Pat Green is rarely at a loss for words. But even she winces when asked about The Salary.
Whenever the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ financial struggles are discussed on local blogs, it’s certain that someone will gripe about the school board’s decision, last fall, to raise the superintendent’s pay. After Todd Roberts, who earned $175,000 a year, left for a better-paying job, a divided board voted to increase the position’s salary to $245,000.
Green’s discussion of her pay is uncharacteristically brief. “It was an advertised salary,” she says. “It was an open process. This is a difficult job. I will work 150 percent of what people expect me to do.”
No one doubts that she will. “They all said the same thing about her–‘She just has the most indescribable work ethic,'”–says board member Andy Thomas, who called Green’s references. Her past employers, Thomas says, told him that “Green’s car is the first [to arrive] at the beginning of the day and [the last] to leave at the end of the day.” In her first month on the job, Green met individually with each of the board members, interviewed ten deputy superintendent candidates, toured most of the district’s schools, attended various community events and moved into her office over the Fourth of July weekend. Her husband, Steve, a periodontist who continues to work three days a week in Maryland, “sat on a chair, and he watched me climb a ladder,” Green says.
She needed that ladder to post all the certificates and awards she’s collected during forty years as a teacher and administrator. One frame holds the cover of Child magazine from 1991, when Green was the principal of an elementary school the magazine named one of the “ten best” in the country. But Green says the honor that makes her proudest is the “Spirit of Unity” award she received last winter from a Pittsburgh organization that promotes racial harmony. Although her suburban district was 93 percent white, she worked with nearby districts to bring people of different races together.
Soon after the award was announced, she submitted her resignation to the North Allegheny School District. Though at sixty-two she could have retired, she says, “the thought of not seeking another challenge, to me, flies in the face of [using] the talents that God gave me.”
Though she dresses formally–pinstriped jacket, white blouse, pearl necklace–Green is chatty, approachable, and straightforward. She sounds more like an inspirational speaker than a bureaucrat. “I have a tremendous work ethic and a belief in people,” she says. “That synergistic, fun-loving energy can be brought to bear on issues.”
Raised in the New York City borough of Queens, Pat Pataky was educated in parochial schools. She says she was both an outstanding student and a “tomboy” who “played rough and tough” in the streets. Her father worked as a machinist in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for years and then, after earning an associate’s degree at a community college, got into financial management and moved his family to the Washington, D.C., area.
Green says her mother always told her, “You are just as good as you think you are.” The advice helped when Green learned that she could not be in Little League because she was a girl–a story she tells to girls and minority students to make the point that one barrier needn’t determine a life’s course.
She’s still in touch with the seventh-grade teacher who inspired her to go into education, a nun who later left her order and adopted four children from El Salvador. Green earned an elementary ed degree at the University of Maryland, added a master’s during the dozen years she spent in the classroom, and got her PhD shortly after moving into administration–first in wealthy Greenbelt, Maryland, then as principal of the struggling, predominantly black Columbia Park Elementary School in Prince George’s County, outside Washington, D.C. That’s where she won the magazine ranking, which led to a visit from Jesse Jackson. (The photo is on her desk.)
Many educators believe that a “charismatic” principal can be enormously effective in turning a school around; Green evidently filled that role. She opened the school on Saturdays to provide computer help for kids, showed up at neighborhood meetings no previous principal had ever attended, and even followed kids after class so she could meet their parents (instead of coming to the school, the parents were waiting several blocks away).
After six years at Columbia Park, Green moved up into various administrative positions in the district before accepting the top job at North Allegheny in 2002. Her assignment there, she says, was “to take a very good school district to the top level.” During her tenure, student test scores (SAT, PSAT, ACT) climbed significantly, and various media ranked the district as among the top five in the state.
Green’s wide range of experience impressed Ann Arbor school board members. Trustee Christine Stead says that as much as she liked previous superintendent Todd Roberts, Green may be able to “ease people into more aggressive decisions” than was her soft-spoken predecessor.
She arrives at a difficult time. The legislature cut state per-pupil funding again this year, while simultaneously rewriting the rules governing district-teacher relations–including higher pension contributions and a new law that bars districts from basing layoffs on seniority. Ann Arbor teachers are so upset that local union members joined the effort to recall governor Rick Snyder.
Green says she is troubled by what she calls “teacher bashing” in the current education debate. She says she had good relations with the teachers’ union in her previous job, working with them on “best practices” and making national presentations with her union presidents.
Green is savvy enough not to make any sweeping pronouncements about her plans for Ann Arbor. Pressed for examples of ways the district might economize, though, she mentions doing more with technology, including “distance learning” and even linking Ann Arbor schools’ sites with others (including those in her former district) for virtual exchanges.
In August, the board voted to put a $45 million technology millage on the ballot next February. Although a special-education millage was renewed this past May, no one assumes that this tax will be an easy sell.
As a district employee, Green can’t campaign for the millage. But she’s been outspoken about the need to prepare all kids for the digital world. It’s a good bet that for the rest of the year, some of her incredible energy will go into getting out the word about why the millage is needed.