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Posted on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Working with Ypsilanti-Willow Run consolidation will benefit future of the district

By Guest Column

Two Schools.jpg

Even amidst disagreements, civility is the way to help the new merged Ypsilanti-Willow Run school district meet its full potential.

The community in the Ypsilanti area has embarked on an exciting yet difficult process as it moves full tilt into the schools consolidation process. This past summer a host of community forums and planning began the process, followed by a courageous vote by the school boards of each district and a referendum approved by the citizens.

Many people voted in favor of the consolidation to avoid the negative consequence of the status quo, such as trying to finance an unwieldy debt or risking state takeover. As a community volunteer who has been intensely involved in the consolidation campaign and planning process I support the merger because of the incredible possibilities and opportunities the new district holds.

Hundreds of school personnel and community members are volunteering their time to serve on seven committees that often meet several times weekly to work on recommendations for the new board on teaching, school culture and climate, early childhood, athletics, college credit, naming and leadership. The deep thinking and commitment shown by the participants is inspiring.

The potential outcomes for students in our community are exciting and far-reaching. The recommendations forming out of these groups include seamless opportunities for high school students to earn college credit and degrees, centers of excellence to guide our athletics, and a school climate program rooted in some of the most innovative practices used nationally. What is taking shape is truly a world class district that our entire community will revere. There will definitely be bumps, but those of us involved in the process truly believe the end product will be exceptional.

One of the bumps occurred this past week. On Monday evening, the board voted to approach the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to contract for a superintendent as permitted by the school code.

The recommendation of the search committee was comprehensive and included offering the current superintendents the opportunity to serve as Associate Superintendents in the new district, should they agree. A vocal contingent of community stakeholders came out fiercely against the board’s decision to hire the two current superintendents as associates and to appoint the WISD superintendent to lead the new district. I was surprised by the reaction.

As I observe and participate in the consolidation planning I have witnessed the two current superintendents put the community and our students above self. Both have shown a deep commitment to the process and absolute engagement to doing the hard work to create a world-class district. Each has done so cooperatively, supportively and determinedly even though neither was guaranteed a job at the end.

As the consolidation emerged, each of these people could have competed against the other to try and prove they were the better leader for the district, however they chose cooperation as it is the right thing to do for our kids. Furthermore, the consolidation planning and the deep thinking about what is best for our students has been led admirably by the staff at the WISD.

Their superintendent, Scott Menzel, has shown great determination, leadership and commitment to a complicated and challenging process that one of the committee members likened to “trying to change a flat tire while speeding down the highway at 80 miles an hour”. Their continued participation in the transition will be key in keeping the process going smoothly and on-track.

In my view the school board made a solid, yet safe choice in its superintendent selection. With so many things all moving at once, we need dedicated, engaged people who are already deeply involved in the process, like the three current superintendents, to help us begin implementation. Living in a democracy, community members have every right to oppose decisions our leaders make.

I have not agreed with every decision that has occurred in the consolidation process. However, the nastiness and viciousness some have demonstrated in their opposition to the superintendents’ choice is appalling and dismaying.

As we start afresh in a district that has so many incredible possibilities, let’s not revert to disrespectful and rude behavior. Let’s be a role model for the children of the new district how to be thoughtful, civic-minded, and positively engaged. If we are committed to that, the process for creating an outstanding educational program will be all of ours to own and take pride in. If we fail to act civilly we run the risk of squandering a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a world class school district.

John Kenneth Weiss is a resident of Ypsilanti.


Bill Wilson

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 10:51 p.m.

A ton of accusation... can we see the proof?

Bill Wilson

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

Wow: Can't believe how many folk I've never head of... would show up to provide support.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

John, I went to all the SB meetings leading up to this decision, and I have racked my brain to think of a single instance of "nastiness and viciousness" during the proceedings. And while I agree that choosing Scott Menzel as our interim superintendent is definitely making the best out of a bad situation, your characterization of the public reaction is completely out of line, and frankly, insulting. Can you please respond in these comments and provide one example of "nastiness and viciousness"? As far as I remember there were a few outbursts at the last meeting: "This is a farce!" and "They should do the right thing and resign!" To my mind, these statements do not reach the level of "nasty" or "vicious" but perhaps my sensibilities have been blunted by dealing with autocratic, petty, disrespectful, and incompetent leadership for the last four years. Also, your claim that our self-sacrificing superintendent worked for the consolidation even though he didn't know if he would have a job at the end of it is not born out by the facts. Anyone who attended SB meetings in Ypsi in the run up to consolidation knows that David Bates and Linda Horne maneuvered to extend Dedrick Martin's contract for another 3 years, and that as a result, he was assured a job whether or not consolidation passed (and whether or not community and staff wanted him). To my mind, this is what is "appalling and dismaying."

greg, too

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 3:58 p.m.

I applaud Mr. Weiss for taking the time to voice his opinion in writing on the topic and putting it out to the public. That takes guts and a willingness to put your position out there. And I truly wish I could support his opinion. I wish I could support this board. I wish I had faith that what they are doing is in the best interest of the children of our area. I wish I believed that the voice of the public to this appointed board was taken into consideration when they make decisions that not only affect our children, but our community as well. But none of their actions thus far leads me to think any of that is true. I feel sorry for the teachers who will lose their jobs because we have to support three superintendent salaries. I feel bad for the families who have children who have been in these two school systems and had built a community. I feel bad for both communities that have lost part of their identity because of this botched consolidation. We voted to start a new school district, not one with administrators who were hired because we can't afford to fire them, not one with an SI who was never interviewed, and not one with teachers who will be not be selected based on credentials but commitment to this misguided mission instead. This is not a petry dish to try out new fad educational techniques. This is our community school district. And after all of the that, I also know that my voice is marginalized, if not berated like an insolent child by the same school district presidents who hired Martin and Lisiki and approved the contracts that allows us not to fire them. So I am going to read to my son instead of waste my time going to this dog and pony show. And I plan to run for the school board in 2014 to try and fix the debacle that these seven chosen board members have created.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

John, $260,000 in salaries for "associate" superintendants is a hard one to swallow when teachers are out begging for references from parents. Civility is a two-way street and I would humbly suggest the board get a bit of training on both the open meetings act and how to work in the public eye. Part of the problem as I saw it remains the attitude from behind the table. All that being said, these are the same people; making the same decisions; with the same resources as before. Just because things have been shuffled around a bit doesn't mean a 'fresh start' or 'new day' had spontaneously arrived. I've been here too long not to be skeptical about the results.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

I have been here for less than a decade and I can see through it. I won't throw out bs analogies about things looking like pigs or misquoting Einstein, but once this board was selected, we started to see these outcomes on the horizon and we knew it was going to just be a repeat of what we had before with a different name. All of the tax payers and residents and parents of the area know the gravity of what is going on, which is what makes it so infuriating. We want to be involved, we want to have our voice heard and instead we are ignored or, even worse, we are berated by the board member who hired Martin like little children. So, it is very hard to not be apathetic about this since we all know everything that is important has been decided without our consent or vote. I would imagine a good deal of us would have been on board with Menzel as the SI if they had just presented him to us with the rest of the candidates instead of using their lawyers and consultants to figure out a way around the law and what is right. None of these board members should be renewed in 2014. If the people vote a single one back, then they are signing the death certificate for the new district.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Viciousness? Seriously? It amazes me that a riot didn't break out at that meeting, given the farce that it was and how insultingly the board treated the public. To have only two people (out of nearly 200) yell out from the public indicates the level of restraint that was shown. Acting civilly doesn't mean acting like sheep.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

I frankly can't believe anyone was surprised by the public's response to the exceptionally weak and poor leadership exhibited by this school board. Most people I know voted for the merger because it was sold as a "fresh start." It seems as soon as the "fresh start" was achieved, the new board did virtually everything possible to avoid a "fresh start." If the school board wants support and positivity, perhaps they should consider actually communicating with and responding to the concerns of community members. Perhaps they should put public input back at the beginning of meetings. Perhaps they should refrain from cutting off the head of the teacher's union while she is speaking (after eliminating her spot from the agenda). Perhaps they should have interviewed ALL the superintendent candidates they were considering PUBLICLY rather than moving off track at the last minute and picking someone who was not interviewed and who the public had no chance to weigh in on, much less any chance to meet. Perhaps they should have gotten a legal opinion about whether they had to honor the superintendent contracts PRIOR to the merger. Perhaps they should have refrained from accusing concerned community members of having hidden agendas. Perhaps they should have refrained from scolding the public for asking tough questions of the superintendent candidates. Perhaps they should have come up with a plan before now to keep our top teachers in place rather than have them grovel for their jobs by soliciting recommendations from parents of their students. Many within the community would love to support our new school board, but the school board's conduct makes that a gargantuan challenge.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

And perhaps they should not mistake criticism, and even anger, as "uncivilized behavior." Very well stated, ypsilanti. Thank you!