Team up

Many Detroit school leaders have never worked in a high-performing school. This program aims to show them how it’s done

When a school is struggling, parents, community leaders and politicians often want a dramatic response — the principal fired, the teachers replaced.

But a Detroit nonprofit is pushing an alternative solution: a new effort to train school leaders — and to train them together as a team.

“We think teams have more influence than a single individual,” said Jack Elsey, who heads the Detroit Children’s Fund, which is backing the effort. “There are programs that train principals. There are programs that train assistant principals. There are programs that train master teachers. But we think there’s a value in everyone going through the same experience so they speak the same language and have the same high bar for excellence.”

The training is part of the fund’s stated goal of creating 25,000 “high-quality” school seats in Detroit by 2025. That would represent a major improvement in Detroit where the vast majority of the city’s 100,000 children attend schools that are persistently at the bottom of the state’s annual rankings. Elsey estimated that just 6,000 Detroit children are in schools that the fund considers “high quality.”

To change that, he said, the fund, which has so far raised nearly $16 million from private donors and corporations, plans to invest in the city’s strongest district and charter schools. It plans to recruit high-performing schools from elsewhere to open campuses in Detroit.

And, Elsey said, the fund plans to invest heavily in training Detroit educators to step up their game.

Today, he said, so many Detroit schools are struggling that many local educators have never worked in a high-performing school.

“We just have far too many people here who have never been developed to understand what a national-level high bar looks like,” Elsey said.

The Children’s Fund was created in 2009 by the Skillman Foundation (a Chalkbeat funder) but recently became an independent organization with its own board. Elsey, who had been a top official at the Education Achievement Authority, Michigan’s now-dissolved recovery district, took over the fund last summer; it held its inaugural fundraising dinner this month.

The new $1.3 million Team Fellows program, which the fund announced to schools on Thursday, will work with three schools a year over the next three years. The schools — which could be district or charter schools — will be selected through an application process.

School leaders selected for the program — likely the principal and the assistant principals or deans who work closely with the principal — will get frequent visits from school leadership coaches and will travel to other states to visit high-performing schools.

Elsey said he hopes that training school officials together will not only improve schools but will also reduce staff turnover since educators who train together might be more inclined to stay together.

If a school’s leadership teams stabilize, he said, that could help minimize teacher turnover, which is a serious problem in Detroit.

The fund is also working on a program that would train teams of educators to take over school buildings that do need a leadership change. That program, called the Leaders Institute, will start its training program next year.

Detroit's future

Despite top scores in quality standards, Michigan’s early education programs neglect English language learners

PHOTO: Jamie Cotten, Special to The Denver Post
Josiah Berg, 4, paints a picture at Mile High Montessori, one of more than 250 Denver preschools that are part of the Denver Preschool Program.

Michigan’s 4-year-olds receive some of the highest quality education and care available in the country — that is, if your child can speak English.

Michigan was one of only three states to meet all 10 quality benchmarks designed by a national advocacy organization that released its annual State of Preschool Report this week. However, the state met only one out of 10 benchmarks for English language learners.

Four-year-olds enrolled in privately funded programs are not included in this data.

Enrollment and state spending per pupil stayed largely constant from the same report last year. About 30 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled — some 38,371 children — while state spending was steady at $6,356 per pupil.

Compared to the rest of the country, Michigan ranks 16th out of 43 states and Washington, D.C., in enrollment for 4-year-olds and allocates about $1,000 more dollars on per pupil spending than the average state.

These findings come from the State of Preschool 2017 report published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, at Rutgers University.

Three states — Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island — met all 10 of the institute’s benchmarks for minimum state preschool quality standards. Benchmarks included things like student-to-teacher ratios, teacher training, and quality of curriculum.

But the only benchmark the state met for English learners is permitting bilingual instruction in the state-funded preschool program. Michigan did not meet benchmarks for assessing children in their home language, allocating more money for English learners, or making sure staff are trained in working with students learning English.

Authors of the new report say supporting English learners is important, especially early in life.

“For all children, the preschool years are a critical time for language development.” said Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the institute. “We know that dual-language learners are a group that makes the largest gains from attending high-quality preschool. At the same time, they’re at elevated risk for school failure.”

About a quarter of early education students nationwide are English learners. Michigan does not collect data on the number of early education students who are English learners, so it’s unclear how many students the low quality of instruction impacts.

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Ann Schimke contributed to this report.


What's in a name?

Detroit has schools named for a slaveholder, a convicted former politician, and a Trump cabinet member. Here’s how that might change.

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
Dr. Benjamin Carson, now U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, on a visit to the Detroit high school that was named for him.

Despite the passion fueling the debate over renaming schools like the Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine, members of the Detroit district school board proposed a deliberate, and slow, approach to changing any school names.

Just charting the path toward stripping names from district schools won’t begin until the second week of June at the earliest, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a special meeting Tuesday.

Last year board member LaMar Lemmons recommended removing the names of living people from district schools.

“Quite frankly, it is a political thing,” said Lemmons, a former Democratic state representative, of his proposal to rename the the Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine. “We named a school after an individual who is in the Trump administration.”

Carson, a Republican and neurosurgeon, is secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The district has identified a multistep process for renaming schools. First, at least one of six criteria must be met: the building must be newly built, the school would have been recently consolidated, the name no longer reflects the student population, the community where the school is located wants the name to reflect their culture and history, new negative information about the school’s namesake becomes known, or there is a change in district leadership.

The Carson high school could be eligible for renaming next fall when it will likely be consolidated with another school that has been operating separately in the same building. Vitti has recommended merging Carson with the Crockett Career and Technical Center.

Next, a recommendation to change a school’s name will have to come from at least 50 percent of the student body, a group of community members, the superintendent or board members.

Then the school board would vote whether to conduct a community survey. The results would be presented to the board, which would vote on changing a school’s name.

One of the city’s most popular schools, Cass Technical High School, is another school named after someone who no longer represents the values of the district, said Lemmons.

“Lewis Cass was a slaveholder,” Lemmons said. “But I would never recommend changing the name of Cass.” Cass Tech, an elite school that has long drawn some of the best and brightest students in the city, is beloved by the community.

Instead, Lemmons would like a plaque to be placed on the school “disavowing historic white supremacy.”

Bates Academy, named after former Councilman Alonzo Bates, who was found guilty in 2006 of fraud and theft from the city of Detroit, is another school name that may be reviewed, said Lemmons.