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Posted on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Ypsi-Willow Run leaders reveal 5 'focus areas' as districts head toward possible merger

By Danielle Arndt

Officials heading up the Ypsilanti-Willow Run school district consolidation talks unveiled five focus areas that will serve as the strategic framework for the potential new district Monday night.


EMU professor Russ Olwell, left, and Andy LaBarre, vice president of government relations for the A2Y Chamber, collaborate on a group activity to plot out successful education models at the strategic design retreat on July 18.

Courtesy of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District

The joint Communication and Collaboration Task Force met at Willow Run High School to discuss the outcome of a two-day design and planning retreat conducted July 18 and 19.

The five strategic domains that resulted from the retreat were:

1. Early childhood education that’s prenatal through kindergarten
2. Effective leadership at all levels
3. Creating a positive culture and climate that is focused on learning
4. High quality teachers/teaching
5.College credit or career credential prior to high school graduation

According to an executive summary report, presented by Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel, the idea behind the five focus areas is: “Rather than identifying which buildings will remain open or closed, what the grade configurations of the various buildings will be, etc., the design process is focused on creating a framework for … the (school) system that will guide decisions once the community has decided whether or not to proceed.”

Menzel said the details of “how” will be fleshed out following November’s general election, provided the consolidation proposal is approved by both boards and passed by the public’s vote.

Task force members and meeting attendees generally were pleased with the executive summary and information Menzel provided. But some criticism arose regarding school officials' efforts to engage the community constructively in the planning period.

Cheryl Garnett, a former Ann Arbor school board member, asked: Where are the balloons?

“I can put my school board hat on and see that this is exciting. That in these harsh realities, it’s something to look forward to,” she said. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. … But as a grandma, I’m scared. It’s scary the doom and gloom that you all are saying, and I’m worried about the stability of what my granddaughter’s walking into.”

Garnett said her granddaughter, who recently moved to Ypsilanti, will transfer from Ann Arbor Public Schools to Ypsilanti Public Schools in the fall. Ypsilanti and Willow Run officials need to focus more on “what’s going to happen,” use fewer fear tactics and “bring out the balloons (and) really sell it,” she said.

Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki thanked Garnett for her comments, adding she recently relayed a similar message to her staff.

Lisiscki said teacher morale is low in both school districts, but if the community bans together and believes in and is enthusiastic about its mission of doing what’s best for kids, everyone will come out on top.

Ypsilanti school board Trustee Ellen Champagne said her concern is the executive summary does not give enough detail to satisfy the general public and may be too “high level” and concept oriented for people outside of the boards, teachers, administrators and active parents. She said the inactive parents are whom school officials need to connect with most about the merger.

Several meeting attendees spoke about reaching more voters in the community and using parent email addresses or mailers to inform people about upcoming forums and opportunities for engaging and learning about the possible merger.

School officials recently hired EPIC-MRA, a well-known Michigan polling agency, to conduct 15-minute phone surveys of 300 Willow Run voters and 300 Ypsilanti voters to gauge the public’s receptiveness to the merger concept.


Scott Menzel

The calls began on Saturday. Menzel said he anticipates the results to be processed by mid-August. He said the surveys will help school officials determine which positive and negative statements about the potential consolidation resonate with people. The results of the survey will help officials be able to target their audiences for campaigning as well as reaching community members for forums and engagement sessions.

Menzel stressed the executive summary is still a working document and is still in draft form.

The summary touted the benefits of an early childhood education experience, citing statistics from the Ypsilanti-based HighScope Foundation’s 14-year study of the Great Start Readiness Program.

Menzel said while early childhood education programs have been cut elsewhere in the state, the new Ypsilanti district would make prenatal to kindergarten learning a priority. He said there are two local foundations that would be “willing to put money” behind Ypsilanti-Willow Run’s efforts.

The executive summary said the new Ypsilanti-Willow Run school district would:

  • Create community-wide awareness and understanding of the value and importance of giving every child access to an early childhood program that’s prenatal through kindergarten entry.
  • Use a family development center model to establish local learning hubs for families to access comprehensive “one-stop shopping” services, such as access to high quality pediatric and mental health care and education and support programs for parents.
  • Engage community stakeholders in developing a “single, collaborative and seamless” system of early childhood education to ensure all children receive developmentally appropriate, best-practice programs that are culturally sensitive to the needs of children and families.
  • Create effective leaders that are good listeners, have vision for the district, care for the success of students, are supported and given appropriate resources, and are able to make difficult decisions and decisions based on solid principles, not what is popular at the moment.
  • Identify models of effective school culture and climate and examine the relationship between student achievement and school climate.
  • Find ways to obtain more qualitative and quantitative data (student attendance, discipline, health issues, etc.) to ensure the specific needs of the community are met.
  • Create a “community of learners” environment where students are involved in their own lessons and curriculum.
  • Develop a college access design team with Washtenaw Community College as the anchor organization, serving as a partner in the new district and a link to career exploration and college readiness for kids.

Tyler Weston, a local real estate agent, asked whether the districts had developed any tangible goals, such as graduating a certain number of students within five years, if the consolidation is approved, or surpassing certain college readiness percentages.

Menzel said that level of specific goal setting would not take place until after November’s general election, and would depend on the outcome of the vote.

He said each district currently has under way its own separate goals and initiatives, in addition to the financial crises they both are facing. If the ballot proposal passes and the districts merge, WISD officials would have 10 days to appoint a new seven-member school board that would serve the new district and both individual districts from the election forward. Goals for the new district would be set at that juncture, Menzel said.

The new district would need to be established by July 1, 2013.

Two additional community forums on the strategic design framework of the potential new district are scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7 at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center, Room 310A, 900 Oakwood St., Ypsilanti.

The boards will vote to proceed on consolidation during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents Room, on the second floor of Welch Hall.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Just sounds and smells like more smoke being blown up our six.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Already blaming unions when the real blame belongs to those that hate unions. Just more low talk from the something for nothing crowd.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

Any time a story is posted regarding public education the haters come out and complain that any existing issues are because of organized labor. This is simply how they have been propagandized by right wing hate talkers. If education were put into the hands of the corporatocracy which now controls entities such as charter schools and higher education it will eliminate learning opportunities to many by redistributing schools and privitizing education. How much is a teacher worth, haters? Were you taught by a teacher to read, write and perform computational skills? Where is your appreciation for the efforts of these individuals when you come on this site and bite the hand that fed you. Should we pay them 10K, 20K,30K, minimum wage? Or should they work for free? I'm getting the feeling that as long as they're making less than you, you're happy. You could have gone to college and become a respected, admired contributor to our system of democracy as envisioned by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. You chose to join the public sector and you have been duped by their exploitation of your labor. When the economy was vibrant you weren't complaining about teachers. When our Rethuglican politicians and their Wall Street benefactors tanked the economy you got mad because you couldn't go out and buy another gun or snowmobile. Put education into the hands of corporations and we will soon be living in a third world country. Its already happening. The middle class is shrinking, the rich are making money hand over fist and the working poor are everywhere. You voted for these people and now you're living with the consequences.


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

People have no idea that by splitting public education into a bunch of worthless charter schools how much damage they are going to do to all of the money we've invested in schools previously....


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

If they really want this to go through, they need to publicize how they are going to deal with debt. Consolidating services, as it is being managed, is like holding a garage sale to pay bills. What happens when you run out of stuff to sell?


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

Is this true? I don't know how those strategic goals can be attained when your labor force is controlled by union seniority rather than merit. If so we need to disband the union as this is very likely the root of the failure! This is the 21st Century Unions are dead they only protect the dead beats, if these are professional teachers they have nothing to fear but fear itself!!


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

So, how's the American economy doing that isn't run with unions? Oh, all of the CEOs have tons of money while everyone else is cutting back drastically?


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

The "Five Strategic Domains" represent more mumbo-jumbo. Eliminate the teachers union and follow former Washington DC schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee if you really want to make these two districts better. Check out Michelle Rhee on the Oprah show Or, at


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Michelle Rhee is an unqualified political hack. She got thrown out of DC schools. According to the courts, she fired hundreds of teachers for no reason at all, drastically increased teacher turnover so students are lucky to have a teacher with more than 2 years experience, and caused a test cheating scandal. She caused chaos and in the end did NOT improve test scores more than her predecessors. She is a failed teacher and a failed administrator now lobbying on behalf of Bill Gates and the Koch brothers.

Rodney Nanney

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

I received a survey call yesterday evening. I have participated in many surveys over the years, and have to say that this was one of the worst. The early questions were poorly worded - several were so open ended that I cannot imagine how anyone will make anything useful out of the responses. When we finally got down to evaluating the strength or weakness of various arguments in favor of the proposed merger, I was shocked to find how weak and uninformed they really were. If this is all the school districts have to offer in favor of a merger vote, they are in deeper trouble than I thought. Only one of the pro- arguments focused on potential savings from a merger. The sad fact is that the merged districts cannot cut enough through elimination of duplicate administration to eliminate their huge budget deficits. Without that, there is no compelling reason to merge two underwater districts into one larger underwater district. Several of the pro- arguments focused on this notion that combining the districts would magically create a new utopian atmosphere where students could succeed at their own pace and harmony would prevail throughout the community. Sure. One argument in particular was a statement that the combined district would have the resources, through partnerships with the WISD, EMU and Washtenaw Community College, to offer high school students opportunities for college credit. Are the authors of this survey so out-of-touch that they truly are unaware that current students from both districts are eligible today to attend the Early College Alliance at EMU or the Washtenaw Technical Middle College? Really?

Basic Bob

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

No compelling reason? Avoiding emergency management should compel someone to act. Aren't ECA and WTMC charter schools?


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

It seems to me that if you merge two bad apples the results will be a "Bad Apple"


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 9:18 p.m.

Are we talking NYC? Or Ypsi?

Chase Ingersoll

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

I don't know how those strategic goals can be attained when your labor force is controlled by union seniority rather than merit. Also, aren't leadership and the educational environment something that should have been achieved by now, by those who have been around a few years? That these are being discussed in a present crisis, by those who have been there while the crisis developed is like a discussion on how to lead the rearranging of the deck chairs on e Titantic.


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Maybe you should go check out how the southern states are doing with education without unions.....must be nice to be wealthy/white/male and not have it matter whether or not you get a good education.....


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

In all reality? The unions would dissolve and then would have to be formed all over again by voting and not merging the unions. Unless the unions in these two districts are the same. Which I highly doubt. Happened when WISD took over 2 years ago. Took a year to form a union. As for the contract? Still not happening.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Often, management uses the union as an excuse to not manage. We need to take that excuse away and allow them to do their job.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Unions protect their members from the incompetent. You really want to work for YPS/WR administration without any due process rights?


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Thought I'd reply before the Unions get there allotted break and chime in here, very good point you make. Unions protect only the ones that are incompetent!

Duc d'Escargot

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:25 a.m.

To be sure, if the "community bans together" it will create more effective "bans". Oh, sorry, what was it that was going to be banned?