Longer list

Dozens more Detroit schools added to state’s partnership list for low test scores — but forced closure is not a threat for now

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than two dozen struggling Detroit schools will likely be added to the state’s “partnership” program after posting years of rock-bottom test scores.

That will bring to 50 the number of Detroit schools in the program, which requires schools to meet certain improvement targets or face consequences.

Those consequences could include closure or a staff shake-up but, for now at least, decisions about the schools’ fates will rest with local school boards. State officials say they currently have no plans to force schools to close.

That’s a big change from earlier this year when 38 schools across Michigan were told they were in danger of being shuttered after landing in the bottom 5 percent of state rankings for three years in a row.

Plans to close those schools were abandoned in the face of intense political opposition. Instead, the 37 schools that remained open (the one charter school on the list was closed by its authorizer) entered into “partnership agreements” with the state that require them to improve. (Read Detroit’s here).

On Monday, the state released a list of schools to be added to the partnership program. The state will now enter into negotiations with seven districts that don’t already have agreements. Among them are two Detroit charter schools — the David Ellis Academy and the Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies Elementary.

Detroit’s main district, which already had 24 schools in the program, had another 24 schools added to the list. In addition, the district was invited to include nine schools that state says are trending in the wrong direction. With those nine schools, almost half of the 106 schools in the main district could be in the program.

“These will be positive, yet pressing, conversations with the leaders of these districts to get their struggling schools back on track,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston said in a statement. “We want to provide as many local and state-level partners as possible to help students in these schools be successful.”

The state’s press release has more details and the full list of Michigan schools that have been added to the program — as well as schools that have been removed from watch lists after showing improvement.

Here’s the list of Detroit schools that are now in the program:

Newly added:

David Ellis Academy (charter)

Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies-Elementary (charter)

Blackwell Institute

Brewer Elementary-Middle School

Carstens Elementary-Middle School

Central High School

Cody Academy of Public Leadership

Detroit International Academy for Young Women

Dixon Elementary

Dossin Elementary-Middle School

Earhart Elementary-Middle School

East English Village Prep Academy

Duke Ellington at Beckham

Emerson Elementary-Middle Schools

Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School

King High School

John R. King Academy and Performing Arts Academy

Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School

Mann Elementary

Marshall Elementary

Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy

Nobel Elementary-Middle School

Palmer Park Prep Academy

Pulaski Elementary-Middle School

Schulze Elementary-Middle School

Wayne Elementary

 

Schools that have the option to join the program:  

Academy of the Americas (Optional)

Bagley Elementary (Optional)

Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts (Optional)

Carver Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

Edison Elementary (Optional)

Ludington Magnet Middle School (Optional)

Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody (Optional)

Nichols Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

Spain Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

 

Already in the program:

Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School

Bow Elementary-Middle School

Clark, J.E. Preparatory Academy

Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School @ Northwestern

Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

Durfee Elementary-Middle School

Fisher Magnet Upper Academy

Gompers Elementary-Middle School

Henderson Academy

Marquette Elementary-Middle School

Mason Elementary School

Osborn Academy of Mathematics

Osborn College Preparatory Academy

Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy

Sampson Academy

Thirkell Elementary School

Burns Elementary-Middle School

Denby High School

Ford High School

Law Elementary School

Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School

Mumford High School

Pershing High School

Southeastern High School

Young Voice

A Detroit high schooler is among 13 young adults steering two national student protests against gun violence

Detroiter Alondra Alvarez is standing up for gun control

Among the 13 teens and young adults spearheading two nationwide student protests against gun violence is a Detroit high schooler who says guns have created fear in her neighborhood.

Alondra Alvarez, a senior at Detroit’s Western International High School, is on the steering committee for two student walkouts being planned in response to last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The March 14 Women’s March Youth EMPOWER Walkout will last 17 minutes to symbolize the 17 lives cut short in that shooting, while a full-day walkout on April 20 will commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Alvarez, who says she once considered herself a “shy Latina girl,” has become a fierce warrior for young people in Detroit and beyond. She spoke at the Women’s Convention in Detroit last October and has since stayed involved in the youth initiative of the Women’s March, launched last year to resist the Trump administration.

Chalkbeat talked to Alvarez about how gun violence affects her and her city, what sets her apart from the other organizers, and the message she wants to relay.

What’s it like to be selected to be a youth leader representing Detroit for the walkout?

I feel really honored. Of the Women’s March Youth, I’m the only Latina and the only person representing Detroit. A lot of times youth in Detroit are not really represented. I feel if I represent my community, then that will help other people want to get involved. I’m a person of color, and we share similar experiences. We know how gun violence influences our community, and we know it affects us. Since I’m involved, that will make other people who look like me want to get involved.

How do you believe gun violence affects Detroit?

It makes it really unsafe. I know every night, gunshots are fired around my neighborhood. It made me fear my neighborhood growing up, and I wouldn’t go out late at night. It shouldn’t be like that. We should be able to walk around our neighborhood at night or anytime and not have that fear.

The walkout will be held one month after the Parkland school shooting, a place where many people assumed such an incident could never happen. How do you feel Detroit is different than a city like Parkland?

Detroit is different because most of us are aware random shootings can happen. We are aware of our surroundings, so we check all students to make sure something like that doesn’t go down. At school, we all get checked because there are metal detectors. So there are less chances of something like that happening. I don’t want to say something like that couldn’t happen, but metal detectors lower the chances of somebody shooting up the school. It makes us feel safer.  

How does it make you feel to be a youth leader and a voice against gun violence?

It actually makes me feel really good. I don’t do it for myself. I do it for the youth in my community. It’s a really good feeling. I do it for the youth in my community because there’s a lack of resources that I’ve seen. The system is not meant for people of color, and it’s made me go out of my way to be a role model for people, to be involved with higher education and seek change. I want to help youth know that even though the system is not for you, you can overcome that and be whatever you want to be in life.

What message do you plan to relay during the walkout?

I came up with a quote this week, and it’s called “Another Bullet, Another Life.” We can’t control bullets, but we can fight for gun control because the gun violence is getting out of hand. All these school shootings are happening, and with gun control we can avoid some of these issues.

How did the news of the Parkland, Florida, shooting personally affect you?

It was really devastating. It was Valentine’s Day, the day people like to show affection. I can’t imagine losing a brother, sister or son or someone close to me on that day… Knowing it was the 18th school shooting this year — that’s just crazy, and we’re not doing anything to control it. It really breaks my heart.

Making Montssori

A popular new Montessori program in Detroit’s main district may expand into its own separate schools

PHOTO: Nick Hagen

Detroit’s main district is considering expanding its popular Montessori program, including possibly creating free-standing Montessori schools designed to draw students from around the city.

The possible changes could represent a major shift for the two-year-old program, which now operates in 14 classrooms in six schools.

Montessori parents have been on high alert in recent weeks. Told that changes are coming to the program, they’ve been worried that new Montessori schools would mean an end to existing programs.

“My son keeps asking ‘where am I going to school next year?’” parent Maria Koliantz told Chalkbeat last week.

Koliantz, who has two children in the Montessori program at Maybury Elementary School in Southwest Detroit, said a sense of brewing change has been affecting parents and teachers.

“I just keep trying to assure him,” she said of her son. “But … I hate that the uncertainty has affected him.”

But Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says there are no plans to move existing programs. Questioned by Koliantz at a school board community meeting Tuesday night, Vitti assured her the district would only add new programs, not close existing ones.

“We have no intention of discontinuing that program,” he said. “It’s a vehicle to recruit parents to the school system. I don’t think you’re going to see anything but expansion.”

Since his arrival in Detroit last spring, Vitti has talked about the need to give every school in the district a distinct identity, with some schools focusing on math and technology and others perhaps developing a focus on creative writing.

Vitti revealed Tuesday morning that the district is considering eventually creating three arts schools for children who’ve been identified as gifted or talented.

New Montessori schools are also on the table, he said. “The new schools will be announced by the end of March as we work towards ensuring that every school has a identifiable and distinct program to improve performance and enrollment.”

Freestanding Montessori schools could represent a new chapter for a program that was launched in Detroit two years ago as a hybrid system, with Montessori classrooms operating next to traditional classrooms in a handful schools.  

The program, which allows children to learn at their own pace in mixed-age classrooms, started in 2016 with classrooms serving pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, as well as some students in grades 1-3 at Spain, Maybury and Edison elementary schools. The program more than doubled in size in 2017, adding classrooms in the first three schools and expanding into three more — Chrysler, Palmer Park and Vernor elementary schools.

But while the current structure at the six schools has been popular with some parents, it has also created some difficulties.

The Montessori program is run by a director, Nicola Turner, who hires teachers for the program, oversees their training, and supports them as they implement the Montessori curriculum. But those teachers also work for their school principals — a dynamic that can create complications.

In some schools, there has been tension between parents and teachers affiliated with the Montessori program and those connected to traditional classrooms. Since the Montessori programs tend to have more teachers and fewer students than traditional classrooms, that’s raised issues of fairness and equity.

The current setup has also created challenges aligning the Montessori curriculum with the structure and schedules of a traditional school. In an ideal Montessori classroom, for example, students would have an uninterrupted three-hour block to work on their core lessons, but that isn’t always possible in a school where many factors determine when students can have lunch, go to recess or take art and music classes.

Freestanding Montessori schools could avoid some of those problems — and potentially offer some advantages.

“We could do after-school programs that were Montessori-specific,” said Yolanda King, who has a son in the program at Spain Elementary and a younger child she hopes to enroll next year. Special classes like art, music and gym “could be more aligned to Montessori” in a freestanding school, she said, suggesting “yoga programs and whole food programs.”

Turner, the Montessori program director, declined to comment about the possible changes but an email she sent to parents this month indicates they were fairly divided about the prospect of freestanding schools.

Nearly half — 48 percent — said they preferred keeping Montessori classrooms in their current schools while 37 percent liked the idea of a Montessori school. About 15 percent did not indicate a preference.

Dan Yowell is among parents who’ve raised concerns that freestanding schools might feel removed from the rest of the district.

“We liked the fact that [Montessori] is accessible to people all over the city,” said Yowell, whose son is in the program at Spain.

A freestanding Montessori school “has a feeling that it’s more exclusive,” Yowell said. “I don’t want it to be perceived as something that only certain people can access.”  

Spain, in Detroit’s midtown neighborhood, is one of two schools with Montessori classrooms that has enough space to dramatically expand the program. The other one is the Palmer Park Academy, which is in northwest Detroit.