Week In Review

Week in review: Can a district with half-empty schools keep them open?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Public school advocates in Detroit are breathing easier now that forced state school closings are off the table,. But school leaders still must address the fact that dozens of city schools are enrolling just a fraction of the students they were built to serve.

Our analysis of district data this week identified more than 40 schools that are more than half empty, some housing vacant classrooms, darkened hallways and entire wings that have been mothballed. The vacancies raise questions about how long the district can keep these buildings open but local leaders are hoping the problem can be addressed without the slash-and-burn school closings of the past.

“I hope that the way any of these conversations proceed will be markedly different from the way things were done in the past … These conversations need to be around making sure that we provide the best possible opportunities for kids.”

—   Alycia Meriweather, interim superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District

Read on for more on this story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, our series on Detroiters telling their school stories this week features a mom who discovered that getting involved in her daughter’s school was the best way to ensure success. If you have a Detroit school story to share — or know someone who does — please let us know. Thanks!


In Detroit

Across the state

  • The Grosse Pointe school board voted unanimously to reject a plan that would have allowed admission for out-of-district students who paid $13,000 tuition a year. Charging tuition is legal, but it isn’t right, a Free Press columnist says. “It reinforces the arbitrary borders that separate cities and school districts, and the social divisions such partitions invite,” she wrote.
  • All nine districts that had schools on the state’s closure list have signed partnership agreements to keep their schools open. Of 38 schools that were targeted for closure in January, just one — a Detroit charter school — is still in danger of closing. The charter school could be closed by its authorizer.
  • Cyber and private schools were winners in the budget plan approved by state lawmakers this week. The plan, which includes a $100 per pupil increase, moved through both houses despite protests from Democrats.
  • In a lawsuit about the use of state dollars to fund private schools, the state argues that it shouldn’t be held to an “extremely literal interpretation” of the constitutional ban on public funding for private schools. A News columnist argued that those “stubborn” restrictions are one reason “students here continue to fall behind their peers in other states.”
  • GOP lawmakers are gearing up for another fight over teacher pensions.
  • The state’s top court ruled that private for-profit schools can qualify for some tax exemptions.
  • The question of when schools should be allowed to start classes in the fall has triggered a fierce political battle, pitting the tourism industry against schools.
  • Here’s how student enrollment has changed in the state’s 50 largest school districts over the last 25 years.
  • A U.S. State Department official paid a visit last week to a suburban charter school that in recent months has absorbed many refugee children from Iraq and Syria.
  • A state appeals court ruled that teachers and other school employees can quit their unions whenever they want, not just during the month of August.
  • Voters in some suburban districts this week approved tax hikes to fund new school buildings and renovations. Others voted no.
  • A News columnist argues that the U.S. News and World Report high school ranking, which put charters at the top of the list in Michigan, is an answer to critics of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who say Michigan charters aren’t delivering results.

In other news

  • A DTE Energy executive explains why the push to prepare kids for 21st century jobs needs to begin in preschool.
  • A Free Press cartoonist wonders what would happen if the U.S. Education Department gave Secretary Betsy DeVos a voucher to pay for her personal security expenses.
  • A suburban school has won a $20,000 “innovators challenge” award to connect students and community members with a nearby tech workshop.
  • A former Detroit school official who was convicted of stealing from the Chicago school district was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. The sentencing came after she received letters of support from Detroit officials including the former emergency manager who hired her to work in the Detroit district.
  • Michigan teams were victorious in an international robotics competition.
  • A Detroit Catholic school held a “signing day” event to celebrate seniors’ college choices. The school says all seniors or going on to college for the seventh year in a row.
  • Here’s how one Detroit private school celebrated May Day.


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.