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Week in Review: Pressure mounts on Detroit school board, charter growth slows, and more in this week’s news

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board voted unanimously Wednesday to fight school closures in court.

The big decision on who will be the next school leader for Detroit could come as early as next week as the Detroit school board stares down a looming (or possibly already blown) deadline — and increasing pressure to slow down.

The board plans to gather Monday to discuss the two finalists — Jacksonville superintendent Nikolai Vitti and River Rouge superintendent Derrick Coleman — and is scheduled to have its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, exactly 90 days after its swearing in.

State law requires the board to choose a new superintendent within 90 days of taking office, although the law isn’t clear on whether that clock started Jan. 1, when the board took control of the district, or Jan. 11, when members were sworn in. If it declines to vote, it will be in violation of the law, but it’s not clear what consequences that would have for the district. Both of the city’s major newspapers have called for the process to be slowed.

Read on for more about the candidates, insights into a school board trip to check out Vitti’s schools in Florida, and the rest of the week’s schools news. And be sure to stay tuned to Chalkbeat next week as the board potentially makes the most important decision it’s likely ever to face. Oh, and go Tigers!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat senior Detroit correspondent

Where the candidates stand

It was Coleman’s turn to face a barrage of questions this week during his 12-hour interview for the city’s top school job. With him, he brought supporters from River Rouge — and a confidence that he can fix Detroit schools. “I have never failed at anything I’ve done professionally,” he told a board member who asked why the board should trust a man who runs a much smaller district (that has some lower test scores) than the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Here’s our take on the four reasons why Coleman might get the job — and four why he might not, as well as our list of 10 things to know about Coleman. (Plus: Catch up on 10 things to know about Vitti, five reasons why he might get the job, and three why he might not.)

Another thing to know about Coleman: In the 2013-2014 school year, he approved more than $100,000 in out-of-state travel for this small staff, including an educator whose expenses were clearly not work-related.

After the board met with Coleman on Monday, three members flew down to Florida to get a closer look at Vitti’s district. LaMar Lemmons, one of the members on the trip, said he was impressed by what he saw, which included a live-streamed visit to a school Vitti created for dyslexic kids: “We’re even more impressed than we were yesterday … It has been a great, informative experience,” said Lemmons, who said members plan to visit River Rouge on Monday.

Even as board members aim to meet the 90-day legal deadline, the Detroit News and Free Press are both urging them to ignore it. “The board has already shown complete disregard for the same law, which called for closing the worst performing schools in Detroit,” the News wrote. The Free Press urged the legislature to relax the law and give the newly elected board members “time to find the bathrooms and their governance footing before making such a crucial decision.”

Both papers urged the board to reconsider Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who said this week that she hopes her successor will “follow through” on the progress she’s made rebuilding trust and hope in the district. “What I hear, the common theme is, we are in a better place now than we were a year ago,” Meriweather said. “I think we have the evidence to back that up.”

In other Detroit news

  • Detroit’s main school district got a $451,000 “consolidation grant” from the state to cover expenses related to reabsorbing the Education Achievement Authority schools. That’s about $333,000 less than the district requested. Some of the money will go to pay staff taking on extra work related to the transition.
  • As EAA schools are folded back into the main district, school leaders from both districts showed off their best work during a school showcase this week including arts and craft projects, student-built robots, and music and dance productions.
  • New rules have dramatically slowed the growth of charter schools in Detroit, but the new requirements don’t do much to ensure charter school quality.
  • A bus company transported 3,000 Detroit kids to class for about a month with no valid insurance after it failed to pay its premiums, a discovery that this week left many students stranded without rides to school.

Across the state

  • School superintendents say the statewide substitute teacher shortage is showing no signs of abating.
  • The list of 50 schools with the lowest graduation rates in the state includes many alternative programs that serve overage students who fell behind their peers.
  • State civil rights and education officials sent a letter to schools warning of the “possibility” of federal officials raiding schools in search of undocumented immigrants. “All children, regardless of citizenship and immigration status, have the right to equal access to a free public education,” the letter said.
  • The state is submitting its plan to comply with the new federal education law, called ESSA — after a 30 day review by Gov. Rick Snyder.
  • An advocate with a West Michigan business, education, and government coalition offers this prescription to upgrade Michigan’s outdated educational system.
  • A prominent former Detroit charter school leader who served on Snyder’s  21st-Century Education Commission called the commission’s recent report an “urgent” call to action. “Unless we take dramatic and difficult actions soon to rebuild our public education system, neither our children nor our communities have a hopeful future,” he wrote.
  • The Michigan Network for Equity in Education is hosting a night of comedy and improv on “The Absurdity of Michigan’s Corporate Education Reform Movement.
  • These are the best Michigan districts for music education.

Week In Review

Week in review: A summer reunion, budget news and musical history

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Music teacher Quincy Stewart incorporates math, writing and history in his music classes at Detroit's Central High School.

As the schools in the state-run Education Achievement Authority prepare to return next week to the main Detroit school district, we took a look this week at an EAA teacher who uses music to expose his students to African-American history, playing the music of Africa, of slavery, and of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements.

“These children have been robbed by this system, from the cradle until right now. They’ve been miseducated, undereducated and misused … They walk in here and they don’t even know who they are.”

— Quincy Stewart, music teacher, Central High School

Read on for more on this story and the rest of this week’s education news. For those who are students or educators now enjoying summer break, congrats! You made it! EAA and some charter schools have a week or more to go before breaking for the summer.

Also, if you’re available Saturday, stop by the Blight Bootcamp at Central High School where education topics planned for the community discussion will include sessions on kindergarten readiness and creating literacy. Chalkbeat will be moderating a panel on school closures and ways that officials can protect children and communities when schools close their doors.

Music and power

At a time when many districts are cutting arts programs to make room for more core subjects like math and reading, this music teacher shows that schools don’t have to choose between the arts and core subjects. They can blend them together.

Two boards and a reunion

  • With the state-run recovery district set to dissolve next Friday, the Detroit school board approved a $5 million agreement to transfer some remaining funds to the main Detroit district.
  • The state district, meanwhile, is seeking an advance on its state aid payments to cover some of its final expenses.
  • The Detroit board brainstormed issues that will be a priority in the next six months. The board intends to hold an off-site retreat in July to begin developing a strategic plan.
  • The board plans to meet tonight to consider asking voters in November whether taxpayer money should fund the Detroit Pistons move downtown. A vote is not likely tonight.

Dollars and sense

In Detroit

  • Two major foundations soon plan to release the details of an effort to expand early childhood education and services in Detroit. “We know we need to increase access, create more centers and more seats, and develop highly skilled teachers,” one leader of the effort said. “How do we co-locate more family services in schools so they become more like community hubs?”
  • When the billionaire Amazon.com founder asked for suggestions for charitable donations, he heard from Madonna who suggested several Detroit organizations. Among them: A northwest Detroit charter school and a boxing gym that tutors Detroit kids.
  • As the main district tries to recruit families displaced by charter school closings, it’s hosting an enrollment fair next week.
  • The district is also ramping up its teacher hiring efforts — but so are some of the charter school networks competing for the same candidates.
  • A Detroit program offers parents a small stipend to work in classrooms and support students and their families.
  • Ann Arbor teachers this week donated supplies to Detroit teachers.
  • One of the Detroit principals convicted of taking bribes last year is fighting to stay out of prison.

Across the state

  • The state of Michigan has no idea how many educators are violating the law by running schools without the proper certification, but the number could be in the hundreds.
  • The state law that bars schools from starting classes before Labor Day is facing mounting political pushback.
  • A former British Prime Minister praised U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, telling her at a western Michigan business forum: “Madam Secretary, let me say how much I admire your stance on school choice.”
  • This western Michigan charter school wants more flexibility to serve students who have been suspended.
  • Students in a suburban district have said goodbye to their beloved therapy dog

 

Week In Review

Week in review: A man, a plan, a budget — and a look at private donations to public schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit Pre-K teacher Candace Graham talks to a student on the playground at the Carver STEM Academy. She says her students get "left out a lot" because the school's two other preschool classrooms are in the PNC Grow Up Great program.

We took a look this week at the challenge facing high-poverty districts like Detroit that rely on corporate and philanthropic donations to pick up where the government leaves off. Districts are happy to accept gifts from private donors but that can mean some kids get benefits that others do not. That’s why a west side elementary school has two pre-K classrooms in a popular arts and science enrichment program — and one pre-K that can’t participate.

“We get left out a lot. It’s unfortunate because I feel like all the kids should have the opportunities.”

— Candace Graham, pre-kindergarten teacher, Carver STEM Academy

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s education news. The week included the new superintendent’s first school board meeting and a surprising announcement from the University of Michigan that it will extend free tuition to students whose families make less than $65,000 a year. That’s more than half of state residents.

Also, check out this story by Bridge Magazine, our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner. It highlights a provision in the city teachers contract that could be exacerbating the teacher shortage.

 

A tale of two pre-Ks

All of the pre-K students at Detroit’s Carver STEM Academy are getting a quality education but some kids get to experience a program that shows how much more is possible.

A man, a plan and a budget

Across the state

On DeVos

  • A News columnist says if President Trump and his education secretary Betsy DeVos want to promote school choice, they should stay away from local and state education decisions.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the private western Michigan Christian schools that educated DeVos and her children in search of insight into her policy agenda, as well as a charter school founded by her family.

In other news

Awards and accolades