Ann Arbor school officials present a clearer picture of proposed lab school program, listen to feedback
Despite still having some issues to resolve, Ann Arbor school officials presented a clearer picture Thursday night of how the proposed lab school program at Scarlett Middle School and Mitchell Elementary School will work.
Thursday's meeting was the second of two parent forums, which administrators were using to get feedback on the initiative and to inform parents of affected students. Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia said she and Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez have already began using feedback from the Nov. 10 forum into Thursday’s meeting. More than 90 parents and students attended the forum.
“We wanted to make sure you knew what was happening and we’re taking feedback from both teachers and parents and we’re going to review them,” she said.
The program is a proposed K-8 campus between Mitchell and Scarlett through a partnership between Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan School of Education.
The program would let teacher candidates from U-M work with AAPS teachers in classrooms and would “serve as an incubator of new ideas and approaches that support teacher learning and effective teaching practices,” officials say.
As a part of the program, the schools would adopt what's called a balanced calendar, in which school is in session from early August until late June with a six-week summer break and other shorter breaks throughout the year aligned with normal school vacations. The schools would offer optional "inter-sessions" in fall, winter and spring for students to participate in academic enrichment activities.
“There would be lots of project-based learning and camp-like experiences to help solidify what kids have learned and help to apply what they’ve learned when they go back to school,” Scarnecchia said. “We might have a writing camp before the MEAP or a computer camp in April or a science camp in January to get kids ready for a science fair at Scarlett.”
Transportation during the inter-session periods would be provided. The program is being paid for by the schools’ Title I funding, but administrators are applying for grants and other sources of funding.
Parents were concerned about the balanced calendar, especially those who have students at Pittsfield, Carpenter or Allen Elementary Schools, where the traditional calendar would be used. During the forum, a parent asked whether all four of the Scarlett feeder schools would go to the balanced calendar. Officials said it was an option being discussed.
“We’re looking at time differently and attempting to enhance student achievement for all of our students,” Vazquez said. “Students would have opportunities for additional learning with our staff and their peers and I think that’s important.”
Not all parents were happy with the presentation of the program.
Ellen Daniel, a teacher at Scarlett, spoke on behalf of a table of parents from Carpenter. She said the group felt everything was moving too fast.
“It feels like the timeline is too hurried for parents to feel confident,” she said. “Parents want it to be thoughtful and they want to feel confident about the research we’re studying.”
Other parents said they felt like they didn’t have a choice in the switch to the new calendar and they were simply being asked to adapt.
However, some parents were excited by the proposed program.
Sal Barrientes, a Scarlet teacher, spoke on behalf of a table of parents whose children do not speak English at home. He said those parents thought the program was attractive.
“Students will receive more help and support and will learn more, because their education will be supplemented by more than one person,” he said.
Summarized feedback from the two forums will be available on the schools' websites on Friday, Scarnecchia said. The Ann Arbor Board of Education will hear a presentation on the program at its Dec. 8 meeting. Scarnecchia said school officials expect to have more information available for parents by the district's winter break, which begins Dec. 18.
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.