A man stands at a podium in front of representatives of AAPS.
Courtesy of Abigail VanderMolen

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education held a special meeting in the Earhart Building Wednesday evening to interview three potential superintendent search firms. Community members also presented a statement from nearly 500 AAPS community members regarding the well-being of Arab and Palestinian students and staff.

The search for a new superintendent comes after former superintendent Jeanice Swift announced her resignation in September. The Board approved Swift’s resignation and settlement package on Sept. 14 and  selected and approved the contract of Interim Superintendent Jazz Parks ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. Parks previously served as an assistant superintendent for the district.

During the meeting, the board interviewed the Michigan Association of School Boards, Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates and Nebraska-based firm McPherson & Jacobson, LLC.

Jay Bennett, assistant director of executive search services at MASB, presented his firm’s search capabilities first, explaining that the search process would take 13 to 15 weeks. Bennett said this timeframe would allow his firm to interview stakeholders such as teachers, principals, students and administrators to determine what people want in a superintendent and give potential superintendents time to find and apply for the position.

“We want there to be adequate time to listen to your stakeholders and to then do a nice, solid job of recruiting candidates to come in and apply for this position,” Bennett said.

HYA consultant Sarena Shivers and HYA vice president Mike Richie then presented to the board. Shivers explained that HYA’s search process lasts 12 to 16 weeks and includes engagement, recruitment and selection phases followed by a support phase during the transition to a new superintendent.

Though Richie said the firm would talk with various stakeholders during their engagement phase, he said HYA prioritizes their interviews with high school students. Richie gave examples of feedback his firm had heard from high schoolers in previous searches.

“Students were hopeful that the next leader will continue the legacy of previous superintendents and be willing to listen to students, gain input from students and be open-minded to change,” Richie said.

Shivers said HYA also prioritizes presenting a diverse slate of candidates who have experience working with diverse communities.

“Diversity is just a part of the fabric of who Ann Arbor is and so to bring candidates that don’t represent that type of diversity would not be doing our due diligence,” Shivers said. “But I also think in terms of our preparation for the candidates and our screening of the candidates, making sure that we are also bringing to you all candidates that have had experiences working with diverse communities (is important).”

McPherson & Jacobson consultant Judy Sclair-Stein was the last to present. In response to a question from trustee Torchio Feaster about the firm’s process for getting feedback from stakeholders, Sclair-Stein said the firm encourages them to learn from community members’ negative feedback.

“When we meet stakeholder groups, people are not shy about sharing,” Sclair-Stein said. “In the online survey, people are brutally honest. And so you have to be ready to hear what your stakeholders have to say and to learn from it. I value the stakeholder report because I think it helps boards and the new superintendent way beyond the search.”

After the presentations, the board discussed the three options. Trustee Susan Baskett said she would like the board to take time to think about the decision, potentially even delaying the search process for the time being.

“Maybe we pause a little bit to give us all a breathing time to give our new interim some time to get into the work and identify any challenges, and we as a board with her, in doing the work,” Baskett said. “Maybe this is not the time for us to put all of our eggs into the search.”

The board agreed to continue their discussion of which firm to employ for the superintendent search at their next meeting on Nov. 15.

The Board also heard concerns regarding a statement signed by 500 members of the Ann Arbor community calling for increased support of Arab and Palestinian students.

“We are concerned about the growing trauma and isolation being experienced by AAPS Arab and Palestinian (both Christian and Muslim) students and staff due to the rise of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiments in our community,” the letter read. “Recognizing the history and experiences of Palestinians in our AAPS community is an integral part of acknowledging their full humanity and of educating all our students in critical thinking.”

AAPS community member Rima Hassouneh read the statement during the meeting’s community commentary portion on behalf of the signees. 

On Oct. 11, Swift released a statement about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. The community statement said they shared the concern expressed by the superintendent but called on AAPS to work towards upholding a learning community that supports all students.

Board president Rima Mohammad thanked Hassouneh for sharing the statement.

“We hear you and thank you for providing that very moving statement,” Mohammad said. “I appreciate it.”

Daily Staff Reporter Abigail VanderMolen can be reached at vabigail@umich.edu.