Headlines

Week in Review: Meet your new school board, elected during an intense week

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
A total of 63 candidates ran for the first board of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

This has been an intense week for everyone in this country as teachers in Michigan and elsewhere have struggled to heal divisions or confront ongoing nastiness in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory on Tuesday. But here at home, those of us who care about Detroit schools are also trying to get to know the six women and one man who have been chosen to help shepherd our schools through for the next 2-6 years.

“I … want to make sure students learn in a safe environment and that teachers are adequately paid. … We want for our kids what other districts want for their kids.”

Angelique Peterson-Maybury, newly elected member,
Detroit Public Schools Community District board

Read on for more information about the new board members as well as the rest of a busy week that included news of a new push to help young Detroiters and an update on the future of the state-run recovery district. Thanks for reading!

The top seven

Detroit voters who managed to wade through the city’s three-page ballot on Tuesday and find the list of 63 candidates seeking seats on Detroit’s new school board selected seven people to serve on the first (almost) empowered locally elected school board that Detroit has had in years. The highest vote-getters will serve six-year terms, while those with fewer votes will serve four- or two-year terms — a setup designed to ensure that not every seat is up for reelection at the same time. Here’s what we know about the winners:

  • The candidate with the most campaign spending got the most votes — and a six-year term. Angelique Peterson-Maybury is the community relations director at UAW-Ford and the mother of two students currently enrolled in the district.
  • The other candidate elected for six years, Georgia Lemmons, did not report any campaign fundraising or answer surveys from the district or major newspapers about her background or experience. But she was the only candidate to have a special designation — “certified teacher” — appear with her name on the ballot. She petitioned a court for that designation so voters could distinguish her from her husband.
  • Georgia Lemmons is the wife of LaMar Lemmons, who served on the old DPS school board and was also elected to the new board — the only person to do so. LaMar Lemmons, who is an aide to a state representative, said he believe he and his wife are the first married couple to serve on a Detroit school board. A third Lemmons family member on the ballot did not make the cut with voters.
  • Candidates elected to four-year terms are:
    • Iris Taylor, the retired former CEO of Detroit Receiving Hospital
    • Sonya Mays, the CEO of a real estate and housing development nonprofit
    • Misha Stallworth, the advocacy coordinator for Detroit Area Agency on Aging. The youngest winner at 27, Stallworth is the daughter of former state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III. Her uncle and grandmother were also elected state lawmakers.
  • The two members who will serve just two years before needing to run again are Lamar Lemmons and Deborah Hunter-Harvill, who heads an education consulting firm.
  • The union that represents Detroit teachers claimed victory on Tuesday. Four of its endorsed candidates were elected, giving union-supported members a majority.
  • Of the nine endorsement lists that Chalkbeat reviewed last week, the group that saw the highest number of its endorsed candidates elected was the 13th Congressional District Democrats, which backed five of the winners (including the four endorsed by the teachers union).
  • One critic says the election was actually illegal.

That other election:

  • Video of students at a suburban Detroit middle school chanting “build the wall” as a way of taunting Latino classmates has gone viral and turned the school into a national symbol of division.

More from Election Day:

  • The state board of education is now divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, setting the board up for a brewing battle over issues like charter schools and school funding.
  • The Wayne County school tax hike passed, leading to cheers from school leaders. “We now have an exceptional opportunity to invest more fully in programs and initiatives that will strengthen the district’s academic plan, improve our facilities and reinforce safety and security,” said Alycia Meriweather, the interim superintendent of Detroit’s main school district.
  • Suburban voters also supported most of the tax hikes that were on the ballot throughout the region.
  • An influential pro-school choice lobbying group announced that 49 of the 53 candidates it endorsed in the state house had won their elections.

In Detroit:

  • Two major foundations are leading a high-profile effort called “Hope Starts Here” to design a “world-class” program to serve the health and education needs of Detroit’s youngest children, from babies to third graders. The effort will invite tens of thousands of Detroiters to make recommendations for immediate and long-term actions that will culminate in a “citywide action plan” next summer.
  • Plans for folding the Education Achievement Authority schools back into Detroit’s main school district are underway, and debts owed by the state-run recovery district have been resolved. Still unclear is what will happen to the EAA’s teachers, who aren’t members of the teachers union and are paid on a different scale from district teachers.
  • High schools in the main Detroit district will get career-based themes similar to the medicine and science theme at the Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine. At least that’s what’s in the academic plan released this week by the district’s leaders. To be implemented, however, the plan will need approval from the new school board.
  • A conference today and tomorrow aims to encourage more churches and businesses to partner with schools to improve conditions for kids in poverty. A former United Way official is using the event to launch his book about a community partnership in Detroit’s Cody Rouge community that improved graduation rates.
  • More than 350 JROTC cadets from Detroit schools are expected to participate in today’s Veterans Day observance ceremony at the Historic Elmwood Cemetery.

Across the state:

  • The head of a national charter school organization warns that as Michigan considers closing schools for low performance, officials should be on the lookout for struggling schools that “resort to politics and personal attacks to garner sympathy for their plight and divert attention from their failings.” Closing a school, he writes, is “agonizing,” but sometimes necessary.
  • Chalkbeat wrote recently about a Detroit charter school that says it’s turning things around, even if that turnaround hasn’t yet been reflected in test scores. Now several other schools across the state are making similar arguments.
  • Online-only schools in Michigan that let kids do their lessons from home have seen a spike in enrollment.
  • The list of state high school band competition winners is awfully similar to last year’s.
  • A suburban school is hosting a “life after high school” fair for students with “learning differences” to explore college and vocational options.
  • Michigan families can now turn to a state website to search for and apply for more than 5 million scholarships worth up to $25 billion.
  • The state education department is now accepting nominations for the prestigious $10,000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
  • Some western Michigan districts are ramping up reading instruction to prepare kids for the new tougher third-grade promotion requirements that will affect this year’s kindergartners.
  • A new report looks at the impact of the Michigan Teaching Fellowship Program, which trains science, technology, and math teachers to work in some of the state’s neediest schools.

Headlines

Week in Review: Amid DeVos ‘Wild West’ critiques, a new charter school says strict state laws are standing in the way of diversity

PHOTO: Ali Lapetina
The new Detroit Prep charter school aims to be the city's first intentionally diverse charter school.

Michigan schools have gotten scrutiny from across the country this week after President-elect Donald Trump nominated local philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary.

Among the wide-ranging critiques that have gotten an airing: that DeVos has backed a lax “Wild West” charter school system that has damaged Detroit schools..

So it’s a little surprising to hear a charter school leader say regulations are standing in her way. But that’s exactly the critique coming from the co-founder of Detroit’s newest charter school, Detroit Prep, who says in our latest story that state rules could stop her from enrolling a diverse student body. Her workaround: enroll students in a way that critics call “exclusive” and “sneaky.”

“I think we’re failing our kids if we allow all kids to sit in rooms with kids that only look like them and that are from the same background so if people think we’re going about it in a bad way, I welcome that feedback because we want to hear all perspectives, good and bad.”

Kyle Smitley, co-founder, Detroit Prep

On DeVos, the Michigan philanthropist vaulted to a national stage:

Right to read?

Detroit school children have no fundamental right to literacy, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s attorneys. While Snyder says courts should recognize the “importance of literacy,” he argues the state isn’t required to give every child a decent education. “Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”

The governor’s arguments came in response to the Detroit schools lawsuit, which claims that deplorable school conditions in the city have violated children’s Constitutional rights. Lawyers for the seven children who brought the suit objected to Snyder’s lawsuit response. “Each day that the state chooses to fight this lawsuit is another day of education lost that may never be recovered,” one lawyer said. “Would the state try to wash its hands of this matter if the students suffering were not children of color from low-income families?”

The Detroit News says the lawsuit put the state “in the awkward position of arguing that students don’t have a right to literacy,” adding “but that doesn’t’ mean Snyder and education officials are indifferent to the quality of students’ education.” The paper called on the state to improve local schools but said, “Trying to force better outcomes through the courts … isn’t the way to do this.” (A local radio host disagrees.)

In Detroit schools:

  • A new charter school is Detroit’s most diverse public school. Here’s why it might not stay that way.
  • The Detroit Promise scholarship program has expanded to include free access to four-year colleges for every Detroit high school grad with good grades and strong test scores. Officials say Detroit is now the largest city in the country to offer scholarships to all of its graduates, with kids who don’t qualify for the four-year scholarships entitled to a free ride at local community colleges.
  • A Detroit teachers union leader got a major raise.
  • A yearlong effort by the Free Press to listen to the challenges facing Detroit children included claims from students that they haven’t been properly prepared for college. “DPS did not prepare me for the ACT,” one recent Cody High School grad said. “It was some stuff on it that I knew, but some of that stuff, I know for sure I was never taught.”
  • The paper is highlighting programs that could benefit Detroit kids, including a curriculum that helps young children learn social-emotional and problem-solving skills.
  • A local foundation is giving Detroit’s main school district a quarter million dollars to help the district grow and harvest vegetables to serve in school meals.
  • Stalled plans to build a large urban agriculture park on the site of the shuttered Kettering High School in Detroit have picked up steam.
  • Wayne County taxpayers will start feeling the pinch from the school tax increase when tax bills go out this week.
  • A network of charter schools in Detroit and Dearborn requires students to complete a career-focused internship and senior project in order to graduate.
  • A local advocate called for expanding after-school programs to help low-income kids in Detroit.
  • Two local philanthropists are funding a program at a Detroit school that helps introduce children to yoga, health, fitness and nutrition.
  • A local non-profit executive says Detroit needs to do two things to fix its schools.
  • The Detroit Public Schools Community District is planning a parade on Monday to toast the high school football teams that won the state’s Division I and Division 2 championships — the first time in state history that both winners are from the same district.

Across the state:

  • An effort to force new teachers out of state pension plans is moving forward in Lansing despite testimony that the move will cost billions of dollars.
  • In a state with low reading scores, this west Michigan effort shows promise.
  • One school choice advocate called on the state to “revamp its school rating system” to better help parents make decisions about where to enroll their children. The state, he wrote, “needs a fairer measuring tool that doesn’t punish schools for enrolling a lot of kids with learning struggles.”
  • A suburban high school teacher is working with students to create a museum to honor his school’s history.

Headlines

Week in review: Right-wing Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos reportedly in the mix for Trump education secretary

Harassment and intimidation complaints in schools spiked after last week’s election, and Michigan officials are pleading with “educators at all levels” to help stop the bullying:

“Our schools must be safe havens for our children – free from hate; free from intimidation; free from bullying; and free from fear.”

— State Superintendent Brian Whiston

The election fallout comes as Michigan political watchers wait to see whether an influential figure in state education policy could join the new Trump administration. Read on for more details and the rest of the week’s education news.

Ed sec speculation hits home

As Donald Trump prepares to become president in January, a powerful — and controversial — figure in state education politics is in the mix as a possible education secretary in the Trump administration.

Republican Betsy DeVos helped lead an unsuccessful push to change the state constitution to allow private school vouchers and has been a strong supporter of school choice programs. She sparked criticism this year when together with other wealthy family members, she flooded state lawmakers with campaign cash as they debated whether to include oversight for charter schools in their Detroit schools legislation. They didn’t.

It could be weeks before we know who Trump will choose, but one prominent native Detroiter whose name had been floated says he’s not interested. And while some say that whoever does get the job won’t have much influence under existing federal law, others in Michigan want the U.S. Education Department shuttered completely.

Other names in the education secretary mix include former Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett and New York City charter school mogul Eva Moskowitz, who said Thursday that she doesn’t want the job. As Trump appears to be considering education reformers, they face a stark choice: serve or steer clear?

Election aftermath

After his statement Monday that lamented the election’s impact on the “actions, demeanor and mood in some of our schools,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston followed up the next day with another message, this time issued jointly with the state’s top civil rights official. They called on “every administrator, teacher, staff member, parent, guardian, bus driver and student” to “stand as one in condemning intolerable conduct regardless of message or motivation.” The second statement also included a list of resources and specific guidance for schools.

That effort came as some parents at a Grosse Pointe school were angered by a unity message broadcast after the election by the school’s Muslim principal. And a Birmingham teacher is under fire for tweets that questioned the values of his largely white students in the wake of the election.

Those incidents, which follow high profile events last week like the viral video of Royal Oak students chanting “build that wall” in a school cafeteria, are part of a growing national tally of post-election bullying and harassment in schools.

It’s not all negative though. Students at this Michigan school created a “wall of positivity.” And these middle schoolers are doing their part to spread unity and kindness.

In Detroit:

  • The Detroit News says the new Detroit school board must prove itself. Arguing that “despite a couple of bright spots,” the new board “doesn’t offer a lot of hope for the district’s variability,” the paper urged the board to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent. But Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather should be an option, the paper wrote: “She’s done well in her role.”
  • The success of the Wayne County tax hike vote last week might inspire neighboring counties to seek similar votes in upcoming elections.
  • The heads of two prominent local foundations explain why they’re launching a “bold, city-wide engagement to bring the needs of Detroit’s youngest citizens, from birth to age 8, to the forefront.”
  • A local after-school program that teaches low-income children to play classical music was honored this week by the White House.
  • One advocate says Detroit needs more college pipeline programs.
  • The private companies that now run school buses in Detroit have adapted to recent changes and technology.
  • A school bus crashed into a manufacturing plant on Detroit’s northwest side, injuring the driver. No kids were on the bus.
  • A former Detroit Public Schools CEO has died.

Across the state:

  • Without state oversight, dual enrollment programs that are supposed to help students earn free college credits while still in high school are diminishing. While the programs have grown in popularity, not all colleges accept the credits.
  • State officials want public input on how best to respond to changes in federal education law and are holding public forums around the state.
  • What would it cost to pay Michigan teachers the way we pay doctors? A lot.
  • One advocate warns that a teacher pension crisis is looming in Michigan.
  • A suburban teacher’s aide pleaded guilty to charges related to sexaul contact with students.
  • Police at a suburban high school are investigating whether a student threatened to carry out a school shooting.
  • A suburban high school is hosting a “Prep for Success” educational symposium this weekend to help over 1,000 students and their parents get help with study skills, test prep and academic guidance.

From Chalkbeat: