Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Recognized With State Award

Stacy Bogard

By Stacy Bogard, CAE, MASB Assistant Director of Communications, PR & Marketing

DashBoard, Oct. 18, 2017

Jeanice Kerr Swift, Ph.D., Superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools was recognized earlier this week as the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

Serving in her role since 2013, Swift has been a career educator, first as a classroom teacher, teacher coach, principal and, before taking her current position, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student services and executive director of K-12 schools at Colorado Springs School District 11.

MASB spoke with AAPS Board of Education President Christine Stead about what Swift and this recognition has done for the district:

MASB: When the AAPS Board hired Dr. Swift in 2013, what were some of the qualities that made her your #1 candidate?

CS: Dr. Swift came from a much larger district in Colorado Springs. She had experience in areas that we were very interested in addressing. Dr. Swift was personable, but clearly credible in her responses throughout her interview process―with us and the community. She could go as deep on a topic as needed and then some. She shone during the interviews and many in our community were very impressed with her. Interestingly, Dr. Swift was our second choice. She had wonderful experience but had not been a Superintendent before (she was an Assistant Superintendent). We were very fortunate that our first choice declined and we had a brilliant leader in Dr. Swift.

Jeanice Kerr Swift

Jeanice Kerr Swift
Photo Courtesy of MASA

MASB: How has she fulfilled the Board’s expectations during her tenure (within the district and the community)?

CS: We had several challenges at the start of her tenure: worsening financial stability due to state budget decisions and policy; our first year of a decline in enrollment; challenging morale as we had been cutting programs and services for several years in a row; and a lack of stability in leadership. Our challenges were significant for anyone. Dr. Swift led a comprehensive, districtwide listen-and-learn tour upon her arrival involving 92 community meetings. She developed her strategy based on her findings of what the community needed. She proposed the initiation of seven new programs―all to launch by September 2014. This was more ambitious than we could have expected, but the work resonated and inspired confidence across the entire community.

As we start on her fifth year with us, our enrollment is up by ±1,200 students; our financial performance has somewhat steadied; the seven new programs are up and running―driving the increased enrollment; our transparency, responsiveness and culture have all changed as a result of her leadership. She has recruited and retained a talented top-notch team. She is growing leaders from within our organization. She is addressing systemic improvements across AAPS. She attends many events all year long and continues to inspire us and create a new, vibrant future that we all have confidence in. Ann Arbor is a high-performing district and our community's expectations are being met. We continue to learn and grow.

We have more work to do, but we have a leader and leadership team quite capable of continuing to improve. One of the areas we are most proud of is how our at-risk students perform. In the last couple of years, our district has been acknowledged as a district where at-risk students have their best chance. We hope to continue to make strides in this area.

MASB: Has how the Board operates changed at all with Dr. Swift serving as superintendent? If so, how?

CS: Dr. Swift keeps all trustees operating in a 'no surprises' environment. She does an amazing job making time for us individually and helping our committees function better. We have been able to go back to a committee structure that we believe better serves our community because she does such a wonderful job preparing trustees for our work. She works very hard to answer all questions and make sure there is a transparent process for our work.

Despite three new trustees as a result of the November 2016 election, we have continued to be able to make progress on our goals and are embarking on an update to our strategic plan. There is trust and credibility in her leadership, which makes all of our jobs much easier. She understands the value of communication and how important that is in inspiring confidence in our community. She works closely with our media to make sure AAPS coverage is accurate, while also starting our own AAPS News to make sure the good news of our district is being adequately covered. There is no one savvier at social media. We will often be at a student performance together where she will film part of it and tweet it out before the performers are off stage.

MASB: What does this distinction mean to the district?

CS: This is a hard-won and well-deserved honor for Dr. Swift and for AAPS. While AAPS has always been a strong district in a city with high expectations when it comes to education, our organization was struggling when she arrived. This distinction shows what this kind of dedication, commitment, work ethic and leadership can bring to a school district and its community. We are hopeful that this will highlight Ann Arbor Public Schools on a national level as a beacon of hope and inspiration. It is affirmation that excellent leadership matters. Her impact would make for a compelling Harvard Business Review case study. More importantly, we hope that this award shines a light on Michigan. Great things are happening here. We welcome more people to be part of it!

As the Michigan designee, Swift is now in the running for the national award given by the American Association of School Administrators. Their committee will select four finalists from around the country in December, with the National Superintendent of the Year being announced in March 2018.

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