Week In Review

Week in review: Some Detroit schools are saved. Others get bad news

As parent Britney Love learned that the Woodward Academy would be closing, the school was still advertising enrollment for next year.

When I walked into the parking lot of the Woodward Academy charter school this week, I expected to talk with parents about their efforts to find new schools. I had already spoken with the state education department, the school’s authorizer and a charter school organization about plans to close the school and had no reason to think the closure was a secret. Somehow, though, the school had not yet notified parents. And the ones I met were alarmed.

 

“They told me it wasn’t closing. [The principal] told us that like three weeks ago, me and my kids’ father, we had a meeting with her … [Now] I don’t know what to do because my other school of choice was Starr Academy, and I heard they’re closing too. I may have to change my work schedule and everything now.”

— Britney Love, mother of a Woodward Academy first-grader

 

The episode is just the latest turmoil in a city where education seems to be defined by constant change and persistent threats. The news comes, ironically, the same week that two dozen Detroit schools that had been threatened with closure by the state were officially spared by a new partnership agreement but the closing threat for district schools won’t be gone for long. Students in other Detroit district schools are taking tests this month that could land their schools on next year’s closure list if their scores don’t improve.

Read on for more on these stories, the latest updates on the Detroit new superintendent and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, we’re continuing to feature the stories of Detroiters talking about our schools. If you have a story to share, please let us know.

In Detroit

  • The Woodward Academy is one of at least three Detroit-area charter schools that are expected to close in June. Families just finding out now that they need a new school are already at a disadvantage because deadlines to apply to many of the city’s top-rated schools passed weeks or months ago.
  • The partnership agreement that the Detroit school board officially signed Thursday night with the state education department will keep 24 threatened district schools safe from state closure for at least three years, an attorney representing the district says. The schools, which will have to set ambitious improvement targets, will get help from partners including four major state universities and the Wayne County educational service agency.
  • A teacher got this Detroit woman’s troublemaking brother involved in her classroom — and transformed both siblings’ lives
  • Grosse Pointe schools are considering accepting kids from Detroit and other communities — as long as they’re willing to pay $13,000 a year (and have a decent transcript). The proposal caused one columnist to declare the “end of public education.”
  • A scholarship program makes community college free for all Detroit high school grads, but only a fraction of participants stay in the program long enough to earn a degree. That has led organizers to add a coaching component so students will get both money and support from the program.

The new boss

  • The Detroit school board has gotten the green light to negotiate a contract with Florida superintendent Nikolai Vitti to lead the city schools. Negotiations had been temporarily stalled by a legal challenge from an activist who says the search process broke laws.
  • The board last night voted to hire an an attorney to negotiate the contract. It also named the board’s president to represent the board in negotiations. She said she expects Vitti to sign the contract by late May.
  • “There was no comparison” between Vitti and Derrick Coleman, the other finalist, one board member said during a break in the meeting where Vitti was selected. That’s according to a Free Press reporter who heard a recording of the conversation that surfaced during a hearing to discuss the activist’s motion to block negotiations.
  • In applying for his new job with district, Vitti wrote that he has “directly experienced the challenges of immigration, single motherhood, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, alcoholism and foreclosures” and got his work ethic from delivering the Free Press at 5 a.m. as a child. Read his full application here.
  • Advice for Vitti is piling up. One Free Press columnist urged Vitti to eschew the “reform-of-the-month approach” and “play the long game.” Another penned an open letter to Vitti, reminding him that his new job “is literally changing the lives of our children.”
  • A former city teacher urged people who are disappointed that Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather didn’t get the job to move on. “It’s time for everyone to come together in support of Dr. Vitti,” he wrote.

Across the state

  • The state superintendent objects to “incorrect” reports that he opposes assigning letter grades to schools. In fact, he wrote, “I continue to support an A-F report card for school accountability.”
  • The state’s lieutenant governor — a possible GOP candidate for governor — says the U.S. Department of Education should send back the state’s plan created under the Every Student Succeeds Act because it doesn’t have high enough standards for students with disabilities.
  • Voters in 10 suburban communities will vote Tuesday on tax hikes to fund new buildings, buses and facility improvements.
  • A former state lieutenant governor urged lawmakers not to “dumb” down the state’s graduation requirements.
  • The Detroit News blasted state political and educational leaders for failing to work together to improve education. Too many separate efforts, the paper wrote, have “led to a confusing mix of proposals and benchmarks for schools.”
  • The president of  a Michigan small business association argues that any serious conversation about improving the state’s schools “must begin with a comprehensive look at how we fund” public schools.
  • A Democratic candidate for governor penned an op/ed urging more charter school accountability and arguing that education should not be a partisan issue.
  • U.S. News and World Report is out with its top high school ranking but no Michigan schools were in the top 200. The ranking prompted the state charter school association to crow that charters are among the highest-ranked high schools in the state. In Detroit, Renaissance was top high school, coming it at 67th in the ranking. Cass Tech was at 111th.
  • A retiring state teachers union leader is due to receive a generous pension from the state.
  • A suburban district plans to close a high school after years of enrollment declines.

In other news

  • These Detroit kids wrote a letter to the Pistons — and got a new basketball court outside their school.
  • Nearly 400 works of art from Detroit students are now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
  • A Detroit public school STEM administrator is this week’s Michigan Lottery Excellence in Education award winner.
  • A public-private partnership is addressing a major reason why kids struggle in school by providing them with eyeglasses.
  • A former University of Michigan football player is now the principal of a suburban school.

Extra credit

PHOTO: Doug Coombe/Hope Starts Here
Hundreds of Detroit community members came together on Thursday to celebrate the First Annual Detroit Day of the Young Child. Across the city, parents, caregivers, educators and policymakers attended “listening sessions” to discuss what early childhood could and should look like in Detroit. The gatherings, which focused on issues affecting children including education, nutrition, health, child care and transportation were among more than 60 events that are expected to attract over 600 participants by May 5.

 

 

 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.