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Posted on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

Popular Pioneer teacher Jeff Kass, supporters ask Ann Arbor school board to continue funding creative writing

By Kyle Feldscher

A popular Pioneer High School teacher may no longer be paid for the work he does at a local teen center as the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ creative writing program feels the effects of budget cuts.

Jeff Kass, a leader in the school’s creative writing community, is slated to be moved from a full-time employee to a .8-full-time equivalent, meaning he will get paid four-fifths of the salary of a full-time teacher.

Kass spends a portion of his normal work day at the Neutral Zone working on creative writing projects before returning to Pioneer to teach classes.


Pioneer High School teacher Jeff Kass and former students asked the Ann Arbor school board to maintain the creative writing program he runs.

The district would no longer fund Kass's participation in the creative writing programs at the Neutral Zone, but Kass would still be involved in the programs and would still teach at the school.

Kass told the Ann Arbor school board that the time he spends at the Neutral Zone every day is really a full-time job that he does mostly for free. He said that if the board chooses to continue funding his participation in the programs, the position would be funded by outside sources in two years.

“I believe in writing and the power of the written word and I will promise this board that if you pay for this .2-FTE, it will be paid for within two years,” he said.

The board did not take any action on Kass's position Wednesday.

A number of former students and supporters from around the country spoke to the school board, encouraging them to allow Kass to continue his work.

Aimee Le, a former student who now attends Dartmouth College, said the creative writing program in Ann Arbor was the initial reason why she began taking writing seriously. She is now a published author and intends to continue writing in the future.

She said the classes and programs might be optional courses but they are undoubtedly important to students.

“It’s an elective, but it’s the most important part of my education,” Lee said of creative writing.

Molly Raynor, a Pioneer alumna, said she has watched Kass build a program from the ground up and being a part of that program was what made her lose the disengaged feeling she had in high school.

She said the opportunities afforded to her through the Volume program at Neutral Zone, which included a trip to San Francisco to perform in a national poetry contest, allowed her to find what she wanted to do with her life.

“I knew I had found my calling and I was originally going to move back there and be a teacher, like Jeff Kass,” she said.

Although Kass and his supporters appealed to the board for help at Wednesday’s meeting, it’s unclear whether the trustees will have any say in his position.

The staffing decisions for each school are usually made by each building’s principal, which means Pioneer principal Michael White is expected to have the final say in the matter. Board members gave no indication they were ready to get involved in restoring Kass's full-time status at Wednesday’s meeting.

Kass used his time speaking to the board to renew the call for members of the community to take their concerns to lawmakers in Lansing. He said the cuts to education are threatening programs like his, which he ultimately believes better the lives of students.

“Education is under assault in this state and we all know it,” Kass said. “I think it’s time for all of us in this room to go to Lansing and tell the governor what he’s doing.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

I think the Neutral Zone is a great organization, and I have donated to them regularly, even when I didn't have high-school aged kids. However, they are not accredited, do not issue grades or transcripts for their participants and do not require certified teachers to oversee their other very worthwhile programs. In only rare cases are any other adult supervisors being paid by anyone for their work at the Neutral Zone. The public school system should not be paying school employees for their VOLUNTEER work in a community organization, no matter how worthy. Jeff Kass needs to work on writing grants for the Neutral Zone to fund his activities if necessary and return to doing his "day job" 100% if he wants 100% of his pay from the taxpayers.

Gahl Liberzon

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 2:41 a.m.

Hey Kyle Feldscher, Sorry to be a nitpicker, but you misspelled the names of your quoted sources. Their names are Aimée Lê and Molly Raynor. Aimée's book actually was reviewed by an contributor (<a href=";">;</a> you might want to link to it. sincerely, -g.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

That's been updated, thank you Gahl.

Gahl Liberzon

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 2:46 a.m.

PS: it turns out the link I posted above doesn't work because for whatever reason it pastes the parentheses into the URL. you can see the article by copying and pasting the URL itself sans parentheses in, or by looking through Leah DuMouchel's review starting with the title, &quot;Feral citizens.&quot; just an fyi.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

I support Jeff Kass and the Creative Writing Program at Pioneer and at Neutral Zone. However, I would not take the issue to Lansing. The Board must include the requirement of this course for all students who would like to get a High School Diploma. Students must be intellectually challenged and must be helped to think on their own and write their original thoughts either in poems or essays. Jeff would get his full time status when more students attend his class and we need more teachers to teach Creative Writing to others who are now avoiding taking this Course. The School Board has all the money it needs in this world. Ask Larry Krammer and he has already let out that secret.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

4 years of English Language classes are already required for graduation. Creative Writing is one of the more popular permissible electives.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Great. Another graduation requirement.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

I've noticed over the years that Mr. Kass is excellent at getting his name out there. I believe this is the principal's call and Mr. Kass should not be taking it to the school board.

larry kramer

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

maybe AAPS should rescind the $65000 raise for the superintendent and give it to Jeff!


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

How would the supt buy groceries?


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Anything that is considered &quot;extracurricular&quot; is fair game for cuts right now. Unfortunately, a great deal of learning and doing is going on in those programs. Another program that Kass is involved in is the student written and produced plays at Pioneer. He helps students with their writing during his lunch hour and some of the plays are chosen to be produced by the after school theater club. Some kids do more writing, speaking, performing outside of class than they do inside. We need more of this, not less.

Townie Kid

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

This article doesn't paint a complete picture of how Jeff's work at Neutral Zone impacts the entire AAPS district. It is through his appointment at Neutral Zone that he organizes the entire city wide poetry slam (including slam finals held at each AAPS high school) and conducts creative writing workshops throughout the district during the school year. Sure, it's not time spent IN a classroom at Pioneer, but the district certainly reaps the benefits of this .2 appointment outside of the classroom...if you aren't convinced, check out a slam final sometime.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

Thank you..this is exactly what I was trying to say but you did a much better job of it!


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Jeff Kass is an exceptional teacher and I have rarely seen another teacher who is as dedicated and passionate about his job as he is. While he is a teacher at Pioneer, Jeff's involvement at the Neutral Zone allows students from all over Ann Arbor to be involved in his writing programs. Just one example is the popular Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam that Jeff organizes every spring, where kids gain invaluable experience writing and performing in a supportive environment. Students from Huron, Pioneer, Skyline and Community each have an opportunity to participate in a slam at their school while the top finalists go on to compete at the Neutral Zone. Teachers like Jeff Kass are a rare breed indeed and I hope Mr. White recognizes that.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

It's sad to hear this amazing teacher is loosing his full time status. I had a daughter in his creative writing class at Pioneer. It was a very important class in her development, a class that gave her the confidence to speak out in front of others. His class shaped who she has become, a Teacher. I hope there is a way to revive his position to Full time we/he deserves it.

Barb's Mom

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

The article doesn't say how many classes he teaches at Pioneer. If the other teachers in the system teach 5 classes and he only teaches 4 then his pay needs to be cut. Why should AAPS be paying for &quot; the time he spends at the Neutral Zone every day is really a full-time job that he does mostly for free&quot; . It is his choice to go to the Neutral Zone correct? AAPS isn't forcing him to go to the Neutral Zone correct? The article doesn't say that they are cutting Creative Writing at Pioneer so what is the big deal? If he wants full pay from AAPS, teach full time at the school.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

Yes, indeed. Let's punish someone for operating and thinking outside of the box. No innovation necessary in our school system. No Sir!! Good Night and Good Luck

Annie Zirkel

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

I have two teenagers who are in writing groups at the Neutral Zone and it is an awesome opportunity for them to not only enhance their writing skills and creativity but to connect in a positive way with other teens. My one son is looking at being a writer in some capacity as a career and my other son is using the experience to dig deeper into his thoughts and find both his inner voice and his ability to speak up in public. Kass' involvement - like so many of the awesome teachers we have here in Ann Arbor - goes well beyond teaching form and function to inspiring students to be more of who they are! Something hopefully the school board and Mr. White can strive to see. It is a shame that in this economy it comes down to fighting each cutback one-by-one. But placing a priority on innovation and outside-the-box, (even outside the classroom) successful strategies for reaching our students should be encouraged.


Thu, Jun 30, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

This story highlights something that our entire country needs to come to grips with. Our main export today and in the future is creativity. In our schools, however, we are opting toward a test-and-memorization-based system that only makes us less creative. We need innovative programs that encourage and nurture creativity in our children, because that is what makes us great as a society. I say, support Kass and anyone who sees a world beyond &quot;multiple choice&quot;.