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Posted on Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 5 p.m.

Roberto Clemente staff speaks out against proposed move to Pioneer High School Building

By Guest Column

070511_NEWS_Roberto Clemente_MRM_01.jpg

Former Roberto Clemente student Jaylevon Ginyard-Johnson, then 16, reads from a textbook during an African American studies summer school class.

Photo by Melanie Maxwell for

Editor's note: The following editorial is a letter addressed to the Ann Arbor Public School Board of Trustees from the staff of Roberto Clemente.

We, the Roberto Clemente staff, are fully united in our disapproval of the proposed move of our program to Pioneer High School, contrary to the report presented to you by central administration on March 13.

It is impossible to maintain the integrity of Roberto Clemente if it is to be housed in a comprehensive high school, as “a school within a school.” History, within Ann Arbor, has shown that “school within a school” models are not successful, such as Middle Years Alternative (MYA) and New School. Our identity will be stifled at Pioneer or any other comprehensive high school. Be not deceived, our students, parents, and staff will be treated like second-class citizens; the whispers already are being heard.

Central administration is expecting us to go from 13 classrooms we now have in use (not counting our gymnasium, computer lab, media center and three separate office spaces) to six classrooms in a wing of Pioneer, again compromising the integrity of our program.

We further want you to be aware the program review omitted our parents, staff, and students. How can one fairly assess our program by omitting those who have the most history and knowledge? This evaluation of Roberto Clemente has been a sham. The Clemente community stakeholders, parents, students, teachers, alumni and retirees have not had an integral part in the administration’s report.

Last school year, several of our staff members implored you to give us time to collaborate with AAPS staff and other stakeholders if it was determined that our building would be closed.

If you accept Ann Arbor Public School’s Superintendent Patricia Green’s proposal and move us to Pioneer, this is the scenario:

  1. The loss of a safe haven for our students who have not been successful in larger environments. They will be returning to the same negative environment they were escaping from. Some of our students are fearful of attending a large, comprehensive high school.
  2. The isolation of our students. The loss of the Clemente Family culture, climate, intimate classroom settings and small class sizes.
  3. The loss of our strong leadership and voice. Either immediately, or after one year, you will be expecting us to fall under the umbrella of a Pioneer principal. Our students will be confused about who has jurisdiction over them: the principal of Clemente or a Pioneer principal. We also will not be able to use the intercom for our principal to communicate with our staff and students, which is one of the effective strategies we are able to use in our location.
  4. The loss of our trimester schedule. We will be forced to change to a two-semester schedule resulting in less instruction time for our core classes and more difficulty for students to recover lost credits.
  5. The loss of flexibility to adjust our day. We have weekly rap sessions/mentor time, ACT prep activities, guest speakers, etc. Rap sessions often last longer than the allotted time, and we have the freedom to adjust the bell schedule for the rest of the classes that day. How will that effect electives our students may be taking?
  6. The loss of support for our students. Clemente staff will not be able to provide the same level of service and support for students integrated into Pioneer’s elective classes.
  7. The loss of pride our students exhibit for being a part of the Roberto Clemente family. Uniforms set the tone and expectations for our building. Uniforms diminish the economic and social barriers between students, increase school pride and sense of community, promote positive student behavior, and improve the overall learning environment. Statistics show student concentration improves, and there is an increase in attendance and graduation rates.
The increased ability for our students to get into altercations with other students, leave campus without anyone noticing — for instance, hopping on the AATA, and skipping classes. At our present location, there is nowhere for students to go. There is no place to hide or the ability to skip classes.

A potential loss of revenue from Ypsilanti Public Schools from our shared programming with their at-risk population (we receive $4,000 per student, per trimester — approximately $100,000 this school year). Furthermore, the Ypsilanti Board of Education and parents may not be willing to handle the burden of transporting students deeper into Ann Arbor. This income we generate from our partnership with Ypsilanti has never shown up in the reports presented to the Board of Education.

Contrary to the report, the transition of our students to the secondary summer school at Pioneer was neither smooth nor successful. Clemente students struggled tremendously. Of the more than 800 students that attended Pioneer last summer, only 16 were Roberto students. Three did not finish summer school, another student completed summer school, but was so badly scarred by the experience she was unable to transition back into our environment and has left our program. Overall, 25 percent of our students were not successful. Our normal summer school enrollment is about 85 students.

Roberto Clemente’s building, at 4377 Textile Road, was designed and constructed in 1994 with the input of our stakeholders - parents, teachers, and students. At one time we had as many as 135 students in our program, and we would be able to accommodate that many again provided we have the teaching staff. Throughout the years our staff has been downsized, as many as two a year. As a result, our student population has shrunk. As of two years ago, we lost the staffing to support an eighth-grade class.

We, as part of the Clemente family, would like to know what the board members true intentions are for our building. The members of the board have not had any public discussions about the future of our site. The best thing for Clemente’s program would be to remain in our own self-contained building on Textile Road. Whose needs are more important than the most vulnerable population of our young people? How will our students ever have a chance to bridge the achievement gap under the status quo?

It appears as though recommendations are few, but how about this? For a $200,000 proposed savings, eliminate the $54,000 annual pension payment for the superintendent, mandate a $50,0000 salary reduction, and acknowledge the $90,000 in revenue that Clemente brings to the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Problem averted.

Kathleen Ardan on behalf of The Roberto Clemente Staff

Kathleen Ardan has been at Roberto Clemente since 1982 as a paraprofessional. I am a resident of within the Ann Arbor Public School District and have had three children graduate from it - two from Community High and one from Huron (by way of Clemente).


Bill Wilson

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

The picture speaks volumes. An African American studies summer school class: an easy class for many who have fluffed off during the regular school year and are then forced to make up a credit during the summer. The class itself is absolutely useless as to providing ANY type of skill-set needed in today's job market. Of course, the staff will pull their teeth before moving. The last thing they want is real accountability. It might actually force some work out of them. Making the claim that RC students are somehow 'unsafe' at Pioneer is beyond insulting to the students, staff, and their families: it's ludicrous, and should have higher standards than to print such nonsense.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Great article by a great lady! I went to RCDC and graduated in 2003. I tried Pioneer but i'd say there is to much "Freedom" and teachers kinda over look you. Education is Education and RCDC prepared me for Life.............. #R.I.P. Joe Dulin

Bill Wilson

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

Your post speaks volumes as well. "I tried Pioneer but i'd say there is to much "Freedom" and teachers kinda over look you." Perhaps Pioneer had 'too' much of something you did not desire?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 10:50 p.m.

Short term the right answer is pretty straight forward. Combine AATech and Roberto Clemente in one building, different wings of the building and different teaching staff. In most cases the classrooms the students are in now are inefficient. Building temporary partitions in existing classrooms with 6 inches of insulation in the partitions could allow 1 current classroom to be two or even 3 classrooms for these programs and make the rooms more efficient space wise, but also more "cozy" for the students so they feel like they are part of the smaller group. Either AATech or the Roberto Clemente building works - both buildings have the layout and the space to support this. Done right, if the building needs to serve a different purpose in the future the partitions can be removed. Combine the administration and the support staff for the two programs, this will reduce the overhead while leaving the teaching staff in place. Both programs have great Principals, so either should be welcome by the other program. Longer term: 1) Stop social promotion. If a child does not have the skills to go from 1st to 2nd grade, leave them in 1st grade for another year. 2) Put the teacher evaluation system to work. AAPS was supposed to have a teacher approved evaluation system - put it to work. 3) In the next contract - do away with tenure. If a teacher is good, they stay, if they are not - they go. Use the evaluation system to decide - since the Teacher's Union created the evaluation system, they should not complain. All the district to send the bottom 2 percent of teachers away each year. 4) Rebuild the link between parents and teachers - the current almost entirely online model does not help parents understand what they need to do to support what is being taught in school. 5) Re-think things like "everyday math" find programs that work and put them in place, rather than programs that are listed by the Department of Education as "poor".


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 8:56 p.m.

Keep Clemente out of Pioneer for the Clemente students to have a chance to succeed. That said, what has yet to be addressed by anyone, is more intervention at earlier grades and holding students AND teachers at EVERY grade accountable for learning.

Wake Up A2

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 7:27 p.m.

What will you get when you merge two staffs that don't want this to happen? What do you get when the PHS principle is letting in upwards of 150 kids a day be later for 1st hour? Wear ipods, hats and next to no clothes? Now add a program with uniforms? You know a move like this AAPS will have to spend money at Pioneer just to keep the two away from each other...... Repeat after me....TRAIN WRECK....

Chester Drawers

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

This is what I've been hearing from the kids, too. Didn't take her long to destroy all of the hard work Michael White put into making Pioneer a safe learning environment.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 6:46 p.m.

I'm beginning to think they are posing this crazy idea of moving RC to Pioneer so that when they do what they are really intending to do (move/merge with Stone School), that move wont seem "AS BAD".

Wake Up A2

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

From what I am told Pioneers Staff doesn't want it at all, but the new principle Pat put in loves it. Gee I wonder why she was picked??????

Macks Pizza

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 7:27 p.m.

She's in over her head without RCDC. She will never be able to develop the rapport that is needed for students and staff of RCDC. The lack of discipline at PHS needs to be looked into immediately. It's about to implode. CA is keeping a blind eye on this. Typical.

Macks Pizza

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

The current PHS principal is having difficulty managing the building w/o the RCDC students and staff members. Yes....put the RCDC students and staff members right in the mix. BoE & CA you need to think smarter about this possible move.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

It is powerful to have a letter from the entire staff of Clemente. Why is Clemente singled out as the targeted program to move locations without a more information objectively evaluating costs & benefits of other options. --Another idea might be to say that the district should take the top performing high school students in the district as measured by grades, number of extra curriculars, test scores and other favorite metrics and move them to a remote location or a different location. Potentially, our strongest students in the district could perform well in any building so why not ask them to move? --Another idea mentioned by other commenters is to sell Balas and spread out the administrators who earn the highest salaries into buildings across the district. -- Another idea would be to join the magnet program at Skyline with Community and move the kids in alternative education considered to be a prize in the district to one building, and then combine Clemente with the comprehensive or regular Skyline program. --I think that Clemente is thrown under the bus as an easy fix because the zip codes of families who are in this program do not wield the same power with the Board as Burns Park or Angell or King or Wines neighborhood zip codes. It is a mistake for the kids in the program at Clemente to move to another building when they already presumably left a building that was not working for them to come to Clemente, which is a program that works in truth. Maybe the problem is that the Clemente program doesn't work on the paper metrics that Superintendent and cabinet wants to compile to show the new success with achievement gap.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

As a parent of a child going to Pioneer? I agree, no to Clemente mixing with Pioneer. They need to go to Stone school where they have the resources to help these troubled youths. Pioneer cannot. This is why they created their own school. Parents? Say no to this move. BOE? You will be descended upon if you do. Start picking on Balas.

Susie Q

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

One thing that is not mentioned in these comments is that the AAPS has to cut $17 million to meet the budget shortfall for 2013-14. Unless all the employees are willing and able to take a 20-25 percent pay cut, then there will be some major cuts necessary. Employees have endured pay cuts, wage freezes, increased insurance co-pays/deductibles, increased payments to the state for retirement and retiree health care, and suffered the effects on inflation like everyone else. Valued programs and schools will be affected and, yes, the students, their families and the employees will suffer. Please direct your concerns to Lansing. I agree that the AAPS administration has made some poor decisions regarding hiring additional central admin and increasing their wages/benefits during a time of severe budget reductions. But, even if all those hires and raises were eliminated, it would not save AAPS from these cuts from the state.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:58 p.m.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: yes, on paper, it seems like Clemente costs more per pupil to educate than the other schools. We're talking a small handful of students so what does it add up to in the total percent of the operating budget? A drop! Here's a very radical thought: how about close and sell Balas and redistribute the staff into various school buildings. Seriously, why can't an office/administrative job be done within any physical location in the district, especially with most everything being electronic now? And the other huge advantage of that is that it would place more adult presence in every single building and thus render them safer. So if any building should close first, make it Balas. Set an example. And I'm not saying get rid of positions at Balas, just move their bodies to various school buildings and sell the property. I bet Howard Cooper or UM would love it.

Macks Pizza

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

(RCDC) Roberto Clemente Development Center It makes no sense to blend RCDC students and staff into PHS. You are going out the world backwards. RCDC was created and developed before any current BoE or Central Administration person knew of its existence. As in typical fashion, the powers to be choose to single out the most vulnerable students in the district to save a few dollars. There is a programmatic need for RCDC to be somewhat isolated to have the proper educational setting to continue to be successful. Don't mess with something that is not broke. Within the next three years the people making this decision to move the program will be long gone from the district, but the lingering effects of their negative decision will have a major impact on those who stay. The BoE and Central Administration need to consider the Pink Elephant that sits on Division as a means of saving district money. Oh! that will never happen, too tough of a decision, or do we need another year to study the effects of closing that school. Common sense needs to set in ladies and gents.

J. A. Pieper

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

I love how well spoken you are related to the value that Clemente has for our students who need something different. Hopefully, others will read this opinion and see its value - you offered more insight than AAPS ever does in its efforts to be "TRANSPARENT". I cannot see Clemente surviving at Pioneer, it is just not the place for students who have difficulty surviving in large student populations. AAPS will throw anything under the bus to achieve their cuts, except Balas and its precious population!


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

I taught disadvantaged teenagers for several decades. I learned that the single most important thing to teenagers is their perception of the way they are viewed by other teenagers. Kids learn on the streets that they have to act tough or they are likely to become victims. Clemente has created an environment where it is safe for at risk teens to do the right thing. If those kids are put back into an environment with hundreds of other kids, they are going to feel they have to act tough and confront authority again.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

As a transplanted AAite to the big apple, i still ready every day. I must say that in contrast to the often snarky and sometimes nasty commentary to articles, the comments to this article are excellent and add dimension to the story. But I must note with all respect to A Voice or Reason, The Great One's name is not Robert.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 7:54 a.m.

Everybody has a solution. No one wants to be part of it.

Jay Thomas

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 6:41 a.m.

Green strikes again! Pioneer is too big for these kids. Either merge with Stone school or become a charter.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

I totally agree with this statement.

A Voice of Reason

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:09 a.m.

Dear Robert Clemente parents, We all value and see a purpose for Robert Clemente in this community. The BOE and teacher's union know they can get a rise out of you and will threaten to close your school unless you support their millage. Fact: Teacher contracts were signed with a 3%- decrease before we even were able to talk about the budget. AAPS has a $200,000,000 budget-- Poverty rates in Washtenaw County are on the rise. The poor cannot afford more property tax increases. Apartment rents will rise, cost of goods and services in Washtenaw County will go up too. We need to address the elephant in the room-staff and teacher salaries and benefits. The school board is using you because they know you will fight--wake up! Maybe Robert Clemente should become a charter school. This would avoid you having to deal with the Board of Education that does not know how to set a budget.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

A Voice of Reason - A charter would not work, without significant funding beyond state funding. A baseline charter gets the minimum foundation allowance (approximately $7,500 per student). They do not have access to the sinking funds, the bond funds, and most other sources of revenue that AAPS relies on. Roberto Clemente costs roughly 3 times this amount per student per year. You see the issue? To have a very low student to teacher ratio costs money, to have a support and counseling staff that also has a very low ratio cost money. Add the cost of a building where the classrooms were built to standard school classroom size, but are mostly empty and the utility costs are also high per student. Moving the program into the AATech building and using 1/2 size classrooms would allow combining the AATech support staff with the Roberto Clemente students. It would put the students in classrooms that are more on par with the actual enrolled student count, and cut the cost of a building. Moving to Pioneer will end up with these students, being bullied by the student body.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:06 a.m.

I have been trying to understand this suggested move to Pioneer for a few weeks. Why would we move more kids into Pioneer when it is already the most crowded of the three comprehensive high schools? When Joe Dulin proposed the new building for Clemente, one of the positives for the current location was the lack of public transportation. Pioneer has public bus stops on all four of the streets that bound it. Like other commenters, I too wonder why we would consider moving the districts most vulnerable students instead of considering getting rid of the district's "sacred cow", Community. Community students would be much more resilient through a move back to their home school, and that piece of property would be a valuable sale item for the district. Budget data shows that like Clemente, the per pupil funding for Community is higher than the other comprehensive schools. The district says they want to help the kids at the bottom, but their actions do not support this.

Erich Jensen

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

Or perhaps merge Roberto Clemente and Community. Why is the latter still considered such a special needed education island/bubble?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:07 a.m.

Don't trade one successful program for another successful program. CHS is a model program that works, and draws students to the extent that it needs a lottery and waiting list. Clemente should be the same, it should be nurtured and enrollment should be increased as much as it takes to make it a profitable operation. There are better places to save money than by cutting the programs that do work and bring prestige to the system.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

Let's also not forget about the significantly high social cost of not graduating from high school. What job options will be open to these students if they fall through the cracks and drop out? It will cost far less in the long run to have educated, successful productive members of society!

Basic Bob

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:09 a.m.

Dr. Green, please listen to these people. Moving the program to Pioneer is the worst possible choice for this program. If you can't make room at Stone, the program must stay where it is. Increasing enrollment will help reduce the cost per student. There are many other areas you can cut which will have less impact - closing underutilized elementary schools, a hiring freeze in central administration, moving CHS to Skyline should be on the top of the list.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:31 a.m.

How about closing Pioneer, and move those students to a nearly- empty Skyline? Sell the PiHi property to UM for millions, so that they can expand their athletic campus. Problem solved.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

It is called skippers. This is what makes this place empty. I see it all the time.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 4:28 a.m.

It was totally empty today.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

Since when is Skyline "nearly empty" ?


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

One of the previous comments hit the nail right on the head. This school board and adminstration talks all the time about diversity gaps and achievement, to the point of obsession. Yet, a proven school that has proven data on helping students is under the potential of closure. Seems to me the school board needs to find other ways to cut money. How about getting rid of one or more of the superintendents? That will save anywhere from $100K to one million dollars alone.


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 10:47 p.m.

One question regarding class size. The photo shows a classroom with a lot of empty desks. There are few classrooms at Pioneer or Huron with only a handful of students in an empty room. Quite the opposite. Classes are bursting out of rooms and every desk is occupied, with classes pushing 30-35 regularly. Downsizing from 13 to 6 rooms might not be a bad idea to utilize resources in a better way. Why not merge Clemente with Stone School rather than a monster high school, where a lot of these students had difficulties?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

JRW - the whole idea behind the school is very small classes and a high ratio of teachers to students. Raising the number of students in the classes goes against that facet of the program.


Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

I just don't get it. The Roberto Clemente program is a tangible/measurable attempt to help kids who fall in the "achievement gap". Other things, like paying a consultant (Glenn Singleton) for his "expertise" which are abstract solutions to an achievement gap seem to be okay. Or some of the other initiatives that again, are abstract, and we "hope" they will help. This is a program that works. The people who run it sound like they know what works and what doesn't. I'm all for saving money in the district, but this just seems penny wise pound foolish, imo.

tom swift jr.

Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

You're exactly right in terms of "down the road" costs. Not only will the district eventually lose funding for the students that leave (in one manner or the other), but the community will loose the opportunity to gain productive members as these students graduate from Clemente (as opposed to paying the costs of adjudication and/or incarceration, which becomes much more likely for school dropouts). Dismantling and/or moving this program is a very poor idea.

tom swift jr.

Sat, Mar 30, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

This is very well written and spot on. There is no doubt that moving Clemente to one of the comprehensive high schools is one more step to pushing these students out of school. The moment educating a student costs more than the foundation allowance from the state, it is cost effective to "encourage" that student to drop out, move, select another district, or to expel that student. And you can believe that the financial "bottom line" is driving every one of these decisions. The options for students that struggle in a traditional setting are dwindling, Clemente is a fine program and, if the district truly cares about all students, they will do whatever is necessary to maintain the program, or, better yet, expand it.