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.