Closings averted?

Michigan school closures are off for now — as long as districts agree to partner with the state to improve

The 38 Michigan schools that were threatened with closure in January could now have a way to stay open.

State superintendent Brian Whiston sent letters this week to eight school districts that have schools on the closure list inviting them to participate in a “partnership” to fix the schools instead of shutting them down. 

“Once an agreement is reached,” the letter says, “The School Reform Office (SRO)  has agreed to delay any next level of accountability actions in order to give the Partnership Model an  opportunity to be successful.”

A spokesman for the state education department said the eight districts that got the letter were Benton Harbor, Bridgeport-Spaulding, Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac, River Rouge, Saginaw and the Detroit Public School Community School District.

Also receiving a letter was the charter school office at Central Michigan University, which oversees Detroit’s Michigan Technical Academy. The charter school got a new principal and curriculum in 2015 but was put on the closure list based on the results of tests taken before the new management arrived.

The 38 schools were identified for closure because they fell in the bottom five percent of Michigan schools in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The letter that went to the Detroit schools included both the 16 schools on the list that are currently part of the city district as well as the eight schools that are now in the state-run Education Achievement Authority, the education department spokesman said. The EAA schools  are expected to return to the district this summer.

Detroit schools advocates had argued that Detroit schools should be spared the closure ax because the district was just returned to a newly elected school board in January. The new board had vowed to sue if the closures went forward.

Here’s a copy of the letter the districts received:

 

 

Looming threat

Report: Looming financial threats could undermine ‘fresh’ start for new Detroit district

The creation of a new school district last year gave Detroit schools a break from years of crippling debt, allowing the new district to report a healthy budget surplus going into its second year.

It’s the first time since 2007 that the city’s main school district has ended the year with a surplus.

But a report released this morning — just days after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti took over the district — warns of looming financial challenges that “could derail the ‘fresh’ financial start that state policymakers crafted for the school district.”

The report, from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, notes that almost a third of the district’s $64 million surplus is the cost savings from more than 200 vacant teaching positions.

Those vacancies have caused serious problems in schools including classrooms crammed with 40 or 50 kids. The district says it’s been trying to fill those positions. But as it struggles to recruit teachers, it is also saving money by not having to pay them.

Other problems highlighted in the report include the district’s need to use its buildings more efficiently at a time when many schools are more than half empty. “While a business case might be made to close an under-utilized building in one part of the city, such a closure can create challenges and new costs for the districts and the families involved,” the report states. It notes that past school closings have driven students out of the district and forced kids to travel long distances to school.

The report also warns that if academics don’t improve soon, student enrollment — and state dollars tied to enrollment — could continue to fall.

Read the full report here:

 

familiar face

Former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather ‘discussing’ new role in Detroit district under superintendent Nikolai Vitti

New Detroit superintendent Nikolai Vitti greets principals and job applicants with former Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather at a district job fair.

When Nikolai Vitti worked a teacher hiring fair Tuesday night, the new Detroit superintendent brought a partner — a familiar face — to stand beside him.

It was Vitti’s first full day running the Detroit Public Schools Community District. And although he was the new guy in a room full of school principals, administrators and job applicants, he stood side-by-side with someone more well-known: Alycia Meriweather, the district veteran who served for 14 months as interim superintendent until Vitti took over this week.

Whether Meriweather’s presence at the hiring fair suggests a permanent role for her in Vitti’s administration hasn’t yet been decided, she said. “We’re discussing that right now. He has made it clear that there is a position for me and, right now, it’s just a matter of me having further dialog with him about what that might look like and figure out if it’s a good fit for me.”

The news of Meriweather possibly staying on in the district could be comforting to the teachers and staff who strongly urged the school board to consider Meriweather for the permanent post. Teachers circulated petitions and protested outside a board meeting during a finalist interview after Meriweather was dropped from consideration.

For now, Meriweather is officially a senior advisor to Vitti — a role that will last at least until the end of June.

“My main focus right now is making sure this transition is as smooth as possible,” Meriweather told Chalkbeat. “Dr. Vitti and I have had really good conversations. I think we see things very similarly and he’s made it very clear that his intention is to build on the work that’s been done, which is very affirming and encouraging.”

For now, Meriweather, who is a graduate of the district and has worked in Detroit as a classroom teacher and administrator throughout her career, said she’s focused on a smooth transition.

“I really, at the heart of hearts, just want the district to continue to evolve,” she said. “I need him to be successful because if he’s successful, the district is successful, which means my kids are taken care of.”