Agreement Saves Detroit Schools From Forced Closure by State
By Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press
Two dozen Detroit schools have been saved from forced closure after the Detroit Board of Education voted tonight to enter into an agreement that will give it the ultimate authority to control the future of the schools.
The schools—16 in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and eight from the Education Achievement Authority—had been identified for closure earlier this year by the Michigan School Reform Office because they've ranked in the bottom 5 percent academically for three straight years.
But the signed agreement with the Michigan Department of Education and the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency means the state won't force any of the schools to close.
"This is a great day," said Iris Taylor, president of the school board. "We're all very excited and really charged about the opportunities and what our future will bring."
The agreement, Taylor said, will enable the newly elected board to do what it said it would do from the beginning: "To be responsible for children first and focusing on our future and academic performance. We're on the road and journey to excellence."
The Detroit district is the latest of the nine school districts with schools on the potential closure list to have formally signed an agreement with the state. State Superintendent Brian Whiston first broached the idea in March, offering them the chance to avoid the closure of the schools that the reform office had identified by entering into a partnership agreement with the state.
The Michigan Department of Education, which Whiston leads, announced earlier this week that it had finalized agreements with the Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights, and Bridgeport/Spaulding school districts.
The East Detroit Public Schools district announced tonight it had also signed its agreement.
That leaves the Benton Harbor, Saginaw, River Rouge, and Pontiac districts as still needing a final agreement to avoid school closures.
Detroit schools officials have been against the idea of forced closure from the beginning, and earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the state to prevent the reform office from acting to close schools. The prospect of school closings spurred a number of protests and town hall meetings.
"I said from the beginning that closed schools never improve," said Alycia Meriweather, interim superintendent of the Detroit district. "The idea of closing a school to move toward improvement is illogical."
The EAA schools are part of the agreement because all of the schools in the reform district are returning to Detroit district. The EAA is disbanding June 30, nearly five years after it was launched to turn around 15 low-performing schools in the district.
The agreement covers three years. The state can't force the closure of any of the schools during that time, Amanda Van Dusen, an attorney with Miller Canfield, told the board.
"For as long as this agreement is in effect, it gives you complete protection from the" reform office, she said.
And, she said, it gives the district something it's been striving for.
"This should help promote some stability in the district," Van Dusen said.
"You now hold the steering wheel and are in control of your future," Whiston said in a statement read by LaWanna Shelton, a Michigan Department of Education official who will serve as a liaison between MDE and the Detroit district.
The work is just beginning, Meriweather said. "It is not enough to say 'keep our schools open.' We must also demand excellence."
The agreement requires that by June 30, each school in the district create a profile that will highlight key information on academic achievement and things such as poverty rates, attendance rates, absenteeism, crime, staff vacancies, staff turnover, and transiency.
By July 31, each school must have set ambitious academic goals.
Each school will undergo an improvement process that is unique to what their building needs. Meriweather said today that "the schools have yet to completely flush out their full list of strategies."
But some things will be universal. For instance, they will likely provide additional learning time for students—whether it's by extending the school year or the school day, or by offering classes on Saturdays.
The 24 schools will also benefit from a partnership with four state universities—Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University—that have signed on to help. Meriweather said talks continue with the four universities to "work out what exactly that will look like," but said it could come in the form of professional development, teacher training, support for students, or tutorial intervention.
Meanwhile, the board moved ahead with its plans to hire Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., as its next superintendent.
The board voted April 18 to enter into negotiations with Vitti. Tonight, the board took two additional votes: One to "engage in outside counsel to assist in contract negotiations," and the other to have Taylor "act as the agent of the board to facilitate contract negotiations" with Vitti.
Taylor said her hope is that negotiations could be complete by the middle or end of May.
via Education Week American Education News Site of Record April 28, 2017 at 01:39AM