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Posted on Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor superintendent-elect talks moving, community strengths, board's split decision

By Danielle Arndt


Jeanice Kerr Swift of Colorado accepted the Board of Education's offer of the superintendent position Wednesday night. The offer is contingent upon reaching an agreeable contract.

Daniel Brenner | file photo

Previous coverage:

The Ann Arbor school board tagged Jeanice Kerr Swift of Colorado to be the district's next superintendent Wednesday night and within a matter of hours, Swift had accepted and began talking about how she is prepared to "hit the ground learning" this fall.

"I am just extremely honored to have been chosen and delighted to begin the transition period with the district," Swift told in an interview early Thursday morning.

Swift already has one of Ann Arbor's new luxury downtown apartments pegged as a great place to rent for a year, while she and her husband, John, look for a neighborhood in which to establish a long-term home for them and their two cats.

"That's what we did when we came here (to Colorado Springs) 15 years ago. I feel like it's best to find someplace you can get into right away, to get settled on the job. And once it relaxes, we'll take our time and shop for a house," Swift said, adding she plans to be working a lot right at first.

"I'm very excited about some of the possibilities right there in the center of town," she said of future home prospects. But many of the different neighborhoods in the townships excited her, as well, when she drove around on her trips to Ann Arbor to be interviewed, Swift said.

While she doesn't have a date in mind yet, Swift is targeting to be in Ann Arbor prior to the first day of school. "It's really important for me to be there when the kids are there."

Swift said she and board President Deb Mexicotte will discuss start dates next week and she also will need to talk things over with the leadership in Colorado Springs School District 11, where she currently is the assistant superintendent of instruction, curriculum and student services. Although, Swift has started working on a transition plan for leaving her current district, she said.

Swift is the second person the Ann Arbor Board of Education has offered the superintendency to in a two week period. However, the vote and outcome of this offer were drastically different than the first.

Swift was a finalist for the position alongside Brian Osborne, a superintendent from New Jersey.

School trustees voted 7-0 to extend the job to Osborne on July 19. But after eight days of considering the chief's spot, he declined to come to Ann Arbor and opted to stay with his East Coast district, as the result of concerns about moving his wife and two children and a desire to finish the work he started there.

The vote to extend the job offer to Swift was split 4-3 with some trustees worried about Swift being a first-time superintendent, who lacks budget experience, and a community that might struggle to let go of the fact that she was the runner up, the board's second choice.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said during Wednesday's meeting she has an issue with "inviting the second girl to dance" and said the board did not vote for Swift before for a reason. Trustees Susan Baskett and Christine Stead, who rounded out the three board members that voted against the motion to enter into negotiations with Swift, echoed Lightfoot's sentiments and said the community viewed Osborne to be a far superior candidate.

Mexicotte said the board selected two candidates as finalists that stood out from the pack, and she personally would not have selected any candidate to make it to that stage without believing he or she could succeed in the position, she said.

But being No. 2 doesn't bother Swift, and she's eager to begin working with the Ann Arbor community, to get to know them and to earn their trust and respect.

Swift said being able to read a live feed from Wednesday's meeting allowed her to see where the board members were coming from with their opinions and concerns, and allowed her to understand the scope of the discussion that lead to the board's 4-3 decision.

"It was a big decision and it involved lots of perspectives, not just the board's," she said. "It was important for me to listen to that dialogue. ... I believe concerns voiced by knowledgeable leaders informs our work. ... I appreciated being able to hear what their concerns were. And I've already gained some beneficial information to guide my work in the district through (those concerns).

"To me, that's what public discourse is all about. Realizing that different perspectives and diversity of thought come to the table in any decision. ... It's the collective decision that's the most solid decision."

Swift said despite the board's 4-3 vote, by the end of the meeting she felt a "strong echo" of support from the trustees and is confident she and the board will be able to team up and work together toward the shared vision of providing excellent educational opportunities for all kids.

Lightfoot told reporters after Wednesday's meeting that she thinks the vote just demonstrated some concerns a few board members had and "us trying to urge our colleagues to slow the process down and take a different approach."

"But again, Dr. Swift was on all of our lists as one of the top contenders and … around the budget, I think she is a quick enough study to come in and do it. My support was for us to look broadly and be very specific about the type of candidate we wanted," Lightfoot said. "But (Swift) won't have any problem, either doing it or getting support from us; us guiding, showing, helping (her). And she seems to have the type of personality that is very amenable to that and welcoming to it. So I'm fully happy with the choice overall."

The diversity in the AAPS district was one of the reasons Swift was attracted to Ann Arbor, she said, explaining she had a very specific type of district in mind that she wanted to run and Ann Arbor was a good match.

She said she likes that Ann Arbor is a university town in the respect that education is part of the community's makeup, and the community has a history of supporting quality education.

"I also like the size of Ann Arbor because it is small enough to know people yet it is big enough to have a wide variety of programs an opportunities that really meet the needs of kids all across the spectrum," Swift said. "I was also looking for a district that already had that history of success and achievement."

Swift's current district in Colorado Springs is larger than Ann Arbor with about 28,500 students and 3,900 employees. Ann Arbor has about 16,600 students and 3,000 employees.

Upon coming to the district, Swift would engage with the community by hosting forums at every school building, complete a thorough analysis of every department in the district by digging into as well as getting briefings from the division and department heads, and conduct a deep study of the budget. Swift said some of this work she has already started.

"I call it hitting the ground learning because you have to understand what's gone on before in order to leverage that work and move it forward," she said.

Swift has history with zero-based budgeting, financial constraints and redistricting and closing buildings. She said Colorado Springs has spent the past five years realigning its budgets to the district's current funding reality and the district also just underwent its second major school building "reutilization process."

Ann Arbor schools could face a number of similar tasks and challenges during the 2013-14 academic year and budget cycle, but Swift said this does not intimidate her, yet she also understands the gravity of these issues, she said.

"I know these challenges and I know we can leverage our strengths, some of which are a strong, involved community that will provide input; a strong staff to do the homework and set the table; and a courageous board that will do the leadership and make the tough decisions to move the district forward," Swift said. "These issues are not unique. Ann Arbor is one of many districts across the county experiencing these kinds of challenges. But we have the public support and involvement that quite frankly lots of cities don't."

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

The choice for superintendent is indicative of the state of the district. We're no longer #1 folks, get used to second best.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

"the board did not vote for Swift before for a reason." But they did by making her one of two top choices. Can you say dysfunctional? "the community viewed Osborne to be a far superior candidate." How'd that work out for ya?

A Voice of Reason

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 4:56 a.m.

I am hoping that the new superintendent will address the salaries of teachers and the game/lack of transparency that seems to be played with the parents and students. Teachers did not truly take a pay cut they are just getting less of a raise every year, but they are still getting a 2.8% raise. Why isn't anyone talking about this? Here is part of the article: Ann Arbor Students and Parents Take Cuts While Teachers Get Raises Media claims mislead on 'salary cuts' Numerous media reports mentioned that "all teachers" in Ann Arbor Public Schools would take a 3-percent salary reduction for 2013-14. However, that reduction applied only to the salary schedule and not teachers' salaries. Teachers were allowed to still move up a step on the salary schedule, meaning many still received a raise because the salary increase for moving up a step was larger than the 3-percent reduction. For example, a sixth-year teacher with a master's degree had a salary of $61,873 in 2012-13. That sixth-year salary spot on the scale was reduced to $60,017 for 2013-14. However, that teacher moves up to the seventh-year slot in the salary schedule and would make $63,589 in 2013-14, a 2.8 percent increase from the original salary level. Any teacher who hadn't reached the top of the salary scale, or 10th year, received a step raise......

Ann Arbor Parents For Students

Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 11:15 p.m.

What was promised? Who gets promises in professional jobs? It is up the teacher's union to make sure the raises are distributed to all teachers fairly, not just the younger ones. Whether the teachers that have been in the district more than ten years are not getting a raise is your union's fault. My point is that you are still getting a 3% raise instead of a 6% raise that you were promised and really not taking a pay cut. Pay cut is that you are making 60,000 this year and $55,000 this year, not when you have an increase of $61,800 (3%) instead of $63,600 (6%). Nice spin. There is no guarantee in this world! Many of my U of M friends received a 1% raise this year. Also, my bigger point is that has us (the readers) quibbling over the superintendent's pay and benefits when it has ignored the largest budget item....teacher's salaries and benefits and the BOE's lack of transparency and secret dealings with the union. We are all having to pay more and the teachers are not getting as big as increase as they think they should be getting vs.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

not to quibble, but even if they move up on the scale and are making more money than they currently were, they technically are still earning 3% less than they would have if they had made that same move and the 3% reduction hadn't occurred. So, in essence, they are earning 3% less than they expected to be earning at that level. I understand your point about it not being clear that step advances were still possible, just clarifying that teachers are earning 3% less than their step calendar promised them.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

How many teachers are at the top of the scale? Many seasoned teachers, at the top of the scale, have been there for years. They haven't seen a pay increase in over eight years and have only taken cuts. This is an old tired argument. The funding issues go beyond placing blame on "over paid" teachers.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 10:41 a.m.

AVOR - If they get an additional degree they move to the right on the step table and can get a raise that way as well, until they get to the right hand edge, the number of years does not matter in this case.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 4:14 a.m.

Congrats! Congrats!! Congrats!!! I don't know why, but I have a very good feeling about Dr. Swift. Good luck to her and lets try to rally around her as a community.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 1:29 a.m.

I hope she's had some experience with unions. That's been a difficulty with some superintendents in the past.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:27 p.m.

I'm excited to see what she does! She sounds like a methodical, down-to-earth person.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 8:04 p.m.

What a wonderful humble response! I'm very impressed by Dr. Swift's enthusiasm, perspective, and approach here. Love that she'll be hosting forums at each school. Her responses here reflect a spirit of openness and inclusivity. We look forward to meeting you and working together to come up with creative ways to address the challenges ahead. "To me, that's what public discourse is all about. Realizing that different perspectives and diversity of thought come to the table in any decision. ... It's the collective decision that's the most solid decision."


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

Good luck Dr. Swift, I'm excited to have you as the new SI and appreciate your positive perspective and enthusiasm!


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

Good luck, you are certainly going to need some of that with the job.

Jack Gladney

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 6:39 p.m.

OK. It's done deal. Gone is the time for could've, should've and would've. It's time for Dr. Swift to roll up the sleeves and get done what needs to be for the benefit of the kids. It's time for the community, the board, teachers, administrators, unions and anyone else involved to get behind her and be a part of the solutions to get the district back on track, or get out of the way. Here's to looking back in 15 years time, and thanking Dr. Swift for a job welll done and best wishes in her retirement.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

The part I found most interesting was this; Swift's current district in Colorado Springs is larger than Ann Arbor with about 28,500 students and 3,900 employees. Ann Arbor has about 16,600 students and 3,000 employees. only 900 more workers and 10,000 more students. To me that is good sign that she knows ways we can get some stuff done without as many people. Maybe ways to combine office jobs and tasks, consolidate some of the administrative areas, save some money. I am looking forward to seeing this play out and I am actually more excited about her than the other dude.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Can't help but wonder if Dr. Osborne used this opportunity to get more money and/or a contract extension at his current position. I mean, the reasons he cited for not taking the A2 job are reasons that would keep most people from even applying in the first place. Did his desire to maintain family stability and finish what he started suddenly pop up because he got offered a different job? I doubt it.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

Who cares about Osborne? He didn't care about the kids in AA, only himself.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

I was thinking the same thing a2miguy.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

Dr. Osborne is over.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

You seem to imply that the new superintendent will live in the Ann Arbor City Apartments. Will they be completed by the new school year? It seems tight.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

So many of Dr. Swift's responses in this situation demonstrate that she has the insight and depth of experience and knowledge to understand the situation and the strengths and needs of our community extremely well. Very impressive. It seems we have found a superintendent who loves the challenges of public education and also the many wonderful things about Ann Arbor that have made this the community that all of us have chosen--from many other possible choices--to make our home. Excellent.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Had school boards been devised earlier in American history, Mark Twain would have enjoyed an easier and more lucrative career.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

This vote of the new superintendent is a troublesome sign. This Board should have sent enough time in a closed session to work out the concerns. The best vote should have been 7 - 0 to show full confidence in their choice. Dr. Swift will have enough issues to tackle at the start. She will be saddled with working with a board that may or may not be supportive enough when a tough situation arises. I hope this observation is not correct and time will tell.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

Danielle typo: "But we have the public support and involvement that quite frankly lost of cities don't." Change "lost" to "lots."

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

Zytiga, thanks for pointing this out. It's been fixed.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

Here we go again.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

No negatives here. This feels right.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:27 a.m.

As a teacher following this process, she was my second choice as I read the blogs and coverage provided by That be said, she has experience and the DESIRE to be here in Ann Arbor and that should count for something. She visited town early to get a feel for Ann Arbor before interviews even took place and her desire to be here led her to even look for a place to rent while settling in. This reminds me a little of the U of M Football search a few years back. Coach Hoke probably wasn't the first/flashy choice, but his desire to be at Michigan has won people over. I see that same desire in Dr. Swift and it was evident in her quick response to the offer. I wish her well and look forward to working with her.


Fri, Aug 2, 2013 : 1:29 a.m.

But Hoke was a "Michigan Man."


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

Same here. The fact that she already has an idea where to live speaks volumes about her. Osborne couldn't have cared less about AA. It's a start. Lets give her the chance we would all want in this position.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

We've had a rough couple of years with their last "first choice", so maybe it's a good thing. Good luck, Ms. Swift.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

Good point.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

I'm excited. Finally a breath of enthusiasm from SOMEONE. Let's get this started Dr. Swift; welcome to Ann Arbor!


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:55 a.m.

Let us hope that in 6 months no one remembers the name Dr. Osborne, that Dr. Swift has done such a wonderful job, that he is erased from memory. I wish her well, she has some very tough tasks ahead: 1) Restructuring the budget - not just making annual cuts, but actually changing the budget. 2) Redistricting - balancing on many fronts who goes to which school. 3) Closing schools - this is part of the redistricting but only a piece and a very tough piece to deal with. 4) Providing equal access across the all the high schools to classes and credits. Right now they are unequal and the difference is getting worse, not better. 5) Reforming how special education is offered to parents and students and fixing a number of broken processes around special education. 6) Fixing the mid-level (building) management issues - right now some schools are undesirable to parents. 7) Dealing with a deeply divided BOE. 8) Continuing the highly unpopular, but very needed performance and evaluation system for management. Can it be sustained for 2 more years or will it be junked and the progress lost? 9) Dealing with what will be a very unpopular tax increase proposal for the enhancement millage that has to pass WISD wide - not just in the City of Ann Arbor. The BOE will count on it for budget planning for 2014-15 and it probably will not pass. (this is the second try) I wish her the best of luck, she has a multi-course buffet of issues to deal with.

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

The millage proposal is a loser, and it is unfair for the board to judge the superintendent's performance based on its passing. The board needs to clear their schedules and advocate for its approval. When it fails they can blame themselves, or at least acknowledge they gave it a good effort. Perhaps then they will learn what they did wrong.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:43 a.m.

Good news that she granted an immediate interview to and is ready to live in Ann Arbor, moving with her husband and pets. He enthusiasm is impressive, but she has a lot of work ahead and this school board and community wears people down. The school board is quick to blame the community of complainers for that. The school history dating back to the 1960s shows news clips with ecades of this pattern: community members, students and teachers call attention to significant problem areas and the board splits over issue after issue. Tensions will peak and new candidates will be elected to compensate for a prior problem. Historically, the board will point fingers at parents who are painted as too emotional or passionate. If Swift can help the board be more effect and show she is an effective leader inside of Balas, be visible in school buildings and show that she is reliable and honest, those will be be positive steps forward. I was encouraged to see Scott Westerman (former superintendent and EMU Ed School Dean) on the community interview panel. I'd like to see Swift assemble a group of wise people such as Westerman who have been around the district and seen the decades of change to guide her and help her learn from the local history. It will not be helpful if she goes too quickly to how the problems Ann Arbor has are ones that are not unique. Even if that is 100% accurate, Ann Arbor is a community that thrives on the idea of being unique. Our board members who are problematic model that. They insist that they aren't ineffective, they are just unique and special -- and unfairly targeted for criticism. There are many people here who can help if her board and more senior staff members in the district help her get connected quickly and she gets information from people other than our most entrenched board members.

Jeff Gaynor

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 10:23 a.m.

Good for Swift for responding quickly and positively, and not holding a grudge. Could be a good model for the community.


Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

I agree. It's left a positive impression on me.