Another school year began this week in northern Michigan, and so has a new era in leadership for Traverse City Area Public Schools.
A few months ago, TCAPS board members unanimously chose Ann Cardon to lead the district after former superintendent Paul Soma announced his retirement. Cardon, who was the superintendent at the St. Joseph school district for the last 7 years, says the TCAPS position is a dream job.
“TCAPS is a premier district,” she says. “They’re known throughout the state for their fine arts program, their academics, and it’s a beautiful place to live. So, it’s always been on my radar as one of the districts that I would love to work in.”
Cardon says she hasn’t sensed a toxic culture that some say existed between former TCAPS superintendent Soma and other administrators and principals. Regardless of what may have happened in the past, she’s focused relationship building.
“That’s one of my strong attributes,” she says.
Last year, TCAPS miscalculated enrollment at the Northern Michigan Partnership, an online program for homeschool students. As a result, the district had to pay back almost $2 million to the Michigan Department of Education. Cardon says that money came from many different items cut in this year’s budget.
However, to be sure the school district doesn’t make the same mistake again, the partnership program will be closed this year.
“We’re looking for guidance from the state,” she says, “so we have a really clear understanding of how they do want us to calculate the percentage to claim for the FTE (full-time equivalent) of a student. Until we get good guidance from MDE, we felt we couldn’t just go ahead and run a program that we didn’t know if we could sustain.”
Homeschool students still can participate in non-core activities such as music and physical education, she says.
Statewide, TCAPS is funded at a lower rate per-pupil than many other schools in Michigan. Cardon says it’s not about trying to do more with less, but TCAPS needs to be funded at the same level other schools in the state are. She hopes to help fix that problem.
“We are underfunded,” she says. “And I think we’re primed in Michigan to really tackle that tough situation.”
As the first week of the new school year begins, Cardon is focused on identifying the things TCAPS does well, and the things they don't. She’ll then present her plan for strengthening and improving the district to the TCAPS board in December.