Week In Review

Week in review: Open Meetings Act violation postpones superintendent discussion

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
Teams with Detroit Public Schools Community District students will be going for the first time to the Destination Imagination Global Competition next month. The problem-solving competition draws more than 17,000 participants from 20 countries. Among the winners is a team from Detroit’s Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy.

A crucial discussion about who should lead Detroit’s main school district won’t happen until at least next week after a superintendent search update was postponed last night due to problems with the way the meeting was advertised.

The Detroit school board now plans to discuss (and possibly vote on) the two finalists — Florida superintendent Nikolai Vitti and River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman — at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night. Thursday’s meeting was cancelled after an activist who scrutinizes city practices filed an emergency court motion to prevent the board from violating the state Open Meetings Act.

 

“The irony was that there was going to be no action taken today. It was just going to be open deliberation.”

— LaMar Lemmons, Detroit school board member

 

The board had announced the meeting on social media and in a press release but the notice was not clearly visible on the district’s website yesterday. Read on for more about the superintendent search and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, check out our new series featuring parents, students and educators talking about Detroit schools. This week’s inaugural story featured a teacher explaining the tragic reason why her students sometimes don’t come to class. Do you have a story to tell or know someone who does? Please let us know.

The search

The Detroit school board this week defended its superintendent search process from an onslaught of criticism. “We ask and request that we are allowed to do this process that was agreed upon by this board back in January,” the head of the board’s search committee said.

Critics are steamed by what some call an “unfair” decision to exclude interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who applied for the position but was not named a finalist when the board decided only to consider candidates with three or more years of superintendent experience. Meriweather had gotten broad support from teachers, parents, and community leaders, including business titan Dan Gilbert and a parent advocate who blogged this week that “the majority of Detroiters agree that we don’t want to start over from scratch.”

The two remaining finalists revealed in video interviews and in their 90- and 100-day plans for what they’ll do if they get the job that they are men with a lot in common and big ambitions for the district.

The Detroit News says it believes Coleman is the board’s preferred candidate, but the paper urged the board to pick Vitti instead, arguing that “the fact that Vitti has run a large school district gives him experience with complicated budgets, which he’d be overseeing in Detroit.”

Vitti has expressed enthusiasm for the job but assured a Florida news station that he’ll be keeping his eye on his current job until he gets a new one. “Right now, my focus is on Duval County Public Schools,” Vitti told a reporter in Jacksonville. “We still have lots of work to do here and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”

 

In other Detroit schools news

    • This Detroit teacher reveals the tragic reason why her students don’t always come to class.
    • Three charter schools that are currently part of the Education Achievement Authority now face an uncertain future.
    • Enrollment in Detroit’s main school district is at a historic low.
    • Hundreds of Detroit parents have turned in letters opting their children out of this year’s M-STEP exam to protest school closings and other high-stakes consequences for test scores. Schools could face sanctions if more than 5 percent of their students opt out. A Free Press columnist urges Lansing to pay attention to what protesting parents are saying.  
    • A partnership between Detroit’s main school district and the University of Detroit Mercy aims to attract more teachers, especially African-American men.
    • A new novel is inspired by a writer’s time teaching poetry to kids in Detroit schools.
    • Two Detroit high school orchestras that will compete against each other in a national competition at Carnegie Hall this month are led by a married couple — he teaches at Renaissance High School; she at Detroit School of Arts.
    • This Detroit private school makes a point of teaching cursive.

 

Across the state

    • Michigan is revising its rules to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, but doesn’t plan to publicly share its final plan before sending it to the federal government for approval. The state superintendent makes his case for why the state’s plan “is the proper course and the best direction for education in Michigan” but a schools advocate knocks the department for choosing “expediency over transparency” with its ESSA plan.
    • The state education department is looking for tools that schools and districts can use to identify children who are in danger of being held back under the state’s tougher new third grade reading requirements.
    • A Free Press columnist slams a House bill that would allow schools to replace foreign language instruction with computer coding classes. “It should not be either/or,” she writes. But a western Michigan lawmaker who helped craft the legislation says her bill “would give students better choices.”
    • The state’s top court heard arguments this week on whether courts have any say over private school admissions. The case centers around a girl whose parents say she was turned away a Catholic school because of a learning disability.
    • A Democratic candidate for governor says, if elected, she would crack down on charter school authorizers who fail to close poor-performing charter schools.
    • The parents of a middle-schooler with autism are suing their local district after their son told them he was sexually abused by a classmate.

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