Student retention - my perspective

Student retention is more than a meet and greet proposition.

I would like to address a CLEAR position paper, recently released on their website regarding what they consider to be the most pressing issue for our school district--student Retention.

CLEAR’s  proposition would have the Ferndale school district realign all of our district personnel and program priorities towards seeking out and winning over families that have made personal choices to attend other schools. They would tie the salaries of our district employees not to academic achievement, but to how many residents can be persuaded to switch back from their current school choice to the Ferndale school district.  This is a narrowly-focused and short-sighted proposal that disregards our 3700 students that we should be focusing on, all for the sake of satisfying a perceived need to re-connect with parents who have little or no interest in returning.  Improving the academic performance of our 3700 students is what will improve retention rates, not re-defining our employee contracts and sending the board and administrators off on a wild goose chase. 

I have lived in the Ferndale school district for 18 years.  My children have gone to school here for over 10 years, both are A students, both are developing into mature, tolerant teenagers because of their diverse experiences in school.  We have watched this district go from being on the brink of bankruptcy with less than $100,000 in its rainy day fund, to having a balanced budget every year, and over $4 million dollars in our rainy day fund. I have watched our test scores improve to the point when this year we were recognized by the Michigan Department of Education for the steady increases in student achievement at Ferndale High School, --one of only four high schools designated as a Rewards School in Oakland County. I have seen our marching band win state championship after state championship,  I have seen our enrollment stabilize. I have seen un-waivering community support for bond funding.  I have seen a school administration committed to educating a broad range of students in a variety of methods.

I am proud of our school district’s accomplishments and am dis-heartened by the mid-guided and un-substantiated concerns that I hear CLEAR members express.  If CLEAR feels the need to improve student retention, they might start by ending the negative comments about the district and instead offer realistic solutions for promoting further improvements in academic achievement.  New surveys, exit interviews, and mandated home visits will do nothing in this regard and is not the best course of action, in my opinion.

In November, CLEAR is asking us to put all of our accomplishments at risk, by electing a group of unqualified, inexperienced candidates with a radical agenda. If the CLEAR slate wins all four seats on the school board, they would control 85% of the school board. This is a dangerous proposition.  We need people on the Board who will support Adult Education, the University High School, the Digital High School and schools of choice--all the initiatives that help make our district diversified and innovative--- supporting a broad range of student needs as well as bringing in much needed revenues. These programs offer an opportunity to bring in new students and expand enrollment.  Let’s not look backwards, but instead, focus on supporting the programs that will be the engine of growth for the district.

I trust that voters will consider carefully the important choice they must make….and choose to elect the board members and candidates that have proven that they care about innovative education and student achievement for ALL the students in our district. 


Robert Bokram

Treasurer – Citizens for a Better Education

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

jennifer October 14, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Hi, Mr. Bokram. Thank you for sharing your perspective. As a voter and district parent, I have a couple questions. I've heard the term "radical agenda" used by CBE board members and candidates, but I've yet to see any description of the radical agenda. Is it the focus on retention and recruitment that is considered radical? Also can you share where you found the information related to this statement? "They would tie the salaries of our district employees not to academic achievement, but to how many residents can be persuaded to switch back from their current school choice to the Ferndale school district." I do not see that anywhere on their position paper, which is posted in its entirety here: http://makeitclearferndale.org/2012/10/04/bold-statement-retention/ I don't see anything about performance reviews being tied to wooing anyone back to the district. The only mention of performance targets is related to long-term district strategic plan, which is a not about retention (though surely would include it as a subset of objectives). In my interpretation, the retention position paper is focused on collecting data (from those who leave and those considering the district), using it to plan, and increasing enrollment of in-district students and reducing/preventing attrition. I do see that they state academic performance is the best way to recruit/retain students and prioritize that, as well. Thanks for your time.
T. Scott Galloway October 15, 2012 at 08:42 PM
I always find it interesting when residents who want to help improve their community by running for elected office are characterized as "unqualified, inexperienced candidates" when they run for the first time. As far as I know the only qualification for School Board is that the candidate be of voting age, reside in the District and collect the requisite number of signatures on a nominating petition within the prescribed time. As for experience there is no lower office than School Board to which an individual could be elected in the School District so I'm not sure where one would gather directly relevant experience for the position if not on the Board itself. Perhaps the BOLD candidates have not been groomed by CBE or the Administration to serve on the Board, but that hardly means they are unqualified or lack meaningful experience to guide them as they serve the residents of the Ferndale School District. It is both surprising and disheartening to hear a policy proposal to retain District families or find out why they left the District described as a "radical agenda". Seriously? It seems to me that the first step in correcting the negative perceptions of our District and making our schools the first choice of all District families is to learn why parents are making the decision not to send their children to Ferndale schools. It seems to me that this in only "radical" if student retention is not a District goal.
Steven Schoenknecht October 15, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Robert, I am disheartened by the rhetoric and tone of your letter. I too have read the position paper issued by BOLD and in my opinion it bears little resemblance to the comments in your letter. This is the link if anyone wishes to read it http://makeitclearferndale.org/2012/10/04/bold-statement-retention/ . From everything I have heard and seen from CLEAR and BOLD they are interested in having everyone in the community join in on the discussion. I strongly feel that just as a community serves it's schools through millages and volunteerism, the School District should serve it's community and that means everyone in the community. I also do not believe that pointing out issues is the same as creating negative comments, issues exist, we either accept them and work towards addressing them or we slide backwards. Finally your comment "perceived need to re-connect with parents who have little or no interest in returning" misses the point. What CLEAR is proposing is not trying to bring those parents back, their children are part of their new schools. But rather to work with parents before they choose schools and to ask them why they are leaving if they do leave. To my thinking those are both reasonable ideas.
Marisa Prince October 16, 2012 at 04:51 PM
As a parent of young children, I consider resident retention to be very important and I consider it to be a serious issue within the Ferndale District. A school should reflect the neighborhood, the community. I have watched several neighbors move away from Ferndale as their children approach school age. The letter says that residents are making a personal choice to leave the district. Yes, they are, but I have spoken with many of them and IDEALLY their kids would stay in district. There are costs associated with leaving the district and the need to transport the children, etc. I feel that these CLEAR/BOLD candidates are likely bringing forward an issue that their neighbors in Ferndale have asked them to address - resident retention. And along with improving the rates of resident retention, comes overall improvement to the district.
T. Scott Galloway October 16, 2012 at 04:58 PM
A few years ago our Library was not the first choice of many readers or families in Ferndale. My friends always looked to Huntington Woods or Royal Oak or Southfield. In a few short years we turned our Library into the first choice of almost all Ferndale residents with whom I speak. We can do the same thing with our schools. I know we can make our District a place that causes people to move into PR, Ferndale, Oak Park and Royal Oak Township rather than the reason they move away.
Brian Clark October 16, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Jennifer: On the statement about tying salaries to retention, there is this line: "Sharpen administrative focus and responsibility •Set specific retention targets and build achievement of these into future evaluation and compensation packages of top administrators." I'm not sure if that's the extent of CLEAR's plan for linking compensation to retention.
Jan October 20, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Scott, I am totally surprised that you have only taken the words of your friends running for School Board! Did you know that most of our buildings are overflowing with students, except JFK, which is where BOLD candidates are supposedly invested in. Maybe you should check out how many hours they have actually spent in the classroom? It really looks like you have been promised an automatic " IN " at JFK! Just saying!
T. Scott Galloway October 21, 2012 at 07:42 PM
@Jan Huh? Where did that come from? Amazing how personal this campaign is becoming for those in support of the status quo. Too bad people can't debate the issues in this campaign more objectively rather than attempting to sling personal attacks that have no basis in fact.
Stacey Wright Verkeyn October 30, 2012 at 08:49 PM
I may be a little late in responding to Jan, but as a parent of two children in JFK, and as the treasurer of the Open Classroom PAC (Parent Advisory Committee), I have been volunteering in my daughters' classrooms and attending PAC meetings for over 5 years now. As JFK has a 40 hour per family volunteer commitment, there is a volunteer hours log at the front office where volunteers log their hours spent not only in the classroom volunteering, but also outside of school hours, doing work at home for teachers, working at school events, attending PTA and PAC meetings, and working in the school babysitting room, which gives parents volunteering in classrooms a place to take their younger children to be cared for at no cost. I have seen every one of the BOLD candidates, throughout the years, volunteering in classrooms, at events, and attending meetings. I have worked with the PAC Vice President in compiling the number of hours logged by parents throughout the year, and it is staggering. Many parents don't even write in every hour they volunteer, and still the number is huge. It is a strong point of pride at JFK, and the BOLD candidates have fulfilled their volunteer commitment at JFK and then some. So I'm not sure, Jan, what you are referring to when you say they haven't spent time in the classroom. Please do explain, instead of throwing out rash accusations about something that I have spent quite a bit of time tracking and see as a huge positive for our district.
Dan Keller November 07, 2012 at 07:41 AM
@SWV It is so nice to hear you share the positives of a program. I find it very discouraging that there are people that feel that in order to promote their platform they must tear down another. All of the programs in the district have so much to offer and so much diversity. Every child has different needs and families have the luxury of researching and finding a program that meets their needs. No matter which Ferndale school building your child is in, each family deserves the right to feel pride without being ridiculed, moreover, we all need to remember that we should have the common goal of preparing our children for the future.


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