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Posted on Thu, May 30, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

'Friends' group forms to help find funding sources to sustain Ann Arbor's Roberto Clemente

By Danielle Arndt


Thomas Brush of Ann Arbor and his wife, Sally Brush, have decided to launch a Friends of Roberto Clemente group to study how to educate at-risk children and how to fund such programs in Washtenaw County. Tom Brush spoke about their ambitions at a school board performance committee meeting Wednesday night.

Danielle Arndt |

Editor's note: The location of Roberto Clemente has been corrected in this story. Roberto is located in Pittsfield Township, not Ypsilanti Township.

Ann Arbor school board members want to better understand the alternative high school Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, and most want to maintain it — but not at a cost that is more than $12,000 per pupil greater than the district's comprehensive high schools.

As it struggles to keep programs in the face of tight budgets, the board's performance committee discussed Wednesday the future of the school and heard suggestions from members of the Roberto "family" on how to sustain the program.

The alternative high school program has been on the chopping block the past several years, as the Ann Arbor Public Schools has dealt with the budget constraints.

Planning committee trustees Andy Thomas, Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett asked for help Wednesday from a group that is forming.

Ann Arbor residents Thomas and Sally Brush have no ties to the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center. They've never had a child or a grandchild attend the school. And if it weren't for becoming acquainted with Roberto Clemente founder Joe Dulin several years back, they probably would never have learned about the alternative program's impact on at-risk students or its value.

But today the couple is working to help the program survive.

They've begun to form and gather support for a group they are calling "Friends of Roberto Clemente." One of its purposes will be to research funding sources that exist for alternative education programs like Roberto and to find new funding sources.

Thomas Brush said after learning about the district's ongoing struggle to keep Roberto Clemente open and after learning more about the "school to prison pipeline," he and his wife felt compelled to get involved.

The "school to prison pipeline" is a phrase often used to describe a pattern of children with academic and disciplinary problems not being properly assisted by school districts and the children eventually ending up in the justice system.

Sally Brush said when she and her husband began spreading the word about wanting to form a fundraising group for the Roberto program, they were surprised by the amount of support the program already has in the community.

"We didn't have any connection to Roberto, so when we found this out, we said to ourselves, 'This is one of the lifeboats of the AAPS school system,'" Sally Brush said. "... We want to put together a task force to figure out the best way to educate at-risk children and how to fund it, so that we can not only keep this lifeboat, but have more lifeboats."

The couple would like to rally the community and find a way to offer an alternative high school program like Roberto countywide. Thomas Brush said there are more than 200 people so far who have signed up to be a part of the Friends of Roberto Clemente organization.

Now that it appears closing the Roberto program is off the table for next year as the school board weighs other potential budget cuts, Thomas Brush said the group can begin to talk about first steps and out-of-the-box solutions to the program's funding issues. Email to get involved.


Roberto Clemente Principal Ben Edmondson speaks at the school Wednesday, during an Ann Arbor Board of Education Performance Committee meeting.

Danielle Arndt |

Roberto Clemente Principal Ben Edmondson talked Wednesday about the challenges the program experiences, such as teens with 1.5 GPAs, failing grades in every class and a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade reading level when they come to the school.

Even after two years in the program, about 40 percent of Roberto students still will receive one failing grade, Edmondson said, which is a fact that often disturbs him and makes him embarrassed at district-wide meetings or when he sees his students' test scores in the news.

"But really, this is all of our data in the district. We're all responsible. Something obviously was not working for a student long before they got to us," he said, adding when a student increases his GPA from a 1.5 to a 2.7, the school celebrates and encourages that student because "that's a huge gain and the best they've done in their life."

He also talked about how the budget cuts of the past four years have taken their toll on the school.

Edmondson said the Roberto's teaching staff has been significantly reduced and is down to seven teachers, and the number of elective courses the school can offer is incredibly limited due to having to make cuts. He said in the budget reductions last year, Roberto Clemente gave up its early release days on Friday to save on transportation costs. Students used to dismiss early on Fridays to participate in enrichment activities around the community.

Roberto's current enrollment is about 90 students, but according to district administrators, the building has the capacity for 179. A suggestion often brought up when talking about how to bring in additional revenue to Roberto Clemente and reduce costs is allowing the program to be a School of Choice program and to accept students from other districts. Then AAPS could market Roberto to other communities that might have children who could benefit from the mission, atmosphere of accountability and small classrooms.

However, longtime Roberto Clemente teacher Mike Smith said the program used to enroll 130 to 140 students, but because the teaching staff has been reduced so significantly, it physically could not accept any more students.

"Our services could be used for other kids in our district, but we don't have the faculty for it," Smith said.

The program already has received about 70 student referrals for the 2013-14 academic year. With a senior class of just 10 teens, the program will not be able to accommodate most of these new students, Smith said.

The board planning committee and the approximately 25 members of the public at Wednesday's meeting also spent time talking about how the district's proposal to eliminate high school transportation for all high schools at AAPS come fall would impact the Roberto program and student success.

All in attendance said eliminating busing to the school, which is located on Textile Road in Pittsfield Township, would effectively eliminate Roberto Clemente as a program. Sophomore Evan McKensie said right now he gets up at 5 a.m. and walks 1.5 miles to Pioneer High School to catch a 6:15 a.m. bus to Roberto Clemente in order to get to class by 7:35 a.m.

"Everybody I know has to take the bus. I know two people who get a ride here and that's because they have their own cars," McKensie said.

Over the years, teachers also have been known to pick up students from home or Meijer to take them to school, several staff members said.

"My dad works the graveyard shift and my stepmom has a newborn baby. They can't take me to school. ..." McKensie said. "I wouldn't be able to go to school if they cut busing. Or I'd go to Pioneer and that'd just destroy me because I'd be back to doing the same stuff I was doing and let's not name that."

Edmondson said he would like to see the district look into making Roberto Clemente a Title 1 program, which would allow the alternative high school to receive funds set aside by the state to help disadvantaged students become academically successful.

"Districts have some control over which schools they make Title 1. And last I checked, and maybe that’s changed, but I believe Title 1 funds can be used to provide busing," he said.

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



Sat, Jun 1, 2013 : 2:19 a.m.

Send them to Stone School. Close Clemente. Privatize Balas.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

The location of Roberto Clemente has been corrected in this story. Roberto is located in Pittsfield Township, not Ypsilanti Township. I apologize for the error.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Would be nice if we had unlimited funds to do everything for everyone. Very nice, now back to the real world.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

I wish all the people that care so much about the kids at Roberto would understand that the intervention and help that these kids need was at the elementary level. We should focus all funds and expertise for the children that show low test scores beginning in third grade. I understand that these kids need help and this is their last chance to get the help that they so need to have a productive life. At some point teenagers need to make a tough decision to help themselves.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 9:36 p.m.

@Tom, so it's better that the elementary schools don't have a full time principal? In a title one school with two special Ed classrooms? Sounds fair. I'm sure the class that has a substitute teacher half the year because the lead teacher is playing principal will appreciate that. Make cuts everywhere but RC. Sounds fair. No high school busing, except for 89 RC kids? Sounds fair. Not.

tom swift jr.

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 8:25 p.m.

Thoughtful, go volunteer to manage that group of students for a week or two, and then come back and tell us that the principal isn't needed on a full time basis. Talk is cheap when you don't have the knowledge, experience, or data to back it up.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

@ concerned, it is underenrolled. An RC teacher says RC can't handle any more kids. And the district can't afford to spend almost $19K on any more kids. There need to be solutions. I'm not opposed to the program, just would like to see it streamlined to be more cost effective. One principal for 89 kids is not cost effective. 8 kids graduating is not cost effective. Someone needs to get creative, because it certainly won't be the BOE. Perhaps this "friends" group is a start. I hope they work quickly, because at some point, at the rate the district is going, everything will tank, and there will be no saving expensive programs.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Thoughtful, no free uniforms at R.C. This is a program that is not only needed in this community, but should be expanded.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

No, the RC folks expect elementary schools like Abbot, which is Title one, and has many kids who are disadvantaged, as well as two special Ed classrooms, a young fives program..... This is the school that is supposed to principal share so an elite group of 89 kids gets their personal needs met, hands held, free uniforms? RC should be the school to principal share- its the most underenrolled, the most costly in the district. Tell me that a principal can handle more than 89 kids??? RC has to be willing to find the answers themselves. Too much money spent on way to few kids, to the detriment of TOO many others!

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

I agree that the intervention money for *education* needs to be spent most heavily early on. But there still needs to be programs for kids who are at-risk once teens. They may not need to be via the schools, though, or at least the money needs to be better spent so that we are not throwing the rest of the AAPS kids under the proverbial bus. Which doesn't run anymore because we don't have the money to spend. Or at least that's what the central administrators want us to think, so that we don't look too hard at their expenditures on un-needed things, which we had to FOIA to learn about. For lack of out-of-the-box thinking-- or even let's-all-look-in-the-box-transparently-and-try-to-do-what's-best-for-the-kids team-thinking--we are definitely in a "Race-to-the-Bottom" here in Michigan education...

Veronica Hannah

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

Wake Up: A2: 1) share principals at the elementary level and layoff the rest. 11 fte saved. 1.1 million that would save busing and clemente. Really? So we sacrifice the education of hundreds of Elementary students, to graduate 10 children @ Clemente?


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

Principals are necessary in elementary school buildings. If there is no principal in the building, a teacher has to be assigned to play that role -- and then their class suffers when they are taken out of the classroom each time an administrative matter comes up. Or a sub has to be on hand, so you don't save a salary.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

All ten don't graduate. Only 8 do. Same rate as Huron, at four times the cost.

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

lol @WakeUpA2... I think its only because of weird useless mandates probably from the Central Administrators that principals are so allegedly critical to the buildings that they can't be shared possibly in tough budget times. Probably half their work is make-work from AAPS and they are organized into their own union to make life that much more complicated for everyone, especially those who care about kids and education. Probably keeping a 'lead teacher' among the staff and letting parents get on board with this idea in a well managed "buy in" process (something AAPS seems *utterly incapable* of accomplishing) would work wonders toward getting wide-spread acceptance for this idea. But perhaps the AAAA or whatever their acronym is wouldn't want it, and offers a nominal pay-cut that wouldn't come close to covering the deficit in the way that sharing principals among under-enrolled buildings (until we can redistrict) would.

Wake Up A2

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

Teachers run the building. Dont tell me when the school principal is out the kids run free and building burns.....

Nick Danger

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

The district has a counselor who travels the globe visiting colleges for the elite but does not have funds to bus the most disadvantaged students to school.Whats wrong with this picture?


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

I did not know all of that either, say it plain. There you go- you know the person to contact about your counselor concerns. Perhaps he would run a workshop to encourage other counselors to be more effective.

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

Oh, cool link @aauser56! It looks like the blurb uses the present tense in claiming that he is Counselor at Community, that he has a busy private counseling practice, *and*...and I didn't know this, but it surely is interesting...hmm....he's the "chair of counseling" for AAPS?! Wouldn't that mean that he might be able to offer advice on how to better structure counseling within *all* of AAPS so as to better serve students? It seems a bit of a conflict of interest for him to run a private practice for those who don't luck into Community, yet be the head of counseling for the district?! and now this is another official position with a charter school that might be vying for student bodies with AAPS... It's a 'smart' hire for what WIHI is trying to do marketing-wise and who can fault them?


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

Looks like John has a new job at WIHI:

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

@Thoughtful, you fail to note that I never mentioned "elite". I merely deemed Community students "lucky". And @Nick Danger mentions only that the counselor in question spends time (and I don't think this is a bad thing, and never said so) visiting colleges, many of which are attended by what might be called the "elite". I never meant to imply that Community is in any way 'elite' in terms of the student body ( but we all must admit that they are far less diverse than the comprehensive schools, for a variety of reasons including that the kids get kicked out if they are not performing decently, like private schools do), or the courses. Indeed, it is in the intimate and relaxed atmosphere that lies the key to its success, particularly in how students can be nurtured there in ways that are totally supported by the overall operation of the school-- a large part of which is the use of their "forums", unique to Community but which *should* be created in some way for all AAPS high schools. It would probably prevent some of the drop-out issues if students felt that they were cared about, like the RC program presumably fosters . I don't think it's an issue of the Unfortunate believing that Community is truly "elite". It's more an issue of their seeing Community being the exception in so many ways to the unpleasantness of the high school scene in Ann Arbor, taking advantage of their status as a 'magnet school' to avoid some of the atmosphere issues that plague the comprehensive schools, resisting expansion of the program to meet the desire for alternative education in AAPS, and yet taking advantage of the opportunities that only bigger schools tend to offer. Of course parents are important and the ultimate motivation has to come from the student himself. You would probably admit that you'd avoid the big schools for your middle-schooler because they can destroy motivation and thwart parental effort to help create a good edu

Chester Drawers

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

That counselor is trotting the globe on the colleges' dimes, not the district's.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

Say it plain, my son attends Community. We are in no way wealthy or elite. He is a great student, which he has achieved on his own, with support from me. We have navigated his coursework without much input from anyone. We have consulted John for college info, but he is a resource, not the end all be all person who will dictate where my kid goes to college. He's a great counselor, but even he suggests doing your own homework, as well as suggesting some books that will help in a college search. It's always amazing to me that people say Community is for the elite. Kids have FAR fewer electives. Foreign language classes are combined- Spanish2/3, for example. There are NO AP classes. The best thing about Community is the atmosphere- mutual respect. And fun. And acceptance. I have a kid in middle school. If that kid doesn't get into CHS, I will look for alternatives myself. I may give John a call, and yes, my kid would be worth paying John as a counselor, if I felt I needed to. Perhaps if cost is an issue, you could approach John with a group rate. John hasn't determined ANY of the courses my kid has taken. We just followed the guidelines as to what the district requires. I wish there were MORE schools like Community. It truly is a community. I would have LOVED to have gone there. I don't remember having a counselor at my high school. If I did,they did nothing, except when they sent the wrong kids transcripts to my college of choice. I survived, caught the error, and figured out things on my own. My parents were not well off, and not college graduates. I learned to depend on myself. This district, as you are well aware, is lacking. We as parents need to advocate for our kids, and help each other out. I'm sick of hearing that Community is elite. If having both parents with health issues, one income, and an iffy future for that job is elite, then that is my kid. People need a reality check.

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

@Thoughtful, what makes you think those people unlucky enough to be at the big schools *don't* complain about it? Does it count as whining to point out the obvious lol? You may have noticed as well, given the stories we get on the budget crisis in AAPS, that one of the proposed cuts has been counseling staff. Which means even *fewer* of the generally uninformed and under-engaged counselors that the kids at the big schools get. There is very little at the big schools in the way of opportunities for students to get guidance or input into their educations and their post-graduating educations, while at Community there are *major* opportunities for that. That's clear, to everyone who cares to look, and from what I understand no amount of complaining on the part of the big-school parents has made any difference. Things only stand to get worse, as the district struggles to staff core classes and counseling will go even farther by the wayside. You can lay the 'blame' on the Unfortunates, but its wishful thinking and a blind eye to do so, imo.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

Then get the district to hire better counselor a if everyone else is so crappy. Start complaining about your counselors at Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline. Stop whining and do something about it.

say it plain

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

yeah, it's only at the school in town with the mostest, Community High School for the Incredibly Fortunate, that there is a counselor like this. If you're not lucky in lotteries, you have to pay that same counselor for his services. One of those tiny little 'equity' issues the district has ignored for so long that people are leaving the schools in dismay. We could make counseling decent for *all* the students in the district if we stopped paying for central administration that does so very little to help our students, but that's unpalatable to the administrators and our BOE is unwilling to call them on it.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

If this is true it's too bad. My friends with high school kids say the counselors have so many kids each that you can't rely on them for much help with college anymore. I know someone who paid someone to help steer them toward the right schools, scholarships, etc. because the school counselors don't have time for that anymore.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

So if RC is moved to Pioneer, and half of the RC kids are districted for Pioneer, this kid mentioned above would get to school easily. And someone needs to tell the stepmom that her baby will be several months older come September. She needs to start helping her stepson get to school, because once that baby is old enough for school, there may not be ANY busing. Edmonson ONLY has 89 kids to oversee, so he can easily help make sure RC kids get to class at Pioneer or wherever, and aren't distracted. If HS busing is cut, there won't be an RC if all the kids take the bus. Pioneer may be more appealing if it means not losing the RC program entirely.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

If RC needs space, half of Northside is available. Underenrolled big time. They only need six classrooms. And then they can share principals as well as office staff.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Aamom, perhaps your idea of redistributing more kids to Skyline is something new that could work. Since Skyline is the least crowded, and Pioneer is overcrowded? It's a thought. That's what the BOE needs to do- think!


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

What if busing is cut? That's what I'm asking. Will all 89 kids be able to get out to Ypsi twp? Can they get to Skyline? If most are districted for Pioneer, is getting to school better than no school at all? Just asking for logistics sake.

Wake Up A2

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

The students do not do well in a big school is a big school. That means program failure. Clemente has a dress code. Pioneer the kids hardly dress at all... Clemente needs space... the only way to get space at pioneer is the cut programs. Moving to pioneer should have never been on the table.


Thu, May 30, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

From what I hear, Pioneer is the most crowded high school we have. Why would you add 90 more kids? I think we would have to redistrict some kids out to the other high schools if we did that. Seems easier to just move all 90 to a school that is under capacity like Skyline.

Wake Up A2

Thu, May 30, 2013 : 10:13 a.m.

What is the cost to go where your current governor sends his kids, greenhills? He knows you have to spend more then $7000 to educate a student, not your student of course, his. Clemete works. That is a fact. So we can educate this group correctly or do it half measure (not the words I really wanted to use). Then the students lose. There are many ways to save this program but the upper 5% may have to give something up.1) share principals at the elementary level and layoff the rest. 11 fte saved. 1.1 million that would save busing and clemente.2) get rid of district department chairs. 1 million that would save busing and clemente.With all their committees the board hasnt figured these to out. Both involve admin cuts yet 6 lower fte is removed from balas with no real change...