Detroit's future

A foundation, a district, and a university unite in Detroit to build one of the nation’s first ‘cradle to career’ schools

PHOTO: Ryan Southen, courtesy The Kresge Foundation
The former Bates Academy building on the campus of Marygrove College will be home to an innovative new "cradle to career" program.

The long-term vision for a new “cradle to career” school in Detroit is sweeping and ambitious.

When it’s up and running, the school coming to the campus of Marygrove College in northwest Detroit will be one of the first in the nation to serve everyone from babies to graduate students, simultaneously educating children, giving high school students the opportunity to earn college credits, and training teachers in an innovative new way.

The still-unnamed school, which was formally announced Thursday in a press conference at Marygrove College, is a joint effort between the University of Michigan, the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Kresge Foundation.

It will be a very different kind of school — made possible with a $50 million investment from Kresge that the foundation says is the largest philanthropic investment ever made in a single Detroit neighborhood.

“I’m really excited about this on so many different levels,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. “We’ve had examples of partnerships over the past year but this is probably one of the most defining partnerships we’ve had.”

The school is major coup for the district, which gets a chance to demonstrate its ability to launch cutting-edge new schools even as it works to stabilize a long-troubled school system. It’s also significant for Michigan, which is trying to reinvent teacher training in the United States, and marks an important moment for Kresge as the institution leads the way in both early childhood education and supporting the neighborhood near Marygrove. (Kresge is also a Chalkbeat funder).

Many of the details of the new school are still being worked out but plans are for the high school to open first, welcoming its first class of 50 to 100 ninth graders next fall. An early childhood center and the kindergarten will open in 2020, and new grades will be added each year until the school has approximately 1,000 students in the preschool and K-12 grades in 2029.

The school is the result of multiple initiatives, all coming together at once.  

One initiative came from the University of Michigan’s school of education, where Dean Elizabeth Moje has been trying to change the way teachers are trained.

Instead of having teachers do a few months of student teaching before being handed the keys to their own classrooms, Moje wanted to find a way to continue supporting new teachers through their first years in the classroom. She designed a new kind of school, modeled on the way teaching hospitals train doctors, where future educators would do internships and student teaching while in college or graduate school, then stay on for three more years as teaching “residents.” Residents would be full-time employees of the teaching school, paid like any other first-, second- or third-year teacher in the district, but they would continue to receive guidance from veteran “attending” teachers.

Moje’s vision called for faculty from across the university to get involved in the school in various ways, including people from the business and engineering schools, as well as its schools of social work and dentistry.

Moje took her idea to Vitti, who had arrived in Detroit last year making bold promises about transforming the district. Early in his administration, Vitti talked of giving every school in the district a distinct identity that could help attract new students.

The two agreed to partner on a new K-12 school. The district will operate the school, host student teachers from the university, then hire them for at least three years after they graduate. The university will run the residency program in the school. Though the district will make final hiring decisions, it will work with the university to recruit and hire teachers, making sure veteran educators are qualified to coach less experienced colleagues.

The district and the university will collaborate on developing a new engineering, urban planning, and business-oriented curriculum for the high school that will have a social change focus.

“It’s not just engineering with a math, science, tech lens,” Vitti said. “It’s about having a skill set to give back to Detroit as an engineer. … It’s thinking about what does this mean in the context of improving my community in a sustainable, long-term way?”

That high school will include a dual-enrollment program that will enable students to take college courses, possibly offered on campus by the University of Michigan or another college or university.

“We’re exploring connections with two- and four-year institutions,” Moje said. “The plan is to be able to get the kids to a place where by their junior and senior year, they’re taking college courses.”

Dual enrollment and early college programs that let high school students earn college credits are common in high schools across the country, but are currently only offered in a handful of Detroit schools.

The third crucial force behind the new school is the Kresge Foundation, which has been heavily involved with Marygrove College since 2016, when leaders at the storied college first contacted the foundation for help weathering a financial crisis.

Wendy Lewis Jackson, who is the managing director for Kresge’s Detroit program, said the foundation had been supporting the college’s efforts to reinvent itself as an educational anchor in the neighborhood even before the unexpected announcement last summer that the college would abruptly shutter its undergraduate programs while continuing to offer graduate programs. That announcement shocked and angered Margrove students and the surrounding community. It also left some buildings on the campus vacant.

By November, Kresge, the district, and the university were engaged in serious negotiations about creating the new school, Jackson said. It will occupy the building on Marygrove’s campus that was the original home of the Bates Academy, a selective district elementary school that’s now in a different location.

Kresge has also been focused in recent years on early childhood education. The foundation partnered last year with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (also a Chalkbeat funder) on the Hope Starts Here initiative, a 10-year effort to improve the lives of young children in Detroit.

It seemed natural that the new program at Marygrove would include an early childhood center that would address many of the needs identified by Hope Starts Here effort including programs that support children’s physical and emotional health.

The center will serve babies, toddlers — even expectant mothers, Jackson said.

“It’s a comprehensive approach to early childhood that focuses on prenatal to age five and that will include comprehensive wraparound services focused on health and human services,” Jackson said. “How do you support the whole child and the family during these crucial years?”

The new early childhood center is one of three early childhood “hubs” that Kresge plans to build across Detroit in coming years. The hubs will not only serve young children in their communities, they will also aim to be resource to other preschools and programs in the neighborhoods, providing services such as a teacher training.

Kresge had already committed $25 million to building the three preschools as part of its commitment to Hope Starts Here.

The $50 million Kresge announced Thursday morning will go toward renovating buildings for the school and the early childhood center as well as operational support for the Marygrove Conservancy, the nonprofit agency that now owns the buildings on Marygrove’s 53-acre campus, Jackson said.

The early childhood center will be run by the nonprofit Starfish Family Services. It will have a mix of Head Start seats for children whose family incomes or circumstances qualify them for the free federal preschool program, as well as private seats that families with more means will pay for.

As children get older, graduates of the early childhood center will be largely guaranteed a place in the school’s kindergarten and upper grades.

“The idea is that it will be a seamless opportunity for children that starts in the early childhood center and moves into K-12 and beyond,” Jackson said. “The partners are all committed to making sure there are enough spaces available for students and families that live in the Marygrove community to be able access these educational options.”

Admissions to the high school will be competitive in the early years, with students being selected using a process similar to the one the district is now using to decide admissions to selective schools like Cass Technical High School.

But as the school grows, the high school will ultimately be filled mostly with students advancing from lower grades who will be chosen using a lottery system that will favor students who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. Plans call for 80 percent of kindergarten seats to be set aside for neighborhood children.

Some other details are still falling into place including the role that different University of Michigan departments will play.

Departments that could be involved include the schools of social work, nursing, dentistry, engineering, business, information, pharmacy, and architecture.

The business school has talked about offering courses like financial literacy to students or possibly working with students and the nearby community to help launch small businesses. The engineering school is exploring a number of possibilities, said Alec Gallimore, dean of the university’s engineering department.

“For us it could be anything from rocketry to video games,” he said. “This might be a really nice vehicle for some interesting collaborations.”

The School of Social Work not only plans to train some of its students to become school social workers in the new teaching school, but social work dean Lynn Videka said she is also hoping to raise private funds to pay for a social work residency program.

A residency would enable some graduates of her program to stay on for a year or two after earning their Masters in Social Work while they work toward fulfilling the requirements they need to become fully licensed social workers.

She sees this school as the perfect place to train professionals who will be coming through a new joint program on treating children who’ve experienced trauma that is now being created by the schools of social work, nursing and education.

“It’s a perfect setting in which to innovate with social work residents,” Videka said.



In ‘speed dating’ exercise, Detroiters grill school board candidates about third-grade reading, charter schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Corletta Vaughn, a candidate for Detroit school board, speaks to Detroiters at a forum Thursday evening as Nita Redmond (center) looks on. Vaughn says the district should be open to collaboration with charter schools and suburban districts.

On its face, the public forum Thursday night was about candidates for Detroit school board. In fact, the night belonged to the citizens.

Early in the evening, a tableful of Detroiters — most of them graduates of Detroit public schools, all of them concerned about the future of Michigan’s largest school district — set about deciding what they wanted to ask the candidates during a series of Q&A sessions that CitizenDetroit, which co-sponsored the forum with Chalkbeat, called “speed-dating.”

Shirley Corley, a first-grade reading teacher who retired from the city’s main district, honed in on the state’s “read-or-flunk” law, which could force schools in Detroit to hold back many of their third graders next year if they can’t pass a state reading exam.

“I heard that one on the TV, and I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said.

As a gong sounded, she hurried to shape her outrage into a question: “What are your plans about holding back third-grade readers, and why aren’t they reading better?”

Then Terrell George, one of the candidates for two openings on the school board, sat down across the table. She asked her question.

All across a packed union hall in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood, similar scenes were playing out. Candidates rotated between tables, where they sat face-to-face with roughly 10 Detroit residents armed with prepared questions and many lifetimes-worth of combined experience with the city’s main school district. Every five minutes, someone hit a gong, and candidates got another chance to lay out their vision for the troubled district and impress the voters who will decide their future at the polls in November.

It is Detroit’s first school board election since the board regained control of Michigan’s largest district, which was run for nearly a decade by state-appointed emergency managers. And it marks a crucial milestone in the district turnaround effort led by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, whose reforms have so far enjoyed the board’s support.

(Six of the nine candidates attended the event. Deborah Lemmons and M. Murray [the full name listed on the ballot] didn’t respond to an invitation, according to CitizenDetroit. Britney Sharp said she had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend.)

From Natalya Henderson, a 2016 graduate of Cass Technical High School, to Reverend David Murray (his legal name), a retired social worker and minister who previously served a long, sometimes controversial stint on the school board, a broad field of candidates are vying to help steer a district through a historic turnaround effort. The winners will help decide what to do about the $500 million cost for urgent school renovations and test scores that are persistently among the worst in the nation.

(Click here to watch the candidates introduce themselves in two-minute videos, and here for short bios.)

candidate statements
PHOTO: Koby Levin
Deborah Hunter-Harvill, the lone incumbent running for school board, makes an opening statement. Candidates made one-minute opening statements, then rotated through a roomful of 130 people answering questions about their plans for the district. From left: Corletta Vaughn, Shannon Smith, Natalya Henderson, Hunter-Harvill.

The low scores are the reason the state’s third-grade reading law, which calls for students reading below grade level to be held back, will disproportionately affect Detroit. But at Table 1, Corley gleaned some hope from George’s answer to her question about the law. He said more attention should be paid to early literacy instruction: “We must start from the beginning in preschool and kindergarten.”

Corley shook her finger in approval: “That’s right.”

On the other side of the table, Viola Goolsby wanted to know how George would respond if the state attempted to close the district’s lowest-performing schools.

“I would be opposed to any school shutting down any school in any district…” George began.

Then the gong sounded. “That was quick,” George said, standing up.

The table had a five-minute break — with roughly 130 people in the room, there were more tables than the six candidates who attended — and then another candidate, Corletta Vaughn, slid into the seat reserved for candidates.

Lewis EL, a realtor who works in Detroit, read a question from the list provided by Chalkbeat and CitizenDetroit, the non-profit that hosted the event: “What are the pros and cons for the district in collaborating with charters and suburban school districts?”

Vaughn’s voice fell: “I firmly believe that the district alone is without resources. We just don’t have it. So I would like to see a collaboration.” She said other districts could help Detroit train its teachers: “I think we have to do a better job in terms of exposing our teachers to better development.”

“Are they not coming with that knowledge already?” Lula Gardfrey asked.

“But I think that we can support them more,” Vaughn replied. “Our students have mental health issues. They have economic issues. Just what the teacher learned in school isn’t going to be enough when that child arrives at 8 a.m. in the morning.”

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Shirley Corley and Lula Gardfrey work on the questions they planned to put to candidates for Detroit school board.

When the gong sounded again, Nita Redmond felt torn. She believed Vaughn had good intentions but was suspicious of any collaboration with charter schools.

The rise of charter schools, which enroll about one-third of the city’s 100,000 students, “should have never happened,” she said. “It seems like it has lowered the regular schools.” When another candidate, Shannon Smith, joined the table, Corley got to hear a different take on her question about the third-grade reading law.

“We need to communicate with parents,” Smith said. “There are a lot of parents that aren’t aware. Second, we need to work together with the administrators and the teachers on the curriculum, and figure out which curriculum would best support the students in reading.”

On the opposite side of the hall, another table asked Deborah Hunter-Harvill, the only incumbent in the race, about her plans for improving instruction in the district.

“Because nationally we’re at the bottom in reading and math, I start from the bottom,” she said. One of our policies is that parents attend parent training free to understand what their kids are being taught. All of our parents don’t come, but if you just get 40 in one classroom in one day, they go home and tell other parents.”

Theresa White had a seat right next to Hunter-Harvill, and she liked what she saw. “That has been a culprit, the lack of participation by parents,” she said.

In the next seat over, Rainelle Burton, who attended high school in Detroit and has lived in the city for decades, came to a different conclusion.

“I’m not hearing anything that says, ‘this is inventive and creative,’” she said.

The up-close-and-personal format didn’t make things easy for the candidates.

“It was definitely not comfortable,” Vaughn said, adding that she wished she’d had access to the pre-written questions beforehand.

reverend david murray
PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Reverend David Murray, who served on the school board member for 16 years during a period when the district was largely controlled by emergency managers, said those managers were responsible for the district’s decline.

But for voters in the room, the format made things easy. In a straw poll after the event, virtually everyone in attendance said they planned to vote.

“We were able to talk to them one-on-one, it’s not just looking on TV,” Nita Redmond said, adding that she came away with a good idea of who would get her vote (she declined to say who). “We were able to talk to them and evaluate ourselves if this would be the best person to lead my district.”

Surveying the room as the forum wound down, Michelle Broughton was of two minds. She carries with her four generations of experience with the district — she is a computer instructor at Renaissance High School, her father graduated from Chadsey High School, a Detroit Public School, in 1961, her children attended the district, and her grandson is in the eighth grade at McKinsey Elementary — and she said she’d heard a lot of what she called “pie-in-the-sky” ideas at the forum.

No one had offered a solution for the roughly 90 classrooms in the district that were without a teacher on the first day of school — a problem that had affected her family in the past.

“If my child goes to school every day and comes home and says, ‘Grandma, I don’t have a math teacher,’ that child is losing weeks,” she said.

But she said the event gave her a feel for the candidates — and reminded her how many Detroiters share her dream of a thriving school district.

“I’m here because I have hope,” she said. “I see a brighter future, and I hope that I pick somebody who will help.”

New Arrivals

In a letter to Betsy DeVos, Michigan officials highlight the plight of refugee students — and ask for testing waiver

PHOTO: Warren Consolidated Schools
Students at Warren-Mott High School in the Detroit suburbs. Officials there say that many students are arriving at the school from refugee camps, including 11th graders who had no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Such students would currently be required to take a state English test during their first year in school.

To teachers who work with recently arrived refugee students, the problem is clear: Although their students will eventually learn English, their language skills at first aren’t comparable to those of native speakers.

They’re hoping federal education officials will come to the same conclusion after reading the state’s detail-rich request to delay testing new immigrant children in English.

Michigan is the second state to ask for a waiver from a federal law that requires children who arrived in the U.S. this year to take standardized English tests a year after arriving — even if they’re just being introduced to the language. The law also requires states to count such students’ scores in decisions about whether to close low-performing schools.

“We wanted to balance between presenting hard data and some anecdotes,” said Chris Janzer, assistant director of accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. “We’re hoping that the case we present, with some of the stories, will win us approval.”

The state’s request includes stories from the Detroit area, which is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arabic speakers, including many newly arrived refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East. This population is unique in more ways than one: It includes more than 30,000 Chaldean Christians who arrived after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the largest such population in the world outside Iraq. And many of its children must deal with the aftereffects of violent displacement even as they attempt to attend school in what is in many cases an entirely new language.

The state’s waiver request offers Hamtramck, a hyper-diverse city enclave in Detroit, as an example:

Hamtramck has many recent arrivals from war-torn regions in Yemen and Syria and has students from remote villages with no formal education background, as well as many others with interrupted learning. New students can have toxic stress and can even be suicidal, and often require wraparound services. Older students are also often burdened with the responsibility of helping their families financially, emotionally, and with childrearing.

Even the luckiest new arrivals would benefit if Michigan receives a waiver from parts of the federal Every Students Succeed Act, says Suzanne Toohey, president of Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“The intent of the waiver is for the most needy students, but it will help all students,” she said, adding that it typically takes 5-7 years for an English learner to catch up to her native-speaking peers.

With that in mind, Toohey says current federal requirements don’t make sense.

“It would be like an adult who is many years out of school, and who took French for two years of high school, going to France and trying to take a college course,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Following the same logic, Michigan officials are asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to put the brakes on federal requirements for testing recently arrived English learners. If the waiver request is approved:

  • In their first year in Michigan schools, those students wouldn’t be required to take the state English language arts exam.
  • In their second, they would take the test, but schools wouldn’t be held accountable for their scores.
  • In year three, the growth in their scores on the English exam would be factored into school ratings.
  • And in year four their overall score — known as proficiency — would be counted as well as their growth.

That’s still too soon to begin testing English learners, Toohey said, noting “the waiver is a start, but we haven’t gotten all the way there.”

Even so, the proposed change still faces substantial obstacles. New York’s request for a similar waiver was denied by the U.S. Department of Education in January. In its response, the department said it was holding New York to its responsibility to “set high expectations that apply to all students.” Janzer says his staff studied New York’s waiver and concluded that Michigan’s should include more details to humanize the situations of the affected students.

Michigan officials are currently working to incorporate public comments (there were seven, all of them supportive, Janzer said) into its request, which is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks. A decision isn’t expected from federal officials for several more months.

Whoever reads the 10-page document in Washington, D.C. will be confronted with details like these:

  • Lamphere Schools, of Madison Heights, MI, has received a significant influx of students from Iraq and Syria, and at least one elementary school’s student body is roughly 70 percent recently arrived students from these two nations. Lamphere reports that some students initially undergo temporary “silent periods,” a researched stage of second language acquisition, where children are watching and listening, but not yet speaking.
  • Warren Consolidated Schools, of Warren, MI, reports that they have many students from refugee camps, including students who are testing in 11th grade after having no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Warren Consolidated has received 2,800 students from Syria or Iraq since 2007.

Read the full document here. Most local details are on pages 7-9.