A Conversation with the Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent

. October 31, 2019.
Jeanice Swift embarked on her seventh year with Ann Arbor Public Schools this fall.
Jeanice Swift embarked on her seventh year with Ann Arbor Public Schools this fall.

Goals, growth and keeping quality education on track in Washtenaw County’s largest school district

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift, has upwards of 18,000 students to oversee—no easy task, but Swift has more than a little experience where education is concerned and her focus is always on the best way to educate every student.
Swift has 30 years education experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, school administrator and assistant superintendent in past districts in Texas and Colorado, spending the last six years as superintendent in Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor Board of Education hired Swift as superintendent in the fall 2013 and since then she has made a home in the Ann Arbor community, where her dedication to education and the students she serves is central to her past works and future plans.

What are your goals for the district?

We want to reset our strategic plan and our equity plan for the district, ensuring excellent learning opportunities for every child regardless of the backgrounds from which they may come.

We have also been focused on our 2019 bond endeavor because the facilities need significant improvement to prepare them for the next generation of students. An evaluation by an outside company found the average age of our 34 facilities is 63 years.
Additionally, we are focused on student safety and have made it a priority to provide social, emotional and mental health support for students and ensure every child is connected at school.

While many Washtenaw County schools are grappling with shrinking enrollments, Ann Arbor Public Schools is seeing a trend of growth from in-district transfers, new housing developments and open enrollment. In the short term, how is AAPS addressing the additional influx in terms of staffing and facilities?

There is actually a stabilization of growth this year for AAPS. Most of our growth over recent years has come from additional housing developments in the north, west and south sides of town. Schools of Choice enrollment is only about 7 percent of overall enrollment so that is a minority of students.

We’ve added on square footage in the previous five years to about nine of our 31 school campuses and that is one reason for the bond—not to build space for Schools of Choice students, but to build space for students who are arriving to us from inside our Ann Arbor Public Schools attendance area.

The board gets regular reports on how many housing developments have been approved and how much additional enrollment is likely in the coming 5-10 years, so we are monitoring these areas very closely, considering the age of our buildings and considering the number of seats. All of our buildings are staffed based on their enrollments and class sizes have remained consistently within range.

School violence and the threat of violence is a growing concern for parents and students. What steps is AAPS taking to ensure their safety?

Student and school safety is our number one priority even before teaching and learning, which of course is our critical mission. A safety company has reviewed all of our school buildings. This fall, we implemented a new visitor management system at the schools, which runs a check of national sex offender registries, highlights custody issues, and alerts if an individual happens to be banned from a school. All school buildings are locked during the school day with parents and guests asked to come and be buzzed into specific main doors. We have security cameras inside and outside of our buildings.

We are also implementing a real-time safety update software system called CrisisGo that involves teachers and staff being able to receive two-way communication from their cell phone. If the bond is successful, there is a whole package of school safety and security steps to take with our physical property like creating entry vestibules or lobbies that give staff a full visual on a person before they can fully access the building.

How secure are the school district’s entrance protocols after hours for meetings and events?

A busy campus presents a lot of complexity, particularly with childcare, athletics, clubs, PTO and other activities going on in the afternoons and evenings everyday at our campuses. We do have a set of guidelines and we’re working with our schools and PTO’s to really refine those real-time at each of our buildings to make sure the school is accessible and welcoming during those times but also safe.

The district put a $1 billion bond measure on the ballot this month. What impact will the passage or failure of the measure will have on AAPS? Why was it needed?

We have many generations of schools with the majority being 40 or more years old. The $1 billion capital bond would enable us to provide a package of improvements at every school building, allowing us to upgrade or replace infrastructure and plan for the redesign of our buildings. This includes upgrading of climate control systems, enhancing safety and security systems and building new or renovating existing classroom space.

The 2019 bond is the capital investment tool for public school districts in Michigan. Michigan is one of only 12 states in the union that does not fund for buildings at the state level, so the responsibility for capital investment for construction of buildings is placed on the local community. Our previous bond that built Skyline more than a decade ago paid out its last payments in 2018 so this a time in the history of the city in the school district where the board and community must consider if and how we will invest in our capital programs.

What is the best part of your job as superintendent?

Being out in the schools and being face to face with our students, teachers and staff, parents and the community engaging in what drives this community, which is quality public schools. We deliver on the American dream everyday in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. To see that happening is the most magical part and the most exciting part of my job as the superintendent.

Community members can follow Swift and Ann Arbor Schools on social media @A2schoolssuper or @A2schools or visit a2schools.org.

Q&A

Favorite Ann Arbor restaurant?
Zola Bistro in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ideal Saturday morning?
What I love about weekends in Ann Arbor is you can be almost anywhere and engaged with the community. Whether that’s at Sweetwater’s downtown or in Kerrytown or at the grocery store.

Favorite “must see” local places?
Concerts at Hill Auditorium, walks in the Arboretum, walks around downtown, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. There’s plenty to do, but these are the highlights for me.