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.

Early investment

Foundations put $50 million behind effort to improve lives of young Detroit children

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The heads of the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations, Rip Rapson and La June Montgomery announce a $50 million investment to support the new Hope Starts Here framework.

The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Detroit's future

In a city where 60 percent of young children live in poverty, a ten-year plan aims to improve conditions for kids

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat

A coalition of community groups led by two major foundations has a plan to change the fortunes of Detroit’s youngest citizens.

The Hope Starts Here early childhood partnership is a ten-year effort to tackle a list of bleak statistics about young children in Detroit:

  • More than 60% of Detroit’s children 0-5 live in poverty — more than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too early, compared to nine percent nationally;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too small, compared to eight percent nationally;
  • Detroit has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country;
  • Nearly 30,000 of eligible young Detroiters have no access to high-quality early learning or child care options.
  • That translates to learning problems later on, including the 86.5% of Detroit third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Hope Starts Here spells out a plan to change that. While it doesn’t identify specific new funding sources or propose a dramatic restructuring of current programs, the effort led by the Kresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, names six “imperatives” to improving children’s lives.

Among them: Promoting the health, development and wellbeing of Detroit children; supporting their parents and caregivers; increasing the overall quality of early childhood programs and improving coordination between organizations that work with young kids. The framework calls for more funding to support these efforts through the combined investments of governments, philanthropic organizations and corporations.

Read the full framework here: