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Posted on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

Proposed 'Lab Schools' program between U-M and Ann Arbor schools to be developed in next year

By Kyle Feldscher

Year-round schooling, a more personalized learning experience and growth for certified and prospective teachers alike are among the plans for a “lab schools” program proposed today by Ann Arbor school officials.

The project — a partnership between Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan School of Education — is planned for Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools and would create a more integrated K-8 campus, officials say. The program would allow for intern teachers from U-M to work with students at the schools before, during and after school hours.

Scarlett principal Gerald Vazquez said the proposed plan is a great opportunity for the schools, district and university to form a mutually beneficial relationship. He said the program could make the campus a “hub” of its neighborhood.

“I would love it to be a full-service school and serve the southeast community,” he said. “I want to meet the needs of not just the kids that attend Scarlett and Mitchell, but the entire community.”

Vazquez and Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia were among the school officials who gave members of the Ann Arbor schools board's Performance Committee an update on the project Tuesday morning. Scarnecchia stressed officials are currently operating without a timeline, but Superintendent Todd Roberts said the goal is to have the program up and running by the fall of 2011.

Roberts said the program would be similar to the district’s summer learning institute, where a certified Ann Arbor teacher works with a pre-student teaching U-M student and a younger U-M student in a classroom with students. He said the program would not only benefit students, but district teachers as well.

“We’re not only improving U of M students’ teaching skills, but it’s an opportunity for us to think about how we can improve our teachers,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the proposed program should be "resource neutral" for the district.

A key feature of the lab schools project is a focus on continuous learning and the development of a year-round academic calendar. In addition to the normal school year, the new model could include “strategically placed three-week inter-sessions,” a document provided by the board stated.

Vazquez said this type of system could potentially have a major effect on the much-discussed achievement gap in the district between white and black students. He said the year-round model wouldn't allow for a gap because there would be constant learning occurring for students, reducing the effect summer vacation can have on students’ ability to recall information.

“We can pre-teach and re-teach and enrich in a way that it basically doesn’t allow them to have a gap,” he said. “That would be the hope.”

U-M Associate Professor Catherine Reischl, who is coordinating the program with Ann Arbor schools, said she is expecting it to be a long-term staple of the School of Education's curriculum and of the Scarlett-Mitchell environment. She said it's currently being planned for three to five years.

"The key is all about collaboration and growth for everybody involved," Reischl said. "We're looking forward to really studying what we're doing with teachers to improve how we learn and grow professionally."

Reischl emphasized the university will continue to work with Ann Arbor schools other than Scarlett and Mitchell to place student teachers.

Board members reacted favorably to the proposed plan.

Secretary Glenn Nelson said the lab schools concept would enhance the ability for students to have a more personalized learning experience by working with more teachers. He said it was important to emphasize what students are good at, and having a more personalized learning environment would allow for that to happen.

“Sometimes we think our job in education is to find what a student is worst at and fix it … as opposed to saying let’s emphasize (what they’re best at),” Nelson said. “We should be finding those talents in kids and making them into something that will serve them well the rest of their life, uncovering the gemstones in all these kids is what we’re really looking for.”

Trustee Andy Thomas said he thought the lab school program would be a great way to continue working with the university, a relationship he believes hasn't been used to the full extent in recent years.

Thomas echoed Vazquez’s thoughts, saying the program could be another step toward closing the achievement gap.

“We’ve been looking for ‘The Answer’ and there is no ‘The Answer,’ there’s lots of little answers,” he said. “One of the approaches that is going to be key is finding the personalized learning, the idea that students need to be addressed individually as to what their learning process is and where they’re struggling.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at



Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 12:25 p.m.

Motherofour brings up some important points. At capsule night last week, one teacher showed the direct correlation between attendance and grades. This is a well documented phenomenon. I am willing to bet that another direct correlation exists between parent involvement and student success. It would be instructive to take attendance of parents attending capsule nights, conferences, school meetings and presentations and then compare those attendance records to the achievement of their children. The schools have a part, the parents have a part, and the community has a part. All 3 have to do their jobs.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

Andrew, Beth brings up a very good point. Why isn't full day K programs offered at all the elementary schools? There is an abundence of data that supports that this is the single most influental change that we can make to improve public school education. We are told it is lack of money. We can't have full day K because we have no money and this is from from Mrs. Kelly! Then how come schools like Wines, where there is lots of money, and many others in our county have many sessions of full day kindergarten? Now we apperantly find money and ignore what is the best thing to do for all children. Put full day Kindergarten in all the schools before investing in a program that won't work. Scarnecchia's own child doesn't attend this school or even the school where she resides. She can't even get those children that would really benefit from this type of program from attending school on a regular basis during the normal school year. We have children who don't come to school now so how is expanding the school year going to make their attendance record any better? Andrew, ask to see the attendance records of the lower acheiving students at these schools. You had three votes to get where you are. Stop, look, and listen, things you learn in kindergarten, before you plan to cross the street. All day K at all the schools before you take this step. Ann Arbor nees to catch up with many the many schools in our county, state, and country are already doing with all day K programs.


Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

Kathy Scarnecchia is an incredible advocate for her students, at last UM and AAPS have finally connected. Being in the same city it really should have happened years sooner. If you look at the national discussion on improving education, many studies show that the key to educational improvement is extending the school year round. The KIP (knowledge is power) program in New York City builds on the principal of extended class time. Lets hope this is a first step in redirecting the priorities of the school district, and let politics take a back seat!


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 8:31 p.m.

I could understand offering optional summer sessions, or sessions for "at risk" students, but as a teacher myself I simply can't comprehend how just 2 schools could go year round. That's even more ridiculous tham the current mishmash of half-day/ all-day K based on what your neighborhood school is. I have heard so many negative comments about Scarlett; I have also heard good things, and have been willing to give it a try, but if it went year round that would be it for us. I love AAPS and I have resisted the lure of charter schools thus far, but that would be the final straw...

Andrew Thomas

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 1:43 p.m.

Beth, I understand your concerns. Please keep in mind that this program is still in the development stage, and there are many issues yet to be worked out. There will be many opportunities for public commentary before this is implemented.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 8:26 a.m.

More info, please - they're talking about making Scarlett and Mitchell year-round schools, when none of the other AAPS schools are???? My kids will attend Scarlett - but I can say right now that if Scarlett goes year round, my kids will look elsewhere.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 6:45 a.m.

This is wonderful news - and if there's anybody that could make this successful it's Mr. Vazquez. I really hope it expands to the whole district.

Tom Dodd

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 5:40 a.m.

It seems like only yesterday that the Legislsture closed UM's University School and EMU's Roosevelt School for what they called "financial exigencies." Will the University be going "year round" now as well? And how will teachers keep up their certification when they can't go to school in July?


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 10:12 p.m.

Here is hoping that this will close the 30+ year achievement gap, or at least point the way. I have to wonder if the lab school is successful, how AAPS will deal with the demand to expand the program? While this school setup is staff neutral, doing it district wide will not be. Here is to hoping it is successful enough to create that problem.

Bemused Passerby

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 7:07 p.m.

All around great news. Teaching strategies need validation, and I'll predict that more schools will be looking to participate. It's also very worthwhile that the School of Education is looking to expand its community involvement in schools and elsewhere - that's a lesson that many UM programs could afford to ponder.