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Recap: Ferndale Board of Education Sept. 24 Meeting

Here are some highlights from Monday evening's school board meeting.

The Ferndale Schools Board of Education met on Monday evening at Harding Administration Center. Here are some highlights from the meeting:

Bond projects continue

District architect Bill Weinrauch provided an update on the progress of projects included in the recent school bond issue.

Among the completed projects so far are guardrail replacements at Ferndale High School/Ferndale Middle School and Harding Administration Center, ceiling replacement at Jefferson, technology network equipment replacement and more. Flooring replacement at Roosevelt and bathroom improvements at FHS/FMS had been delayed but are in progress, Weinrauch said.

The district is also getting ready for projects that will be completed next summer, including kitchens at University High School and Roosevelt.

Parents express concerns

During the public comment portion of the meeting, district parent Karen McElgunn said she is concerned about the perception people have of Ferndale Schools and said she often has to explain to people why she sends her children to the district's schools. She said she believes in other communities, "it's not a question that's even asked."

She said she knows four families with school-age children who have left the district. "Perception is a reality that we can't afford to push aside anymore," she said.

Another parent, Erika Pratt, went to speak next but was asked by board president Keith Warnick to hold her comments until the end of the meeting due to handing in her request-to-speak form late and not providing a specific topic on the form.

"I really disagree with that," board member Nan Kerr-Mueller said of Warnick's decision. "I think it's a really unfortunate decision."

When Pratt spoke at the end of the meeting, she said she has moved to a different school district and wanted to follow up with the board since she had expressed concerns in the past. She said she has felt welcomed at her new district with polite staff, an open house before school started and a survey about communication from the superintendent after the first week of school.

"The way it makes you feel ... is that the district values you, that they respect you, that they want to know what your expectations are ... This is really what I want for Ferndale," she said. "I loved Ferndale, I loved the teachers in this district. It wasn't all bad. It's the little things."

Pratt also said she feels the district has "a lot of distractions" including a focus on alternative/adult education programs. "Those are fine if these other details weren't falling through the cracks in my opinion," she said.

Board member Karen Twomey said she was disheartened by Pratt's comments. "I hope we can do better and not make people feel that way," she said.

Warnick said after the meeting that he was simply following policy by asking Pratt to wait until the end of the meeting to speak. "I wasn't denying her an opportunity to speak," he said. "I wanted to get the business of the board done first. We had a lot to talk about."

Digital Learning Center starts strong

The district's new Digital Learning Center is off to a smooth, positive start, said school improvement specialist Renee Heard, who is the director of the program.

The center - which offers an online-based alternative high school program for students aged 15-19 with in-person support at Taft Education Center - has a total of 736 students registered and 17 academic case managers working with the students.

Heard said at the meeting that the program is going very well. "I'm extremely proud of my staff, they are absolutely wonderful," she said, calling the program a "labor of love."

Nick Zajas, a Ferndale teacher and president of the Ferndale Education Association, said earlier during the meeting that the new program is "a breath of fresh air" and said the staff is very dedicated. He thanked the board for taking on the initiative.

"We can't wait to get into the heart of the curriculum," he said.

School improvement plans

School board members voted unanimously to express support for school improvement plans at Roosevelt Primary School, Coolidge Intermediate School and Ferndale Middle School. The Curriculum and Instruction Office has been working to align buildings' school improvement efforts across the district.

Barb Evoe, executive director of curriculum and instruction, presented an overview of the plans.

Roosevelt

  • Focus on reading and math instruction, including implementation of a team teaching approach, addition of a reading teacher, and a number of interventions for struggling students.
  • Extensive professional development plan focused on deepening knowledge of Common Core State Standards and culturally responsive teaching and learning.
  • Parent engagement opportunities including parent workshops tied to academic goals and classroom instructional activities.

Coolidge

  • Focus on creating a positive and academically focused school culture that incorporates routines, schedules and rewards positive choices.
  • Spend time on key reading interventions like Read Naturally, and Reader's and Writer's Workshop.
  • Parent engagement opportunities including parent workshops tied to academic goals and class instructional activities.

Ferndale Middle School

  • Same goals and objectives as other two schools.
  • Continue to build on activities including supplemental reading and math labs classes, after-school tutoring, and assessments to measure students' higher-order thinking skills.
  • To address school culture, FMS will focus on creating and sustaining an environment of high expectations while developing a supportive environment.
  • Staff to participate in professional development on culturally responsive teaching and learning.
  • All teachers will create classroom word walls, posting a "daily focus," and displaying charts and measuring valued traits such as students' participation, attendance and homework completion.
Woodward&Nine September 26, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I suggest the Board revise their written policy in regards to Public Comment at Board Meetings... It currently states "Please Fill Out Card In Advance, If Possible". Keith's actions and reason for denying my 3 mintues were a violoation of the Open Meetings Act and an obvious attempt to discourage and stiffle public comment. It was also an example of bullying and intimidation. His original intent was to prohibit my right to speak as I was ordered to sit down and "wait till the end of the meeting, if there is enough time". Thank you to Nan for speaking out. And Keith, you illustrated perfectly my point about the lack of respect and indifference the administation has repeatedly shown its residents and families.
Gary Arnett September 26, 2012 at 02:58 PM
I attended the meeting and Ms. Pratt was not denied her right to speak. Thanks to Board member Jim Pfleger who asked for a time extension for her, she did in fact speak for 4 minutes and 45 seconds, I timed it. Next time, show up to the meeting on time, fill out the request form properly, and I'm sure you'll be allowed to speak during the opening/first public comment portion of the meeting.
DDominicJr September 26, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Well this bickering over forms definitely won't help change any perceptions.
Woodward&Nine September 27, 2012 at 02:30 AM
I would like to clarify that I was there at the start of the meeting and the form was filled out properly, according to state law. It is awkward to have to walk in front of the entire audience to deliver the paper so I proceeded exactly as I had at a board meeting a year ago, waiting for the call for public comments. Only this time, I was denied a speaking opportunity at the appropriate, allotted time. Being shoved down the agenda to a random, unidentified place in a board meeting agenda (“if there is time”) is not in any way, in accordance to the policies and procedures of the Open Meeting Act. While I appreciate Jim’s generous suggestion to extend my allotted time, I still found it rude and unnecessary to make me wait an additional two hours. If the Ferndale Board of Ed would like to modify its policy to require a full, detailed summary of expected comments and a specific mandatory time frame for turning in comment request forms, then they need to get their lawyers to draft that out and provide those requirements in writing to the public. Which I’m not even sure they can do legally but I’m not really a lawyer.
Woodward&Nine September 27, 2012 at 02:31 AM
So anyways, I went to the meeting to address the Board, expecting my 3 minutes. I’m sure Keith and some members were concerned about my intent and clearly my reputation for saying interesting things preceded me. All I can say is that I went to the meeting with the intent of giving myself closure and offering genuine feedback about why the things I tried to bring to their attention years before really do matter and make a difference (customer service/ district communication/receptive administration). I wanted to be heard. I am someone who spent a lot of time and energy trying to support this district in my 2 years--and recognize many others who started the fight to be heard long before I came along. I genuinely still care about the Ferndale schools and I guess I was hoping that my experiences would mean something or result in something good for someone else’s experience. I don’t regret my efforts and have to remind myself of all the things I learned from Roosevelt primary… so I look with loving eyes, consciously reaching for my compassion and empathy, so I can see the best in others, knowing that we really all want the best for this district. If either of my daughters were to experience an uncomfortable confrontation, I would encourage them to express themselves the way conscious discipline teaches us…
Woodward&Nine September 27, 2012 at 02:32 AM
so let me try this again… I did not like when I was treated rudely with disrespect in a public setting. I felt attacked and humiliated. When I took time out of my life to organize and express my thoughts to you, I wanted to be heard. Next time, I hope you recognize that I am a person who has the right to speak for 3 minutes during the Public Comment portion of your meetings. Thank you for hearing me now. I wish you well.
Gary Arnett September 27, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Once again, as I stated, you were able to speak, you were not denied. Just because it didn't happen when you wanted it to doesn't mean your rights were violated. I have attended close to 100 school board meetings and while it doesn't happen very often you are not the first person to be moved or added into the end of regular agenda. This is no different from the Ferndale City Council meetings, after the initial time is up they open the meeting back up to public comment at the end of the meeting agenda. On a personal note, I fine it rude and silly of you to shout like a child at a school board meeting because you were inconvenienced. How about myself and other audience members being subjected to your near racist rant about the district's pre-school programs. That was disrespectful on so many levels. Like it or not, the Ferndale District is tasked with educating all our kids, even the black kids and the poor kids.
Ferndale_1986 September 27, 2012 at 02:31 PM
who are you, anyway? a mouthpiece for the School Board?
Woodward&Nine September 27, 2012 at 04:16 PM
There it is. When all else fails and someone leaves the district or has any sort of criticism of the Board or administration, here comes that racist word. No doubt race and socioeconomic conversations are sensitive areas and I’m guessing you are unaware that my children are of mixed race. I am pretty comfortable talking about race because when you are married to someone of a different race it is just part of your life. Although for the record, I believe there is only one race, human race and we all deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. But yes, there are times when we need to talk about race, getting past the discomfort to engage in meaningful dialogue about the very real challenges the Ferndale district faces. I stand by my comments. I do question the districts aggressive focus on recruiting out of district students and growing charter schools and programs that do not serve the district residents, and as I pointed out, specifically focus on growing lower income programs. This is a concern for a variety of reasons. And I have repeatedly suggested that racial balance takes effort and if we really value diversity than that word has to mean something other than a code word for “African American”. How can this district not have a diversity council or committee? I asked for 2 years. Why are there no African American board members or administrative leaders in this district?
Woodward&Nine September 27, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Ferndale is a challenging district because the communities it serves are all over the spectrum, (race/economics/sexual orientation /religion) so with this amazing opportunity to be on the fore front of teaching kids what real diversity is and put in the hard work to show all your families that what they bring is valued, the district has instead focused on building programs, classrooms and entire buildings that are racially lopsided, targeting and marketing directly to out of district students. I guess I need to point out that this is not being in touch with our history and what we have learned about white flight, tipping point or the reality that you will continue to lose middle class families (of all races) if your lower income population is your majority. As for your other comments Gary, I hope residents will have the opportunity to view the exchange for themselves. If the district is able to fix their technical problems that have conveniently kept them from showing the past several meetings on local cable. I also always wanted to know what the district priorities were...to serve the school district residents? or just to grow the private/consulting business that so many administrators and board members are so personally connected to. It was never clear in my opinion. Checks and balances seem a bit out of place with this current board majority. My last question is to the CBE, why are all of you so mean? I just don’t get it. I wish you well.
Ferndale Assassin September 27, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Let me get this straight-- Mr. Arnett defends a simple Roberts Rules of order and he's suddenly a shill for the school district? It you want to talk about SHILLS, how about the two "community" speakers who are so obviously groomed by CLEAR to run down the district one after another, using the exact same language as each other. It's NO WONDER this woman was upset, because her little piece of street theater was disrupted for the TV cameras. Do you not see that the CLEAR folks are capitalizing on a few disgruntled parents to run down the good name of our school district? They have NOTHING to lose, and EVERYTHING to gain. I for one am sick of this election season BS. If those yuppies are so in love with Berkley, MOVE THERE. Trust me--you won't be missed.
Beth D'Anna September 27, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Some things just never change do they
Robert Bokram September 28, 2012 at 11:41 PM
G
Robert Bokram September 28, 2012 at 11:47 PM
I was also there. Erica came in roughly 15 minutes after the meeting started. She filled out the comment form and walked up to the chair with it. It felt awkward and spontaneous. I felt the chair acted in keeping with the committee rules
Steven Schoenknecht September 29, 2012 at 02:18 AM
@Ferndale Assassin your comments would carry more weight if you didn't hide behind a alias. Also, I know quite a few parents, unfortunately, who have taken their kid's to other schools including Berkley, and yes they are happy about it.
Woodward&Nine September 29, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Trust me, I spent quite a bit of effort to get to this meeting on time, including a sprint from the parking lot into Harding. You can’t imagine my relief to hear the gavel go down and the meeting open as I was in the building! That is the truth. I didn’t miss a word of the meeting and was there for the Board to permit the legislator a good 10 minutes of talk time (not even on the agenda if we still want to talk about Roberts Rules). I did spend a moment in the back, filling out the form, trying to figure out where to sit--when I reviewed the request card and read "please fill out in advance, if possible". I took my seat and waited for the appropriate time. There is a lot of effort here in trying to discredit me, but when I said I was there at the start of the meeting, I was.
Ferndale Resident September 29, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Before I go a bit more in-depth, I'd like to share a site I found rather shocking and doesn't give the district a very good name to outsiders. It's called greatschools.org and based on test scores and other factors, it gives each school a rating out of 10. Let's review what each school was rated, shall we? Ferndale Middle School- 4/10 Ferndale High School- 5/10 Coolidge- 2/10 Roosevelt- 4/10 University High School- 4/10 Each of those are failing grades, and this is what parents who are looking up our schools are seeing. It's worth a note that community reviews are more favorable, but those are undeniably more biased. I was asked the other day by a friend of mine who sends her children to Berkley if she'd be willing to send them to Ferndale, and she told me no, because she had no confidence in how the Board was spending its money. She added that she had no confidence in the school's special education program and she felt her son with Down's Syndrome wouldn't be well taken care of. That conversation alone points out two things that I've known all along. People don't like the current Board and people have no confidence in Ferndale's special education program. I'm going to make a second post (I'm running out of room) to quote a few quotes from the more interesting peer reviews on Greatschools. Hopefully this will be a good way to continue a positive conversation on how we can improve the school district (and, by extension, our city).
Ferndale Resident September 29, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Ferndale High School: "I am very happy with the academic programs at the school. However, I am very disappointed with the harrassment that goes on there on a daily basis. I should have known something was up when I went to the first day of high school orientation and most of the questions were regarding harrassment! As a parent, it upsets me." I've said for a very long time that that's one of the biggest turnoffs of FHS. There are groups of students who seem to harass and bully and little gets done about it. People see that, and are wary about sending their children here because of that. Coolidge: "I don't know what school the last parent goes to but at this school there is major bullying of students in this school ... they even had to put camera's on the bus due to the bullying and fighting. As one can see just from the scores for the shcool in the last couple years it has gone way down hill ... I have had children in this schools system for 18 years and it is no where near as well as a performance it was even 5 years ago. It is shocking how far down this school system has fallen." Therein lies the harassment problem again, and also brings to light the low test scores. Parents do a lot of research before choosing to send their children to a school district, and this is what they're seeing. All in all, I feel issues such as student harassment and low test scores need to be addressed swiftly, and the Board needs to put more confidence in prospective parents.
linda jackson September 29, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Rob, I was the person who walked into the meeting a few minutes late, not Ericka. She was sitting in front of me the whole time, and got up only when it was her turn. You are misconstruing the facts. Why?

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