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.

Week In Review

9 things you should know about Detroit education this week

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
  • As dozens of Detroit schools are threatened with closure in June, politics poisoned a $700,000 tool that could have helped displaced students apply to new schools.
  • Even as school boards in Kalamazoo and Saginaw joined Detroit in taking steps to sue the state over school closings, one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s key advisors said there is “no way in the world” the state reform office is going to close 38 schools without offering better options to students.
  • The state reform office mailed a list of “better” school options to parents that included districts that don’t even take Detroit kids. Another place parents can look for other school options is a new school scorecard released by an education advocacy organization that recommended 21 K-8 schools in or near Detroit.
  • State school reform district Chancellor Veronica Conforme gets a new job turning around failing schools in Massachusetts.
  • The new Detroit school board approved 11 teacher-backed proposals to improve Detroit schools including a plan to make Southeastern High School — one of the schools on the state’s closure list — an application school that students would have to test into. The proposals also included journalism, art and music programs, as well as honors academies in every K-8 school.
  • As Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos begins her job as U.S. Secretary of Education, Chalkbeat invited readers to tell her what they need to know. One Detroiter wrote that many students “took unreliable Detroit city buses to school every day, and if they lost their bus pass, they were required to pay the $200+ to replace it.”
  • A bill to repeal state Common Core standards met with mixed reviews in Lansing but may gain momentum thanks to two new state board of education members.
  • Tell us your story about Detroit schools! Chalkbeat Detroit and The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers are presenting an event called “School Days” to tell the story of Detroit’s changing schools. We are looking for teachers, parents, students and anyone else with a story to tell. We will publish the best entries and choose five storytellers to work side-by-side with storyteller Satori Shakoor to take their story from the page to the stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum. The first 20 people to submit entries will also get a free ticket to the March 17 event. Submit your story here. Or, if you’d much rather listen to stories, buy a ticket.
  • Plus, we’re launching our first-ever national Reader Advisory Board, and we want you to join! Learn more and apply here.

 

Week In Review

Week In review: A new secretary, brewing battles — and a call for stories

We have a new education secretary in Washington, a ramped up legal battle over school closings in Detroit and a budget fight that pits charter schools against district schools in Lansing. Read on for highlights on all of these stories — plus exciting opportunities for you to tell some stories of your own.

Opportunity 1: Chalkbeat Detroit and The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers are presenting an event called “School Days” to tell the story of Detroit’s changing schools. We are looking for teachers, parents, students and anyone else with a story to tell. We will publish the best entries and choose five storytellers to work side-by-side with storyteller Satori Shakoor to take their story from the page to the stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum. The first 20 people to submit entries will also get a free ticket to the March 17 event. Submit your story here. Or, if you’d much rather listen to stories, buy a ticket).

Opportunity 2: Now that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as education secretary, we’re asking readers what they want the new education secretary to know. What do you want to tell her about your school or your child? We will publish a selection of answers next week.

We look forward to hearing from many of you. Until then, here’s the headlines:

 

Madam Secretary

Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos says she tries “not to be cynical” about the way she was treated during her bruising confirmation process, which she joked was a “bit of a bear.”

In an interview that the Detroit News touted as an exclusive sit-down in her new Washington office, DeVos said she’s “disappointed with how some people have behaved” but still remains “very hopeful that if people can unite around doing what’s right for kids we can ultimately find common ground.”

Now that she’s in office — thanks to a historic tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence (and, some say, to a boost from something else) — DeVos says her first order of business is mending fences.

She may also need to touch base with her IT staff. The federal website for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is back online after a brief shutdown that officials blamed on “technical issues.” (The IDEA was the federal law that DeVos admitted she may have been confused about during her Senate confirmation hearing).

DeVos’ critics have warned that she’ll hurt traditional schools by favoring vouchers and charter schools but her power is somewhat limited. She’s taking over an education department with clipped wings.

Experts say she’ll have very little power to mandate vouchers. But she will have influence over other key issues, such as how civil rights complaints are handled and how colleges handle campus sexual assaults.

One Detroit high school student lamented her confirmation. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, the United States of America is going to look like Detroit,” she said.

Clashing over closings

  • The Detroit school board is getting ready to fight school closings in court — and the district’s former Transition Manager predicts the board will prevail.
  • The board hopes to avoid legal action but it has officially retained a law firm and  “reserves the right” to sue if it needs to.
  • Instead of closing schools, the board believes it can improve them. The district’s interim superintendent has ordered all schools on the closing list to submit a turnaround plan within ten days.
  • Mayor Mike Duggan said he reached out to Gov. Rick Snyder in an effort to ‘derail’ the ‘irrational’ closings. “I said, ‘Governor, what the School Reform Office is doing is immoral, it’s reckless, it’s illegal. You have to step in,'” Duggan said as he announced his re-election campaign.
  • Natasha Baker, who heads the state office that’s overseeing closings, defended the effort. “Some of these schools … they’ve been in this position for 10 years, 12 years, 13 years, regardless of the management of the schools,” she said.
  • Though state lawmakers questioned whether the state has a consistent method of judging schools,  Baker said parents need multiple measures. “The goal is for parents to understand they do have options,” he said.
  • State officials have started visiting the schools threatened with closure while teachers and students have continued to protest. “They’re trying to shut down the best school I ever attended. It’s not like a school, but a family,”  one Detroit high schooler said. Another protest is scheduled for next week.
  • Parents say they’ve gotten letters from the state suggesting their kids attend schools as far away as Ann Arbor. “They didn’t tell me, as a parent, where our children are gonna go. So right now I have no clue. I’m in a puzzle like everybody else,” one parent said.
  • Moody’s Investors Service warns that districts could face dire financial consequences from school closings.

In the capitol

  • A charter school advocate steams that Snyder’s proposed education budget punishes charter schools as “political payback” for the defeat of a Detroit school oversight commission last year.
  • The proposed budget would reduce funding for cyber schools since they cost less than brick and mortar schools to operate. At-risk students and high schools meanwhile would get more money.
  • A new bill in the Michigan House would make “21st-century skills” a high school graduation requirement.
  • A new study says Michigan schools are among the lowest performing in the country.
  • Snyder wants businesses and philanthropic foundations to kick in up to $24 million to boost the Detroit Promise college scholarship program, which sends city grads to college for free.

In other news

  • Detroit schools dangled skating parties, visiting orchestras, TV station tours and guest spots for students on a local radio station in hopes of encouraging attendance on Wednesday’s Count Day, which determines how much money schools get from the state.
  • Two education experts urged the new Detroit school board to focus on big-picture issues like improving schools to avoid becoming “a forum for dispute resolution and a source of patronage.”
  • The head of the state school board association says board members want Washington and Lansing lawmakers to leave them alone.
  • This suburban teacher shares how she teaches empathy in an age of divisiveness.
  • A suburban mom was charged with assault for shoving her daughter’s teacher.
  • A suburban teen claims she was expelled from school after reporting a sexual assault.
  • A non-profit executive and consultant says school choice boosts civil rights.
  • A Detroit charter school is holding its winter student art exhibition, a free event featuring 150 pieces of art.