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Devon Keen (with Sadie) and Xan Morgan (with Piper) in front of Bryant school

School Shake-Up

"I am Riley and Carter's mom, and I am grateful for this school community," said Makia Alexander.

by Eve Silberman

From the June, 2019 issue

Near tears, she added that at Bryant-Pattengill, "I wasn't forced to choose between academics and diversity."

Alexander was one of a group of parents attending a March school board meeting to voice alarm over a proposed revamping of the district's only paired schools: from preschool to second grade, kids attend Bryant then go to Pattengill from third to fifth grades. After more than a year of review, superintendent Jeanice Swift is expected to recommend that the "super pair" adopt either IB (international baccalaureate) or STEAM (science-technology-engineering-arts-mathematics) curriculums. The board will almost certainly approve.

Swift hopes the "re-envisioning" will bring students back to the schools. "There is a pattern of students and families who live in the neighborhood who are choosing schools other than Bryant-Pattengill," she says.

Swift also points to "disparities of achievement" among "students of color, students from poverty, second-language students," and others. According to Michigan school data, in 2017 63 percent of white Pattengill students achieved proficiency in all subjects compared to just 20 percent of black students.

Under Swift, the AAPS has already "redesigned" five schools: Northside, now Ann Arbor STEAM at Northside; Pathways for Success, created from the merger of Roberto Clemente and A2 Technical; and Mitchell, Scarlett, and Huron, where IB programs have been added. At those schools, she says, "student achievement has improved, enrollment has improved."

But Ann Arbor parents care deeply about their schools and aren't shy about speaking up. They are uneasy about increased class size, and they--as well as Bryant-Pattengill teachers--are upset that, when the new programs go in, teachers will likely be required to reapply. Many also like the third grade transition, and the changes may mean a grade reconfiguration.

But it's the explosive dynamics of race and class that dominated the board speak-out and notched up mistrust to the point that parents briefly held a sit-in in the Balas Building, demanding more input into the review process.

Located in the city's poorer southeast quadrant, the paired

...continued below...

schools are racially, ethnically, and economically mixed. State data shows that as of last fall's student count, Bryant was 19 percent black, 13 percent mixed race, and 14 percent Hispanic. Pattengill was 26 percent black, 12 percent mixed race, and 11 percent Hispanic. Almost 40 percent of the students at both two schools were low-income.

Byrant-Pattengill's diversity has attracted idealistic middle-class white parents like Xan Morgan. "I grew up in an area that is predominantly white," says Morgan, and "am glad that my kids are experiencing something really different."

Morgan is a leader of "Celebrate Diversity. Close the Gap," a group of predominantly middle-class parents, both black and white, who are pressing the district to reconsider its priorities. "I would have liked to have seen a re-envisioning process where racial equity was the driving force," she says.

She and others in the group complain that school officials turn evasive when asked how the changes will benefit minorities. To which Swift replies, "These disparities in achievement are exactly the reasons that brought us to the table to do this work."

In an open letter to the school board, the parents asked the district to hire an "expert in educational equity" to consult during the process. Susan Baskett, the school board's longest-serving member, is unimpressed. "We've been through this before," she says. "Remember Blanche Pringle?" (Hired in 1997 to oversee a district-wide "achievement initiative," Pringle came and went, but the achievement gap continued.)

The open letter also contends that after Northside was reinvented, the number of black students fell. That's not actually the case--the number is up slightly--but with an influx of other families, they are now a much smaller percentage of the student body.

And B-P parent Jaime Moore points out that home prices in the Northside neighborhood shot up as more families wanted in. If Swift's redesign succeeds, Bryant-Pattengill could be next to gentrify.     (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2019.]


On May 25, 2019, Jeff Gaynor wrote:
There's also a question about whether the decision will be made for both schools to go K-5, and allowing families to choose either school.

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