Neighborhood schools may stay open next fall in Ypsilanti-Willow Run
Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel recommended Monday that the board maintain both districts’ existing neighborhood elementary schools as well as the Perry Childhood Development Center as part of the new district.
Menzel also recommended the board make this decision in early January to allow for some initial work on the facilities to begin and to reassure the community of the board’s intent and timeline.
“The community is going to be heavily engaged in different levels of the planning going forward,” Menzel said.
He added, however, asking the public for input on the re-keying of the buildings is not really the appropriate place for that engagement. Menzel also said some areas of public input could incite anger from the community and the board needs to be aware of that.
“Depending on the decisions the board makes surrounding mascots and school colors and names, there could be political reactions both external and internal that the new district would have to deal with,” he said.
Throughout the Ypsilanti-Willow Run consolidation effort, the WISD has advocated for clear-cut communication and transparency. Menzel said deciding to keep Perry and the elementary schools open falls within all of those parameters.
For example, the board could still determine whether to have the elementary schools be grades K-5 or K-2 and 3-5, or another model entirely, at a future date, Menzel said. It also doesn’t prevent the board from working to hire the highest quality teachers in those buildings.
Additionally, Washtenaw County’s Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative was awarded a $40,000 grant last week from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to help shape and establish a family development center for the new district that is focused on pre-natal to early childhood education. Menzel said making building decisions around early childhood development in January will allow Success by 6 to get going on this important partnership.
According to the AAACF grant information, the Willow Run-Ypsilanti family development center will be a comprehensive, state-of-the-art program that will centralize access to resources for low-income families.
The new district faces some major decisions when it comes to secondary buildings and education. The middle school and high school in both Ypsilanti and Willow Run are very large with underutilized capacity and the high schools are located “up the road” from one another, Menzel said.
During the summer visioning sessions that occurred prior to the merger being placed on the ballot, community members and school officials said they wanted the new district’s secondary education programs to be innovative and focused on helping each student earn college credit or a career credential prior to graduating from high school.
Menzel said with the early childhood building decisions out of the way, the unified school board will be able to focus on developing the secondary programs and letting the high school and middle school programmatic decisions direct the high school and middle school building decisions.
He said in July this was the purpose of the visioning sessions and of developing the primary focus areas for the new district.
“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,” Menzel said.
The target for making secondary building decisions would be March, officials said.
At Monday’s school board meeting, the newly appointed trustees unanimously passed a resolution entering into an agreement with the WISD to allow county staff to continue to facilitate the merger and help with its planning, similar to what WISD officials did during the consolidation effort.