Week In Review

Week in review: When ‘winging it’ isn’t in the best interest of children

PHOTO: Courtesy of VICE on HBO
Correspondent Gianna Toboni interviews parent advocate Aliya Moore and her daughter outside a shuttered Detroit school.

Two of our stories this week looked at a southwest Detroit charter school that’s now looking for its fifth principal in five years. The school’s path from a promising beginning to a looming closure shows the profound challenges that make creating successful schools in Detroit so difficult. The most recent principal to leave says founders had good intentions, but not enough resources, knowledge, or skill to build the kind of school parents wanted for their children.

“There wasn’t much infrastructure. There was no institutional knowledge. There weren’t clear curriculum resources … It was a lot of winging it.”

— Frank Donner, former principal, Southwest Detroit Community School

Also this week, we wrote about a combative interview with the husband of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the impact of charter schools in Michigan.

We broke the news that rapper Big Sean is partnering with the district to help recruit students. We noted that students in six Detroit schools are now using bottled water after elevated lead or copper levels were discovered in their drinking supply. And we featured an ex-cop-turned-teacher who left the main district last fall because of stressful conditions, but now says she’s encouraged enough by changes she’s seen to consider coming back.

There’s a ton of stories in this newsletter, which is part of why this will be our last Week in Review. Starting next week, we will send shorter, more frequent newsletters to help keep you on top of what’s happening in Detroit schools. You’ll be getting the newsletter — which will now be called Rise & Shine — three days a week this summer with the possibility of more days in the fall. This is a bittersweet ending for me as the author of almost all of the 140 or so Week In Reviews we’ve sent out since we started Chalkbeat Detroit as a pilot project back in March of 2016. I’ll miss these weekly summaries but am looking forward to our next phase. Thanks for reading!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

The nature of competition

  • The Southwest Detroit Community School started as one of the city’s first charter schools supported by a national operator, but things did not go as planned.
  • The most recent principal said the school made a concerted effort to be a part of its community — but so did other schools that were flooding the neighborhood. “You’ll have a school that opens up on a corner without telling anybody,” one community advocate said. “And then they’re siphoning kids from another school, and then nobody wins.”
  • In a contentious interview with HBO’s VICE documentary series, Betsy DeVos’ husband Dick DeVos says charter schools have helped traditional districts step up their game. “The nature of competition in education is that potentially everybody wins,” he said.

In the district

  • It’s not clear what Big Sean will do to help promote the main district but he’s not the first celebrity the district has tapped to try to lure students.
  • The discovery of elevated lead or copper levels in six Detroit schools is yet another ramification of poor building maintenance during years of budget challenges. The district is now testing all of its schools — something new state legislation would require every Michigan school to do.
  • This teacher who left the district last fall says she decided to come back because “they are changing the district and giving teachers more support.”
  • The valedictorians of each district high school will get free bikes.
  • A Free Press columnist says Mayor Mike Duggan “didn’t reject” her suggestion that Detroit require companies that want tax breaks to sponsor a school.
  • A Detroit News columnist says Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s comments about the role of racism in creating a crisis in Detroit schools “represented a maverick moment” as the superintendent enters his second year in the job. The columnist even compared Vitti to the pope.
  • The winner of this year’s regional science fair is a student in foster care who has an extraordinary story of relying on her Detroit high school for support while bouncing between shelters and relatives.

 Across the state

  • Michigan has 57 high schools where fewer than 5 percent of students graduating this month were considered “college ready” when they took the SAT last year.
  • A gubernatorial candidate’s claim that Michigan third-graders are “last” in reading isn’t quite true.
  • Special preschools in Flint are making strides with children who have developmental delays related to the city’s water crisis, but ongoing funding for the expensive program is in doubt.
  • The state Senate has approved school safety legislation as Gov. Rick Snyder appoints the first members of a school safety task force.
  • A Detroit News columnist urged business leaders planning a major push to improve education in the state not to include too many partners. The more inclusive the coalition,” she writes, “the less that’s likely to get accomplished.”
  • Advocacy groups opposed to the state’s ongoing legal fight over using public dollars in private schools plan to march near Gov. Snyder’s home in Ann Arbor this weekend.  
  • Three Democratic state lawmakers explain why they’ve introduced legislation requiring schools to have libraries. They note that every prison in Michigan must have a library, but the same isn’t true for schools.
  • A conservative news site picked apart a recent story about a teacher who said he quit his beloved teaching job because he could make more as a manager at Chick-fil-A.
  • Teachers across the state have been wearing red once a week to call for more school funding.

In other news

  • Students at one Detroit high school created a “unity mural” to reflect the school’s diversity.
  • The auditorium at this Detroit high school will be renamed for a celebrity sports journalist alum who will be this year’s graduation speaker.
  • A Detroit charter school is trying a new approach to improve students’ reading skills.
  • A former special assistant to a district emergency manager is a finalist for a superintendent job in Mississippi.
  • A suburban schools superintendent reflects on instruction, diversity, and other topics he considers highlights of his long career.