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Posted on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 9:50 a.m.

Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift's first words to the Ann Arbor community

By Amy Biolchini


Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift speaks to Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers at a welcome back event Tuesday morning at Pioneer High School.

Melanie Maxwell |

Ann Arbor Public Schools welcomed back its teachers Tuesday morning with an annual celebration—and was enthusiastic in greeting a new face to the district: Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift.

Tuesday marks the first day of Swift's five-year contract.

Held 8:30 a.m. at Pioneer High School, the celebration began with a high-energy entrance from the Skyline High School drum line in to an auditorium filled with AAPS teachers.

Board of Education President Deb Mexicotte welcomed back teachers and thanked the administration for making the "very ambitious timeline" to find a new superintendent for the district a success. Interim Superintendent David Comsa led the district for 65 days this summer during the process.

"On behalf of the Board of Education, I'd like to thank you (teachers), our district staff, for all your hard work and dedication as you prepare ... for the graduating classes of 2014 through 2026," Mexicotte said.

Mexicotte briefly described Swift's resume, including her 25 years of experience as a classroom teacher, teacher coach and district administrator, before giving Swift the floor.

"I am delighted and deeply honored to greet you today as your superintendent. Today is certainly not about me, today is about you: Our incredible, exceptional Ann Arbor Public Schools staff," Swift said to the room full of teachers.

After complimenting the positive energy in the Pioneer High School auditorium Tuesday morning, Swift publicly recognized AAPS administrative staff and union leaders by name.

Swift promised to visit every school in the district for both a staff gathering and a community forum—a statement that garnered significant applause from the audience.

“I’ve been to Ann Arbor back and forth this summer: it doesn’t take long to understand that AAPS represent a strong tradition of quality, of excellence, of exceptional,” Swift said.

The "Exceptional: A+" district motto was one Swift wove throughout her remarks. Swift gave a brief list of highlights of student achievements in academics, career, technology, athletics, the arts and community support.

"We field more sports than the University of Michigan," Swift said as a friendly jab to U-M, noting AAPS fields 33 and U-M fields 29.

Swift briefly confronted the challenges AAPS faces in terms of the achievement gap. She charged teachers to "roll up their sleeves" to tackle graduation rates below the 80 percent accountability requirement among African American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students.

“We must be courageous and confront and embrace the challenges that lie ahead of us,” Swift said. “We will meet our challenges, particularly in the areas of student discipline where we have seen progress.”

Swift also promised longevity in her term with the district.

“This year’s kindergarten students that we will welcome one week from today will be the graduating class of 2026,” Swift said. “I plan to shake their hand and hand them a diploma.”

Following her approximately 12 minutes of remarks, Swift turned the stage over to three teachers and a district administrator to share some of their inspirational experiences in speeches similar to TED Talks.

Later today Swift will attend staff professional development sessions and interview the final candidates for the Lawton Elementary School principal's position.

Swift's next full day in the district is Tuesday, Sept. 3, on the first day of school.

Amy Biolchini is the K-12 education reporter for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

One of the first things she should do is cancel next year "pep rally". What a waste of time, the teachers would be better off in their respective schools getting ready for the upcoming school year instead of sitting around listening to all this bloviating. A better course next year would be for the superintendent to stop in and make a brief planned appearance at each school during the week before the start of school of school to meet the building staff.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

The question of how many sports fields the schools need is an important one. Especially since some of those fields are for the exclusive use of after school sports teams. Mere students are not allowed on them. They want to spend a *million* dollars putting artificial turf on a new sports field at skyline. We are expected to believe that kids cannot run and exercise on grass, and that this is somehow essential to the educational mission, and must be paid for by taxpayers.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

Wow guys! How about we give her more than 12 minutes before we pass judgement? Let's decide as a community to get behind Dr. Swift and see where she can lead us going forward. Say we meet back here this time next year and pass judgement then? Seems a little more fair that way.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

So we should ignore the school and spending for a year? On what planet?


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

"I've been to Ann Arbor back and forth this summer: it doesn't take long to understand that AAPS represent a strong tradition of quality, of excellence, of exceptional," Swift said. I think there's a word mising at the end here. But also, I'd be interested to hear what exactly makes one understand there is a strong tradition of quality and excellence in AAPS. I'm assuming it's not the budget. I'm assuming it's not the achievement gap. Are there better grades in AAPS than surrounding areas? Really, if this is not just lame introductory lip service, I'd like to know what gives this impression. This is not sarcasm. I'd really like to know. because otherwise this is nothing more than shallow, meaningless lip service, and not a great start.

Amy Biolchini

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

There isn't a word missing at the end of her quote—she was using "exceptional" to reference the district's motto, "Exceptional: A+" that it uses on its website and other publications. I agree that it comes across as looking as an incomplete sentence.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:58 p.m.

The new superintendent gave a great opening day speech. If she can lead as well as she speaks, the district might do okay with her at the helm.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

After reading clips of comments made by the new supt., I can say that this chapter in the management of our school system will be quite interesting.

AA Neighbor

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

As taxpayers, we are not amused by the new superintendent's comments about the number of sports fields maintained by AAPS given that school science labs are in miserable states and some schools don't have real libraries. Skyline H.S., for example, has an empty room where students can go on line and read Time magazine. If you think taxpayers want to renew millage to maintain sports entertainment facilities in the district, or if you think you can do an end run around the millage system by a sleight of hand, you are mistaken. Are you planning a millage vote in the dead of night on December 31? Not a good way to run a public school system. The real work of education takes place in the classroom, the library, and the laboratory. The recent performance reports indicate the real work is not being done.

Amy Biolchini

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

Just to clarify: Swift's comment was not about the number of fields the district has; she was using the word "fields" as a verb to indicate that AAPS has 33 sports teams.

Amy Biolchini

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

Superintendent Swift said that she'll be taking the rest of this week to move from her home in Colorado Springs to Ann Arbor. She said it was "tremendously important" that she be here to welcome teachers back for the new school year and that every day, she's more and more pleased about her decision to accept the job in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Welcome, Dr. Swift. Best wishes to you, and everyone in the Ann Arbor Public Schools , in the upcoming academic year!

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

"We field more sports than the University of Michigan," They are distractions and drains on the core educational mission. Laying off teachers while bragging about how many sports you offer? Disgusting. Let's stop the obfuscation and bring the costs of those programs out into the light of day. There needs to be a transparent discussion of what gets cut.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Floyd - Great party line, propaganda response. The tax "cut" was really an equaliztation of taxes for small business - my neighbor the plumber got a reduction in his double taxation, as did 300,000 small businesses in the state. On the other hand Ford, Meijer, and other larger businesses all have stated they are paying more. Look at their annual reports. What the state really got out of it was that there is much less to dispute over what the taxes are, so instead of money in escrow, the state is getting their money on tax day. As to teacher pay, what reference are you using, the NBLS does not show anything similar to your statement on pay cuts - in fact, teachers according to NBLS numbers are one of the few groups that have not seen cuts in pay over the last decade, but rather have more money in their paychecks. So please point me at the reference you are using. As to Governor Snyder, I am not defending him, but remember that Governor Granholm spent the last 2 years of Stimulus money in her last year in office, leaving a huge hole in the state budget at a time when Michigan average household income had fallen much faster than the rest of the US. How much more in the way of taxes do you think made sense?


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

DonBee, You know full well that the first action of our current governor was to slash the education budget by a billion dollars. The second thing was to give a tax-break kick-back of over a billion dollars to business owners - to guys just like Rick. Since 2010, teacher income has fallen over 20 percent, while the income of business execs has increased 40 percent. (New York Times, July) The public education establishment is considered a political foe to be defunded and defanged by the Michigan Tea Party and those who work for them.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Fjord - A one time annual cut in funding to schools seems to be non-stop cutting to you. . Total Michigan funding in 2012 (State and Local) for education this year is over $29 billion dollars. Believe it or not that is up from $23 billion in 2002. That is a $6 billion dollar increase for education - almost all of it in local funds in the last decade. Based on numbers from the US Department of Education. How much more of an increase is enough?

Amy Biolchini

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

Swift prefaced that comment in her speech with a long list of academic accomplishments of students, including, for example, four students that received perfect ACT scores at Huron High School. The comment about sports offerings was made as an aside. To be completely fair to the new superintendent, those cuts were made in Ann Arbor Public Schools prior to her being hired. I'm working on an update to the staffing situation.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Or, the idiots in Lansing could reverse the trend of nonstop tax cuts and we could restore school funding to levels where not only did we not have to lay off any more teachers or cut any more programs, but we could reinstate those teachers, hire some new ones, and bring back many programs that have been cut through the years. It's time to return the top tax rates back to where they were before Reagan. That would fix so many of our economic woes, and the rich folks would barely see a dent in their lifestyles. Of course, it's such an obvious solution that the politicians will never make it happen.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

Welcome Dr. Swift. I hope this one does not come back to haunt the district when it comes time for more millages: "We field more sports than the University of Michigan," Swift said as a friendly jab to U-M, noting AAPS fields 33 and U-M fields 29"

Paula Gardner

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

Photographer Melanie Maxwell is with Amy at this event. We expect to add photos shortly.