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Posted on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board to name next district superintendent

By Danielle Arndt

The final interviews have been completed and the feedback collected, now the Board of Education is preparing to name the next superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

After narrowing the list down to two from a pool of 61 applicants, the board will choose between Colorado Springs School District No. 11 Assistant Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift and South Orange and Maplewood School District Superintendent Brian Osborne, of New Jersey.

The board will begin deliberating on the strengths and personal leadership styles of the two out-of-state candidates at a regular meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Balas Administration Building.

Trustees will work with Bill Newman, the national executive director of search firm Ray & Associates, on building consensus around who the board is interested in hiring as superintendent, said board President Deb Mexicotte. She said she expects the board will do some straw polling to see where individual trustees are at with their thought processes around one candidate or the other.


Brian Osborne of New Jersey

Courtney Sacco |

Mexicotte said in an interview Thursday evening, she has not yet had the opportunity to review all of the feedback the board collected from the various forums and the question-and-answer sessions it conducted this week with the candidates. "So there is still a lot of work to be done before (Friday)."

"I am looking forward to the discussion about these two excellent candidates that have opted to consider Ann Arbor," she said. "I think they both had done their homework around the district. Both spoke of their willingness and enthusiasm for engaging with the life of the community and with the life of the schools … and for communicating wholly, in as many ways as possible, with all of the various aspects of the community available, … including the media."

She said Swift and Osborne come to this candidacy with the prerequisite skills, experience and passion for public education and both possess the education and skills that are going to move this district forward.

"They are excellent examples of the kind of professionalism and intelligence that is brought to bear in public education and we as a district are lucky to have them," Mexicotte said.

Among the strengths Mexicotte personally noted of the candidates was their examples of strong decision-making and collaborative working styles. She said she was pleased both Swift and Osborne expressed understanding of the community's need to know about, to understand and to participate in key decisions in the district.

"I can't stress enough that they both came to us with portfolios that make them well suited to the work of the superintendency."


Jeanice Kerr Swift of Colorado

Daniel Brenner |

Mexicotte added that Swift and Osborne bring different personal leadership styles, senses of humor, educational philosophies and unique outlooks and thought processes that set them apart. Those will be the things the board likely will weigh and look to the feedback for guidance on, she said.

Trustee Susan Baskett said after the second day of finalist interviews Wednesday that she has not made a determination yet on which candidate she thinks would be a better fit.

"I will be making my call really on the feedback that I get from the community, so it's important to get that," she said. "I think both of them did well (in the interviews) and were well received by the community, but I'm going to be relying on the feedback from the public to kind of document that."

Of her personal impressions, Baskett said the budget has taken center stage in the search and while the district is in a financial crisis, "like Dr. Osborne, I think we'll get past that, I really do." Osborne mentioned during his Q-and-A session that he believes the education funding situation in Michigan will recover.

Baskett said Swift has managed a budget before, but it has been a smaller budget because she has not been superintendent.

"But she has done some real creative things in the district and has managed to motivate and move people in her district in ways that I have not seen in our district before," Baskett added. "… Everyone is focused on the financial, but we have to look at programing and educational needs of students first."

Baskett was one of two trustees who traveled to both Swift and Osborne's current districts to check references firsthand and learn about their accomplishments and leadership abilities. She said Swift doesn't have experience in working with a board as closely as Osborne, but that Swift's board in Colorado Springs "all just love her."

Baskett said Osborne would "put us through our paces" and work with the board on better governing practices and efficiencies. "We will struggle. There is no doubt some of us will really struggle with that. But I think it's great he would do that. ... We have to find a way to be on the same page truly."

Swift comes from a district much larger than AAPS, while Osborne comes from a much smaller district.

"Sometimes you may be more successful with fewer people, so it's really hard to say which experience (is more beneficial). They do bring different strengths," Baskett said.

Ann Arbor Education Association President Linda Carter told reporters following Wednesday's second finalist interview that she liked that both candidates stressed visiting the schools, but she added she felt Swift would be out in the buildings even after the 90-day entry period.

"I feel that's so important because you get to see what's really going on," Carter said. "(Swift) has got that teacher mentality, that teacher heart — it's in her DNA."

But Carter said despite really enjoying her conversation with Swift, the whole process is moving too quickly.

"I'm feeling as if we need to take another school year, to take our time," Carter said. "We're going down the fast track, which I don't think we want to do. This is so important. This is about our drum major…

"The process has been rushed for me. … It just does not feel right to me."

Carter said a year would give the district time to "re-engage" and take another look. "Sometimes you only have to look outside your backdoor."

The Ann Arbor Public Schools has been engaged in four superintendent searches since 2002. If the Board of Education selects a new superintendent Friday night, he or she will be the district's sixth leader in a decade, if you count interim superintendent Robert Allen, who served for a year between superintendents Todd Roberts and Patricia Green.

Previous coverage of the superintendent search:

Download the candidates bios, resumes and entry plans:



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



Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

And, having lived in Ann Arbor long enough to have experienced several periods of redistricting and controversial building closings and very contentious Board recall efforts, and having watched in the late 60's riots in Ann Arbor streets and in the early 70's a lame duck councilman from the Human Rights Party at his last meeting shove a pie in the face of one of the other City Council members, I would say that this period of Ann Arbor history is rather civil by comparison. ;-) Again, kudos to the Board on supporting a constructive professional inclusive process.


Mon, Jul 22, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Throughout history, a pie in the face was considered an act of civil protest. While we can certainly agree that another degree of civility would be to discuss the issue under protest, that doesn't always happen without a little nudging.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

They need to include more "clown costumes" in the AAPS BOE budget.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

Kudos to the AAPS board for conducting an inclusive and professional process. To those who believe the process has been rushed....adding an interim adds yet another leader to the mix. It seems important not to add more confusion to our district direction. To those who believe that the candidate should have been local....if there had been a local candidate with the credentials that these two candidates bring, that candidate would have been selected. It does seem important to understand that there is no guarantee that a local candidate would stay longer or understand the full picture of the district better than an experienced savvy person coming in from the outside. And the benefit of adding some fresh approaches, especially when there have been some challenging issues that we as a district and we as a state have not been able to address, seems important. To have someone with stature who would be able to participate in a constructive conversation with Lansing seems very important. Again, kudos to the Board on conducting a very professional and inclusive process.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

I agree that these interviews seemed professional, and I liked all of the candidates considered. Although I have a slight preference, I feel that both of the finalists are good quality and bring something to the table that hopefully will be effective during a rough couple of years. I'm usually in agreement with the more conservative "go slow approach" mentioned, but in this case I think having a transitional leadership vacuum for a year will further plunge us into chaos. It's going to be a rough ride, but if we have good leadership we will come together as a community with a stronger focus on quality education and be better for it at the end.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

This is a tough and critical decision. Whoever is chosen is going to preside over one of the most chaotic set of changes that the district has gone though ever. Redistricting, closing, buildings, losing a millage election (for the enhancement millage next spring), opening labor contracts, dealing with a bloated administration, and a divided BOE. Add the external pressure of the Dr. Edmondson fans trying to get the board members recalled, and you have a perfect storm. I hope both candidates had physicals and are in good shape, this job will take a toll on whoever is responsible for it. I wish both candidates good luck, the winner will only have a few weeks to house shop and pack up to move. I hope the board makes the reasoning for their decision clear to the community, so that we avoid fracturing the community any further. They too will have a difficult job to do and many activity "boosters" will be even more unhappy by spring. OBTW - "recovery" of funding means, under the current structure of the contracts and expenses, finding an additional $750 per student every year. Even with the 3% pay cuts and layoff, the salaries and benefits will RISE by 2.7 million dollars next year, and the increase will be greater in 2014-15.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Mr. Collins, principal of Carpenter elementary, would walk the halls of the building during the school day and presumably knew each child. He knew our family well. He'd personally supervise students being picked up by their parents or other associates at the close of the day in the parking lot. He'd even walk kids to their homes at Evergreen Point Apartments. That was wonderful-- at that level. However, at the superintendent level, I'm not sure how much "riding the bus with the students" is in order. I would want this person to have a hand in things like crunching budgets, exploring various curriculum, thinking through policies, resolving sticky issues not otherwise solved, collaborating with other districts to find the best answers, etc. As I write this, the votes for "Swift" and "none of the above" are neck and neck. Just noticing.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

I can't believe this group couldn't find a local educator with enough business acumen to do this job. If not someone in the Ann Arbor district, at least someone with Michigan roots and understanding. Understanding what goes on day to day inside a local classroom would be priceless. These are simply more carpetbaggers looking to build resumes.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:35 p.m.

nekm1 - We will never know beyond the 6 announced candidates who applied, unless the individual steps forward. If I had been the BOE, I might had done the search differently and not used a search firm, but worked it on a more local basis to find a pool of candidates, IF that was the most important criteria. I still am not sure what the most important criteria were, or what the final decisions will be based on.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:57 a.m.

Have both candidates agreed to accept the job if offered? Will the conclusion of Friday's meeting result in 'we have a new superintendent' or in 'we have decided who to offer the job to and hope they accept'? Not sure how these sort of things work, particularly with such a public process.

Danielle Arndt

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

Good questions, thanks for asking them! Both candidates have expressed they will accept the job if offered. So the board will likely vote for the district to enter into contract negotiations with one candidate or the other. So the new superintendent is not officially hired until the terms of the contract are agreed upon and finalized by a board vote at a later date.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:43 a.m.

Take a year? Really? Oh, it's from the head of the union. Now I understand. The one that opened up the contracts to get the ability to continue to get dues to pay her salary despite against it. Those changes were "rushed"...

Basic Bob

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:04 a.m.

And don't forget, few IF ANY teachers will decline to pay their dues. Her position is safe even if the union continues to do a dismal job.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:24 a.m.

I was privileged to be invited to a private group interview of both candidates following the public presentation of their 90 Day Plan with about 30 community leaders. I also was able to come in person to Dr. Swift's public presentation, followed Dr. Osborne's public presentation live via @Danielle Arndt's excellent live blog. My conclusion is that Dr. Osborne is the far better candidate. I think that Dr. Swift would make an excellent head of curriculum. Dr. Osborne appears to be an excellent leader, excellent communicator and an excellent fit philosophically with Ann Arbor. Hopefully the Board of Trustees can hire him. Specifically, Dr. Osborne answered carefully and completely every question thrown at him, but many of the community leaders I talked to noted that Dr. Swift did not truly answer many of the questions asked of her. Dr. Swift came across as an opponent of zero based budgeting while Dr. Osborne stated that zero based budgeting only needs to be done once every few years. I believe he is correct about that & ideally we ought to start with the current year. Dr. Osborne's 90 Day Plan was far superior to Dr. Swift's and much more detailed & better thought through. His proposed use of "management by walking around" in his 90 day plan shows indications of excellent management style. His outline of his priorities & methods in his 90 day plan so far appears to be excellent. Dr. Osborne's management style will lead to better results for AAPS. He described a process of encouraging internal debate among his senior leadership team, even going so far as to assign members of his team to opposite sides of a formal debate to hash out issues. He described specific innovative ways he had improved pre-k education across his entire community even outside of the public schools & ways he had significantly improved the growth in achievement of all students of the district including minorities & low & moderate income kids.


Mon, Jul 22, 2013 : 6:22 p.m.

The 2011-12 review doesn't seem to be available??


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

DonBee- The following link are the recommendations from the state based on the program review conducted during the 2011-12 school year.

Maria Huffman

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

To Don Bee, the issue about the K-2 support classrooms for ASD children is an issue of Least Restrictive Environment...


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

@Donbee- thank you for posting this info. I had heard this informally from some parents I know with children on the autism spectrum. Was Dr. Elaine Brown was Pat Green's hire ? The Special Ed dept in Ann Arbor has long been problematic. It will take a superintendent who understands how it ought to be or what it could be for a public school district and what it will take to make Ann Arbor do a better job. I know families who left for other districts with better special ed services.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

shine16 - Dr. Elaine Brown, who was quietly dismantling the K-2 support rooms for autistic students this year, while telling the parents that nothing was being done because the board had not approved a change. Then after the schools of choice deadline passed told parents "oh, yes, we have been working on this for more than a year." And with that, they were gone and the parents scrambling with only a couple of weeks left in the school year. Yes, we have a special education director in AAPS.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

In my experience as an educator with many years of teaching all kinds of special needs students, the individual schools (building principal, special ed. staff, etc.) and the Special Ed. Director, have a far greater influence on the special ed. "climate" than the superintendent. Having said that, I am assuming Ann Arbor has a Special Ed. Director. Does anyone know if this is true?

Maria Huffman

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

That is very important information to public to hear and then to digest their thoughts themselves. New Jersey does things very differently than other states, especially in this area, and Ann Arbor Public Schools has been breaking new ground with their approach to all those problems. So if he decides to do things like they are done in New Jersey, he will set us back. If Jeanine Swift can not intergrate RTI with kids who need specific and evidence based practices, that also will set us back.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

@Maria Huffman: Dr. Osborne described in response to one question during the private interview with community leaders a very detailed plan to address how best to serve the growth needs of special needs children and the excellent results in his district from pursuing a different path in ensuring most children are integrated into classrooms with adequate support around them. Not being an expert in that area what he said sounded great (I am sorry I cannot provide more details since I didn't capture his comments on that topic in my notes) but what he said sounded reasonable to me and the expert in the room who asked the question seemed well pleased with his detailed answer and action plan.

Maria Huffman

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

And furthermore Mr. Ranzini, if you did not ask about, nor calculate what these factors mean to both candidates, I do not think your conclusion will be accurate.

Maria Huffman

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

Did neither candidate address their thoughts on special needs children, the autism explosion, and least restrictive environment?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 10:17 a.m.

The depth and quality of the reporting on the search has been impressive. Kudos to @Danielle Arndt for her hard work and to @Paula Gardner for allocating her reporter's time to cover the search so intensively!

Paula Gardner

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

Thank you. We appreciate that feedback. It's been eye-opening for me to realize how online reporting can make this process meaningful for residents.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

I have to agree, AA.COM, did a wonderful job. Kellie Woodhouse set the tone filling in for Danielle Arndt for the first round of interviews, please thank her as well. I truly wish the BOE had held the meetings at venues that could have been broadcast, so that the live blogs would not have been needed, but since they did not, thank you AA.COM for going above and beyond.


Fri, Jul 19, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Educating our kids is so, so important. Thanks to the reporters, I agree, for placing a value on finding just the right person, whoever he or she may be!