people that have prided themselves on getting together for education, regardless of race and socio-economic status. Black and white families have lived in those neighborhoods for generations. In my opinion (take it for what it’s worth), closing of Chapelle…lays the groundwork for segregation in the schools (more then what’s already there).
    There is a deeper issue here, that Martin with his lack of Ypsilanti knowledge does not realize what he is doing or maybe he does.

  3. Kim
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    In an earlier post, Maria mentioned the Ypsilanti Public School Alliance. I believe she created it when she was fighting to keep Chapelle open. Is it still a functioning entity? And, if so, could it be an umbrella organization under which all of these various factions could gather?

  4. TeacherPatti
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I heard on the radio that one of the trustees (I think Andy Fanta) had spoken to former employees of this guy and none of them had anything good to say. I trust these opinions the most…if you want to know about a principal, *ask the teachers*. Sure, you will run into some bitter old broads who are just miserable, but if you get consistently negative statements, then I think you should take them seriously. (And trust me, I know from shitty principals)

  5. Maria Cotera
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    We (Jason and I) were also disappointed to hear about the Board’s decision to approve the hiring of Justin Moore, especially after going to the Board Meeting and hearing student after student (I counted 25) sing the praises of YHS’s current principal, who apparently has really turned that school around. Again, an extremely short-sighted, and hasty decision on the part of our Super and School Board. In answer to Kim, the Ypsilanti Public School Alliance is not an idea that we have given up on. We still believe that forming a broad based coalition of parents, students, teachers, churches, neighborhood orgs, non-profits, and folks who love Ypsi, is the only way to turn this disaster around. In particular, with Chapelle parents and students dispersed throughout the district, we need to find a way to capture the spark we found at Chapelle and SPREAD it. Indeed, the fact that we lost the battle to delay Chapelle’s closing doesn’t mean that our alternative proposal (which was to have a community wide visioning session to lay out a five year turnaround plan) isn’t still necessary. Now that we have three schools instead of four, and one of those schools appears to be failing (Adams) and destined for the chopping block, we need to figure out a way to transform our school system sooner than later. So there’s a lot on the table that we need to address, and the YPSA might be a way to do that, but if the administration continues on its current path (ignoring community input) and the Board of Education continues to rubber stamp all of the administration’s misguided decisions, then there is truly no hope. I wish someone would step up and run for the seats that will be up for grabs next year (Trustees Bates and Horne), the only visionary voices on the Board, Fanta and Berman are way outnumbered at this point.

  6. Kim
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing to me that we don’t have more good people willing to run. Are people that demoralized by the current situation?

    As for the Alliance, what’s the next step? Is there a website planned? A meeting? How about having short events scheduled right before the School Board meetings?

  7. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    If you need any help getting word out about the Alliance, Maria, let me know.

  8. public schools
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Kim, there are never many candidates for school board. Candidates often run unopposed. I don’t know that it’s because people are demoralized, as you suggest, or because they have some idea of what an incredibly difficult job it is. And these days, with budget cuts ever-present, along with the decreased ability of school boards to shape their own districts’ curriculums due to state and federal rules, it’s not a job where many people feel confident of being able to make a difference. There are lots of other ways to volunteer one’s time that can be more satisfying.

  9. Mama Kay
    Posted May 15, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Did anyone attend the meeting of the new Principal at YHS last week? He met teachers, too. Teachers, any impressions?

    School board members seemed cautious to challenge both new hires of the new superintendent. But it seems like there already doubt over the new superintendent’s judgement. My only questions is if there are troubling signs early on, how long will it go on before anyone fixes. Don’t expect the teachers to let you know there are problems – they don’t like the school to get bad publicity, and they are under the gun to boost student achievement and won’t want to undermine the new guy no matter how badly it goes.

    Parents, community members, board members – we all need to spend time in the schools this fall. Not to spy, but to support and if needed to call for more help.

  10. Bob
    Posted June 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Mark and Maria, I share your frustrations, but I’m concerned because you don’t appear to have the whole story. What Fanta did was wrong (I think they call that micromanagement). It is never the role of a board member to do reference checks, that is the role of Human Resources. Also, I know for a fact that Mr. Moore was not a friend of Mr. Martin. That assumption needs to be put to rest. If Fanta and Berman are so visionary, then tell me, what have they done to overcome the enormous deficit? Maybe Bates and Horne need to be defeated, but I also think Fanta’s time on the board should come to an end. He’s been on the board the longest so is he not to blame (along with Brumfield) for the millions of dollars in the hole that we’ve fallen during his tenure? I’ve been watching the board and district for as long as he’s been on and he sure never seemed visionary in the past (just full of ego). One would think he would have seen this coming yet I never heard him mention anything about this historically. Maria (or Mark), I’m assuming you’re going to run? I also need clarification, Maria, on what made Mr. Brown so “effective.” The High School is in the bottom 5.1% statewide and their states scores and grad rates are falling (and have only gotten worse, not better, under Mr. Brown’s leadership). The district is now on par with Detroit. How, Maria, does this translate to being effective?

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