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Posted on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Community pushes Ann Arbor school board to 'go local' for next superintendent

By Danielle Arndt

The Ann Arbor Board of Education has received dozens of emails and phone calls urging it to look locally for a new superintendent.

Amid a community clamoring for an internal candidate, at least one name has emerged: Roberto Clemente Student Development Center Principal Ben Edmondson.


Roberto Clemente Principal Ben Edmondson addresses students during a "rap session" at the school in this 2011 file photo.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

"He commands respect and he expects everyone to rise up to their personal best," said Ann Arbor Public Schools parent Debbie Harris. "He has been placed by superintendents at struggling schools for those very reasons."

The board is meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 at the Ann Arbor District Library to develop a profile for its next superintendent, which is expected to include a candidate's experience, qualities and characteristics, and a salary or salary range for the position.

Board Vice President Christine Stead said she personally has received a handful of emails asking the board to look locally, if not internally, for a new superintendent since Patricia Green tendered her resignation shortly before 1:30 a.m. April 11. Stead said she also has received more than 100 emails regarding Edmondson.

She said other names have been floating around and brought to board members via email or phone, but not as a concerted effort.

Stead said the quick support for Edmondson could be because the Roberto Clemente group is "somewhat mobilized already," since moving the program from its existing location was presented as a proposed budget reduction in December.

The Board of Education has not set many parameters yet for its upcoming superintendent search. At an April 18 meeting, the board decided on a short timeframe for its quest, to try to yield a new superintendent by September.

The board also voted to contract again with Iowa-based consulting firm Ray & Associates under a "satisfaction guarantee" that's still in effect from when the firm helped the board hire Green. The clause will result in the search costing the district only those expenses incurred in travel, lodging and food costs for consultants and the superintendent candidates that the board could invite to Ann Arbor for site visits later in the selection process.

According to officials with the Michigan Association of School Administrators, there are approximately 15 superintendent vacancies within the state of Michigan right now. There also are another five positions that recently were filled.

Dick Dunham, who is the executive director of superintendent search services for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said despite the shifting climate for education in Michigan, he has not seen the qualities that a board looks for in a candidate drastically change in the past four or five years.

"It varies from district to district, but largely everyone is looking for a strong leader with an emphasis on education who understands finance," he said.

Generally speaking, a district's profile will vary the most based on the school system's previous superintendent experience, he added.

"If you have a district with a history of long-sitting superintendents ... and it ends on good terms where, say, the longtime superintendent retires, then the board wants someone exactly the same," Dunham said. "If you have a turnaround district, where the superintendent is coming in to transform something, they usually don't last very long. You have to make some tough decisions and then you're moving on."


Ann Arbor school board Vice President Christine Stead.

Jody Huhn is a mother in the district, who started a movement for internal candidates at Thurston Elementary School.

An email she sent out to staff and parents school-wide encouraging them to write to the Board of Education about "going local" with its search has picked up speed and resulted in many Thurston community members sending emails to the board and sharing Huhn's letter on social media.

"I'm writing to you today to enlist your help once again to deliver a message from the parents of our community to members of the AAPS school board that no talent be overlooked, especially that from within our own district," Huhn wrote in her request to the community.

"Although I am certain that talent exists outside Ann Arbor, I truly feel that our best hope for the future is with a superintendent who brings with him or her, a vested personal interest in our school system. Just as we are encouraged to 'shop local' for our groceries, the school board needs to strongly consider the value of shopping locally for Dr. Green's replacement."

Simone Lightfoot is one school board trustee who has publicly stated she supports and is in favor of promoting from within.

Another Thurston parent, Margaret Weiss, said she would like the board to hire an internal candidate because Ann Arbor needs someone who is committed to the community, possibly has kids in the district and is willing to take on the challenges it faces, while also listening to and communicating with AAPS' teachers and parents.

"We need someone who can work with everyone... And I have no worries about paying a superintendent a good salary as long as they're really doing a good job for the school system," Weiss said. "... Dr. Green was very hands off and somewhat combative. I'd like to have someone more open. To me, it doesn't make sense to cast a wide net because I feel there are so many qualified people already right here."

Harris agreed.

"We need someone who knows our community, knows our most immediate issues and knows the culture and climate, so they can hit the ground running," she said. "We don't have time to search nationally again and then to allow time for that person to acclimate. We have urgent issues facing our district; we have a budget that needs passed, administrative leadership positions that need filled and, not to mention, a serious morale crisis."

Dan Salamone, a former AAPS transportation employee who worked for the district in the 1990s, said he sees an internal candidate who is invested and "has roots" in Ann Arbor as being the solution to the district's high superintendent turnover. This will be the AAPS Board of Education's fourth superintendent search since 2002.

Salamone also does not support spending any money to fly-in or pay for consultants or superintendent candidates, given the district's budget cuts year after year, he said.

Prior to becoming the principal at Roberto Clemente, Edmondson served as the principal of Scarlett Middle School, a building, like Roberto, that has low test scores and a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

A petition was created in support of Edmondson. It had 56 signatures as of Tuesday evening. Edmondson said he is aware of the petition and is humbled by the effort.

"It is nice to know people appreciate the work that I've done… but at this very immediate time, I am in the fight of my life to save the Roberto Clemente program as intended," Edmondson said.

He declined to state whether or not he is interested in the position.

Harris, who is among those leading the campaign for Edmondson, said the principal did not solicit or in any way initiate the petition. She and other parents who thought he would be a good fit contacted him to ask if he objected to them putting his name forward.

Despite Stead's presumption, many of Edmondson's supporters appear to be from outside the Roberto Clemente school community, such as Carroll Caudill Jr., a social studies teacher at Scarlett, who called Edmondson "a breath of fresh air."

"He was honest, consistent, supportive and held us to a high standard," Caudill said in an email statement.

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



Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:30 a.m.

I have never met Ben Edmondson, but have only heard great things about him, always in relation to our at risk population. As a superintendent he would be responsible for the academic growth of all kids. Does anyone have any experience with him as an advocate for not at risk students? I am highly bothered by the continuing growth of all the private/charter elementaries around us. To me it clearly means that our elementaries are lacking something because if they were doing a good job, these schools wouldn't be flourishing. Around our school, the folks who are able to, keep leaving for Emerson because the elementary school isn't challenging enough for their kids. I realize it is more than challenging for many kids, but the reality is that the school isn't serving a section of the school population. I know the attitude at our school (filled with many at risk kids) is once you meet the grade level expectations, you pretty much sit and wait. The teacher is often overwhelmed by the number of kids not at grade level and all attention is spent there. As a result we are losing lots of great kids and families when, with a little bit of effort, I think we could have kept many of them.

Ross Dunbar

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

Dr. Edmondson would be a wonderful Superintendent, in it for the long run, and most importantly he would be the MOST qualified candidate for the job. There are world-class internal candidates here in Ann Arbor for these critical positions in AAPS, and we have seen other public service agencies finally come around to this realization (e.g. Police Chief John Seto). Why do we always feel the need in Ann Arbor for external validation by hiring LESS qualified candidates with long resumes (any more than three pages in suspect), long lists of accolades (any more than a half page is suspect), who see Ann Arbor simply as a short term stepping stone or end cap in their careers? The truly world-class candidates are already right here within Ann Arbor!

Jay Thomas

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

I agree about going local. But I think Edmondson is more needed at Clemente. Without him there the achievement gap is likely to get worse.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 6:54 p.m.

What more would one have to prove? He did a great job at King, he fixed Scarletts issues and now he is doing the same at RC. His kids, similar to Todd Roberts attend AAPS. He has a vested interest in the school system and hasl run to the fire unlike others that run away when it gets to hot. He has met every challenge the AAPS has presented him with. I would vote for DR. E.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

He did a great job at King? Seriously??


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Ben Edmondson would be an excellent answer to this mess.

Debbie Harris

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

Our district is in dire need of leadership, accountability, and transparency. I hope that whatever your opinions, you voice them to our BOE. They must recognize that we are a informed, passionate community and we will have our voices heard. There are so many important issues facing our district right now, and if you can attend the board meeting tonight, please do so. Also, you can email the board at and you can click on the petition link in the above article to sign the petition. Just be heard and more importantly, be informed. Our kids deserve the best and we have to advocate for just that. With all the talk about a possible millage, certainly more budget cuts, and incompetent reports done by Balas regarding relocating schools, now is a crucial time for our schools and students.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

I don't know if the replacement search should be restricted to only candidates in AAPS, but it certainly would be preferable to get someone who is already in a school district in Washtenaw County and at minimum, they should keep the search in state. No more candidates who see this job as just a stepping stone or something else to put on the resume.

He says

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

I had the opportunity to get to know Dr Edmondson several years ago when my youngest entered Scarlett. The immediate improvements he made to that school were dramatic and impressive. Having been in business for over 30 years, I can say that the adage of bringing in "new and external for new fresh ideas" is not always the better option! You have to look internally and seek out talent and commitment among your current staff. New ideas also come from internal candidates folks, they just haven't had an opportunity to share them. Dr Edmondson's new ideas he brought to Scarlett changed that school from the ground up, sadly, when he was moved to do the same at Roberto Clemente, those gains at Scarlett started slipping. It was clearly his leadership that made the difference. This district would be under committed, experienced leadership with Dr Edmondson. I can't imagine this BOE being so closed minded that they fail to recognize the excellence that is among them in Dr Edmondson.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

I nominate Britt Satchwell.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

hey "promote from within"... You think that would mean the job holder would have more of a personal stake? You think that it would mean someone who has and will stick around for more than 2 years? Duh, and these people lead our institutions of learning???

He says

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

The definition of insanity, and inept business practices for that matter, is doing the same thing time and time again, yet expecting different results. When was the last time, if ever, that AAPS hired a Supt. from within? If the Board does not see qualified candidates within our district, that says to me "then we need better qualified, higher educated, more talented staff within AAPS.". But I know that is not true, however, will the Board recognize this?

Letitia K

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Edmondson at Scarlett Middle School - as a teacher and as a PTSO member - AAPS would be lucky to have him leading our schools. Ben is forthright, knows how to build consensus, and has great ideas to lead our District forward. I hope the BOE is bold enough to realize their standard operating procedures are not working for our kids and our schools. Please LISTEN to the stakeholders of this community and 'go local and internal'


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Could not agree more..we need a superintendent who not only lives in this community, but is invested and has working knowledge of the school system and Ann Arbor.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Dr. Edmondson has a real stake in our community and AAPS. Even if the BOE doesn't choose Ben, and they should, they should choose a superintendent from the Ann Arbor community, and preferably AAPS itself. Don't we want a superintendent who makes our community schools their priority, especially for more than two years? Ben has support from parents throughout our community, not just from the Clemente faction. However, a man who has garnered that much respect from his students, parent and staff, is obviously fighting the good fight.

Joe Summers

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

Who would want that job? But, Ben Edmondson is a class act.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 7:27 p.m.

You have got to be kidding!!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:27 a.m.

Is he a big proponent of Glenn Singleton/PEG? That would be a deal-breaker for me.

J. A. Pieper

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

But not to all!