What the WISD got wrong in the marketing of their Ypsilanti, Willow Run school consolidation plans

    As of right now, I don’t feel as though I have enough information to make an informed decision concerning the proposed merging of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school systems. When I heard, earlier this evening, that Washtenaw Intermediate School District administrators had launched a new website with the intention of improving communications about the proposed consolidation, I was hopeful that I’d find a legitimate online resource for information, where not only administrators, but parents from both Ypsi and Willow Run, could share ideas, express concerns, and try to come to some kind of consensus around a shared vision. Instead, though, I found an anemic, uninspiring, on-line brochure intended simply to drum up support for the ballot initiative on consolidation…

    Before I go on any further, I should note that I understand that the district is cash-strapped, and doesn’t have the resources to develop inviting, interactive websites. Furthermore, I get that there’s a lot riding on this vote, and that they desperately want this to pass, as it’s almost certainly the last chance we’ve got as a community to avoid a State-appointed Emergency Manager. But, when I see something like this (see below), taken from their “What People are Saying” page, I get the distinct impression not only that I’m being sold something, but that the people doing the selling don’t really care about having an open, honest, adult conversation with me… Am I overreacting? If you think so, leave me a comment and let me know. Having been in a number of conversations with friends and neighbors about this issue, though, I can tell you that this isn’t “what people are saying.” People aren’t saying, “I really believe this is a good process, and if we implement everything that we mentioned today it will be a success.” And to suggest that they are is, at best, insulting.

    What people are talking about, for those of you who are interested, is why we’re paying an out-of-state consulting firm, owned by a textbook publisher, with an extremely limited understanding of our community, $40,000 to help us develop a new curriculum. What people are talking about is the very real possibility that the per-pupil reimbursement rate from the State of Michigan could drop as a result of this merger. What people are talking about is the fact that, despite the public visioning sessions, which are coming to an end tonight, it doesn’t look as though administrators have any real interest in incorporating the ideas that have been proposed from the community.

    At the very least, it would have been nice to have seen an FAQ on this new WISD website that acknowledged these issues. It also would have been nice, if, in addition to linking to a few positive articles in the local press, they also linked to a few substantive conversations on the issue, like those that we we’ve had here. My biggest problem with the site, however, is that it lacks a cohesive narrative, and a compelling vision. It doesn’t give those of us in the community any reason to be excited. It doesn’t say to the visitor, “Consolidation will give us an opportunity to make something truly great.” What it says, at least to me, is, “We’re being forced to put together two failing school systems, and we’re going to try to make it work.” And, I’m afraid, as a result, it won’t be successful.

    What they needed was a bold video in which someone laid out a clear, concise vision for a better future. The community needed something that it could rally behind. We needed someone to make the case as to why we should keep our kids in a newly reimagined district. Instead, we got something very different – we got a list of reasons why we needed to vote for consolidation. And, as a result, even if the ballot measure passes, I think it’s almost a sure thing that more people will leave the district. The folks in charge needed to look at the big picture, and not just the immediate threat. But that’s been the problem from the outset.

    With all of that said, I’d like to add that I realize that WISD is in a tough spot. They have to make consolidation look good, and they need for the ballot initiative to pass. If it doesn’t, the school district will almost certainly fall under a State-appointed Emergency Manager given the authority to sell off the few remaining assets of our school district, break union contracts, fire teachers at will, and possibly even go so far as to scrap public education altogether, in favor of an “all charter” system. And, if you don’t think it can happen, just ask the folks of Muskegon Heights.

    Here, while we’re on the subject of what a “no” vote would mean in November, is another screen capture from the new WISD website.

    Again, I’m not encouraging people to vote against consolidation. And I’m not saying that the WISD administrators are evil. I just don’t think they’re necessarily up to the task of dealing with what, thanks to the Republicans in Lansing, we’re all being forced to deal with. They’re up against very powerful forces that would like to see public education in Michigan systematically dismantled, and they’re trying, as best that they can, with limited resources, to fight them off. Unfortunately, given that reality, they haven’t been in a position to think big, take an offensive stance, and try things that haven’t been tried before. Instead, they’ve fallen back on textbook companies, and pricey consultants to help them through the process. I don’t envy them. When they went into the field of education, I’m sure this isn’t what they thought that they would be doing. Unfortunately, however, it’s the hand that we’ve been dealt, and we need for them to stop trying to put a pretty bow on it, acknowledge what’s going on, invite the community to the table in a substantive way, and really start to push back against the State… Here, with all of that said, is the most recent email from our friend Maria Cotera, of the Ypsi Public School Alliance, with some thoughts on our options.

    …The first phase of these WISD sponsored events was the visioning process (basically a series of focus groups), which is now over. It looks like we now will have a series of “data portraits” which will take a closer look at “educational data, community assets and community trends” for both districts. There are three sessions scheduled: Wednesday, July 11 1-3 (District Library on Whittaker Rd), Saturday, July 14, 10-12 (Superior Township Hall), and Monday, July 16, 6-8 (Ypsi Township Board Room)…

    I feel like this train has left the station in terms of this summer’s “visioning process”. It’s clear that WISD does not plan to give us substantive models (for restorative justice discipline, community engaged project based learning, wrap-around services, social justice curriculum, or anything else) upon which to envision a new district in an INFORMED way.

    I think, however, if we strategize, we can make an important intervention at the two-day “strategic design session” (July 18-19) and show them, and the high priced consultants they brought in from outside ($40,000), that we want substantive district transformation, not the same old vision and mission statements. The two day session may be our last opportunity to do this.

    Also, with Willow Run High school scheduled to close, and the imminent possibility of YPSD gaining some 300 students (to the tune of $2,250,000), I wonder what the financial benefits are (to us) of consolidation? In other words, if Willow Run were to simply close its doors (and I sincerely hope that this does not happen), we would gain most of their students (some 2,000) at our current per pupil funding rate of $7,500. On the other hand, the State Board is asking us to willingly consolidate and accept that our current per pupil funding rate will decrease because it will be averaged with that of Willow Run which is $700 less ($6,800). I can’t accept the premise that the State Board proposes, that consolidation is about IMPROVING student education when they are unwilling to keep a consolidated district’s per pupil funding at the higher of the two districts per pupil funding ($7,500). And while they are supposedly offering financial incentives and grants to “sweeten the pot” those things are temporary, they go away, whereas per pupil funding is a relatively consistent form of funding…

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      18 Comments

      1. Posted July 10, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        This kind of reminds me of the 2009 contract vote in Detroit…if we didn’t vote yes, our EFM would declare bankruptcy and we’d be left without a contract. If we voted yes, we agreed to give $500 a month to the district (under the bizarrely named Termination Incentive Program). In other words, voting yes on a bad (or at least, not awesome) thing was far better than voting no.

      2. Edward
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        I think most people will agree that voting for the merger is the best thing, given the circumstances. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that the district hasn’t presented the merger in such a fashion as to attract parents back into the system. Even if this passes, we’ll continue to hemorrhage students.

      3. Burt Reynolds
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        So as of right now, YHS and WRHS are horrifically underachieveing, and not in the least desirable schools. Lincoln, is not much better, yet compared to those two seems like a jewel in the area. An old yellow banged up jewel, but a jewel in comparison for sure. Don’t believe me? Walk through the halls of any of the high schools. Try to be helped in the main office, and see how much WRHS and LHS are literally complete shit.

        So, in essence, voting yes will allow two super shit schools to combine to become one massive super shit school. Parents of underachiveing kids, who aren’t involved in their education anyhow, will probably get fed up, and ship their kids to Lincoln. Lincoln will in turn become the new YHS, but with different colors and a name.

        Fuck.

      4. Knox
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        It may be too late, but I agree that there may have been an opportunity here to think big, and contribute something positive to the educational reform movement. Instead, we have been scrambling, just trying to keep from losing their jobs to privatization. It’s sad.

      5. Anonymous
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Do they really want us to believe that someone came out of one of their consolidation meetings saying, “great process”? That’s laughably stupid. I too am offended.

      6. alan2102
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        “this new site lacks a compelling vision. It doesn’t give people any reason to be excited. It doesn’t say to the viewer, ‘Consolidation will give us an opportunity to make something truly great.’ What it says, at least to me, is, ‘We’re being forced to put together two failing school systems, and we’re going to try to make it work.’ And, I’m afraid, as a result, it won’t be successful”

        Yes, because Compelling Visions of Something Truly Great (CVSTGs) are hard to come by in an era of economic/material contraction. Not because CVSTGs necessarily call for things that are capital- or material-intensive, but because Americans have traditionally made that association, and now expect it. It is very hard to induce an American to view a CVSTG AS a real CVSTG unless it involves high technology, high salaries, high everything. That’s paradoxical, because true CVSTGs FOR THIS ERA and its economic fundamentals, in the U.S., are necessarily low-cost, low-tech, down-and-dirty, non- or para-institutional. It could even be argued that the high-tech/high-cost ones were never true CVSTGs, but rather just flakey simulacra of same, designed to impress a bunch of rubes (and the effort was successul).

        Whatever. America’s failure and collapse were baked in the cake decades ago.

        http://morrisberman.blogspot.com
        http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-American-Culture-Morris-Berman/dp/039332169X
        http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Ages-America-Final-Empire/dp/0393329771
        http://www.amazon.com/Why-America-Failed-Imperial-Decline/dp/1118061810
        http://www.amazon.com/A-Question-Values-Morris-Berman/dp/1453722882

      7. Brainless
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        How in bloody fucking hell are ANY schools ever going to be good if our nation was dumb-fuck Wal-Mart obsessed enough to vote for a quasi-literate C-student to be our president TWICE?!!! What makes you think that a bunch Jersey Shore-obsessed morons are ever going to even try to get educated?

        Give up. I’m dead serious. All of Patti’s headaches and all of Maria’s research have done nothing, nada, zip. Yes, Patti and Maria have both helped some folks with their herculean efforts on behalf of INDIVIDUALS. I’m sure they have changed some lives very much for the better and will probably continue to do so throughout their (hopefully very long) lives because that’s just the kind of people they are. But the systems to which they have attached themselves are worse than poisonous — they are orphans, unwanted and laughed at by privileged idiots who, short of a revolution in thought in this country, will never ever pay for schools again.

        Your best bet at this point is to double-down on taking care of your own. It’s depressing beyond words, but dammit my kids aren’t going to suffer because the district is DOA. You can crow all day about what the republicans did or the democrats didn’t. You can politicize yet another neutral public good. But you cannot fix Ypsi schools. There is no support. There is no money. There is no plan. There is no will. The children of this nation have been cut loose. Watch yourselves out there.

      8. Eel
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        I agree with you, Brianless, but that’s no reason to stop fighting back. These things are cyclical. 100 years ago, we had kids working in factories. We fought back then, and we won. And we made America a great nation in the process. People died, but we created a middle class, and a system through which people could better their lots in life. This isn’t the end by any means.

      9. maria
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        A very important point of clarification to the email I sent out (a portion of which Mark published at the end of this entry): Board Member Kira Berman pointed out to me that it is not the State Board of Ed that determines per pupil funding, but the legislature. Our representative, David Routledge, has promised “incentives” should the consolidation vote pass, and apparently, there has been some talk about raising the per pupil funding for Willow Run students to Ypsi’s level in a consolidated district. Again, these are just PROMISES, no one is laying anything on the table that is tangible or guaranteed, so we are in a bit of a poker match here.
        One more thing, I am so sick and tired of people who clearly don’t have kids in Ypsi schools calling them “horrifically underachieving” and other things. Burt, you simply have NO IDEA about what is actually happening in the schools, so please, please, stop making a bad situation worse by grandstanding and pontificating. My daughter has had an incredible experience in Ypsi schools, and I know others who have had great experiences as well. So please, just stop.

      10. Burt Reynolds
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        I apologize Maria. I do not have children in the district, however my job takes me into all of the area schools on a daily basis. So much that I am probably in all three high schools more than any parent who does have a child there. Now, I’m not saying a youth cannot have a postive experience in either district. I graduated from a large diverse school not unlike either WRHS or YHS. What I am saying is the level of success in any district is directly related to the parents participating, and administration’s desire to condone a certain type of atmosphere. If anyone has ever walked into the WRHS main lobby to be assisted they obviously know about the level of professionalism. If anyone has ever walked the halls of YHS, and heard all of the students swearing and dropping the N-word as loud as possible in front of staff who do nothing but high five, then they obviously know about the level of structure and decency in either school.

        Maybe the ballot will pass and maybe it won’t. Maybe it will help a great deal, and maybe it won’t as well. But to shine the few diamonds either district has and paint a solid picture is a farce. Raising the per pupil funding won’t mean a thing unless both schools start saying enough is enough and change the dynamic of the schools.

      11. Burt Reynolds
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Sorry Maria

        I want to make sure I express my gratitude to you. Your involvement in making things better should be applauded. Your daughter had a great experience because she obviously has a parent who cares, is involved, and has instilled proper values. Sorry for my tone. Without peronally knowing you, I have ready your writings on this board, and do not mean any disrespect. Kudos.

      12. keith agdanowski
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Here is your answer. Is cheaper to implement, educator and learner run, no principals and no need for large fixed costs. Works well regardless of class, race, urban or rural.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovkW8M8vD5o&list=UUYkSdeghAhuSB8pysg1zHcQ&index=2&feature=plcp

      13. Mr. X
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        The phrase that comes to mind is “Winning the Battle, but Losing the War”. Even if they pass the merger, all they’d done is prolong the inevitable. Until they establish a compelling vision, the trajectory will remain the same. Schools will continue to get smaller and weaker.

      14. Tilapia Bach
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        I have tenure

      15. Brainless
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I hear ya, Eel, but you have to pick your battles out there. We would be fools to discount the historical accident of the World Wars and their unique effect on America’s economy. I submit that we have never actually faced any competition until recently and we are now seeing the result of being just another place in the world. We ain’t that great.

        Once upon a time, we bombed the shit out of all of the rest of the world’s factories and went home and got rich. Our kids didn’t need to work any more. (Remember single-income households?) That gravy train is dead now – dead within two short generations – and the nasty side of human nature is now on display here.

        Unless you are willing to fight – actually physically fight, mind you – you will lose. The people with money are 100% in the driver’s seat now and they truly believe (and why wouldn’t they) that we are bunch of idiots. But the only thing they can’t buy is life. Threaten it and maybe things will change. They must be defeated, not negotiated with any more than we negotiated the end of WWII. They do not care about your children as they can avoid all of us from birth to death if they want. Because we are weak. Because we won’t fight.

        There is no America. We are a non-country. How else can you explain such a blatant run on our treasury? We have been robbed and we are too weak to take back our fucking money. Thus, the end of public schools.

      16. alan2102
        Posted July 11, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        Excellent pair of posts, Brainless… the most reality-based and insightful ones ever posted on MM, to my awareness. I think I’ll quote you some time, if you don’t mind. It just doesn’t get much better/pithier than that.

        You don’t belong here. You’re too smart.

      17. alan2102
        Posted July 11, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        ps: you should really check out Morris Berman at the links above. He lays it all out in excruciating and compelling detail.

      18. Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        Brainless,thank you! I hope we all have nice, long lives :)

        I’m not saying we should all pick up arms and start shooting, but I have to agree with what you said re: physically fighting. I just finished a book called “Detroit” by Scott Marlette. A section of it is about early union organizing and those dudes had to fight their asses off. You probably know about it, but some probably have never heard of the Battle of the Overpass. If folks haven’t heard of it, please look it up…I knew about it, but didn’t know some of the details. Or just read that book…it’s excellent. (If anyone else is on GoodReads, please look me up…I wrote a review on it).

      2 Trackbacks

      1. [...] and Willow Run school districtsBy Mark | July 15, 2012A few days ago, I posted something here about the proposed merger of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts. Well, what I’d written was apparently brought to the attention of Scott Menzel, the [...]

      2. [...] respective boards, and the powers-that-be within the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) lobbied hard on behalf of the merger, and, in November, the citizens of both school districts voted to make it happen, convinced that it [...]

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