Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift, who was honored last month as Michigan Superintendent of the Year, recently talked with WeLoveAnnArbor.com on a number of school-related issues. Here are some questions – and answers – from that recent interview:
What does Ann Arbor Public Schools do well? “I think we focus on a whole child. We offer an arts-infused quality educational experience. It is our master teachers who make all the difference for our children in our schools every day.”
You have worked at several different school districts around the country (Colorado Springs and Dallas). How have those experiences help prepare you for your current position? “Having filed every role from substitute teacher to assistant principal, principal and then central leadership roles gives you a good perspective of how a district operates within a community and we can all work together to improve what we do for children.”
How do you see your role as school superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools? “Your job is to lift up the work that you are accomplishing in your community for children and to really empower and advocate for public school and ensuring that we are getting the resources that are needed. And that we are always focused on the child and what’s best for the child. We need to make sure we are providing exactly what the child needs to grow and succeed into the future.”
You mentioned preparation and the future…those are very important parts of today’s education? “We are really fortunate that we are doing work today that will pay dividends in the future. And that’s great work to get to do. We just welcomed our young fives group and they are the class of 2031 so as we do our work together every day we can’t help but think about the seeds that we are sowing now and for the future for our community, for Michigan and for our country.”
How has the classroom changed since you were a teacher? “I started teaching in the middle 1980s. There have been a lot of changes since then in education. The winds blow in one direction and then in another. What I’m reminded of often when I am in the classroom is that fundamental magic of teaching and learning is there as it has always been. The master teachers practice their craft and work closely with students and parents in that home-to-school partnership. I think the fundamental pieces and parts of what matters most in providing quality education have continued while the tools may have changed. We have more technology now and can open up the classroom with technology. But those fundamental transformations when a child gets a bright idea as the result of that teaching and learning experience is at the heart of what matters most. That part of education is timeless.
What are some of the short-term challenges AAPS is facing? “Our challenges are always focused around making sure we have adequate resources to meet the needs of every child. We are focused on infrastructure. We are focused on meeting the social and emotional needs of our children. We are focused on teaching and learning on exactly the things they will need to be successful into the future and not what we needed when we were in high school but what they need going into the future.”
How do you best figure out what resources a student in the first grade is going to need to know in 15 to 20 years down the road? “We are always in conversation with companies in our area. We are in a national conversation on what it means to be college ready in 2018. We participate in conversations both locally and nationally to ensure that we have an eye on what employers are seeking. They really are looking for students who can work with skill across a team. They are seeking critical thinkers. In this day in age, it’s not enough to know the right answer but how to apply into different settings those skills that you develop in school. We know that communication is a critical need heading into the future. Critical thinkers, collaboration, communication. These are the things we are working on because we don’t know the exact job our students will have in the future but we do know what our students will need to move forward into that day.”