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A longtime administrator and teacher in Detroit Public Schools was introduced Monday as the district’s interim superintendent and broke down repeatedly in tears during an emotional news conference.

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Alycia Meriweather, who attended DPS as a child, cried openly as she described her love for the city and the district’s students, breaking down four times during her remarks.

“I love this city, I love the district and I love the children,” she said, struggling to hold back her tears as she talked about the dedication of the district’s teachers, many of whom work under difficult conditions.

“I apologize for my emotions, but it’s been a bit of an emotional day for me,” Meriweather said.

“People have been dealing with a lot of burdens and they’re discouraged, frustrated and felt like no one was listening,” she said. “So many of our staff are feeling unappreciated.”

Emergency manager Steven Rhodes, who took over the state’s largest school district last week, introduced Meriweather during the news conference at the district’s Golightly Education Center.

“It was important to me that we looked within Detroit Public Schools — as well as the city of Detroit — to identify a qualified individual to fill the interim superintendent’s position,” Rhodes said. “As a veteran educator who has served at many levels of Detroit Public Schools’ academic operations, and has also played a key role in the strategic direction of the district over the last year, Alycia’s skills and experience make her uniquely qualified to serve in this critical leadership position.”

Meriweather, who most recently was executive director of the district’s Office of Curriculum, started at DPS in 1995 as a science teacher at Farwell Middle School.

She previously spent four years as deputy executive director of the DPS Office of Science and two years as supervisor of middle school science.

For the past seven years, she also has been director for the Detroit Mathematics and Science Center, and for several years has worked with DPS’ Detroit Children’s Museum and Camp Burt Shurly, the district’s overnight camp facility in Gregory, Michigan.

As interim superintendent, Meriweather will be in charge of the district’s academic programs.

Meriweather said, like Rhodes, she is committed to returning the district to local control after seven years of state oversight.

She said she felt “honored, humbled, overwhelmed and excited” about her new role.

Meriweather said her first order of business is to develop a course of action — “a concrete plan.”

”I want to outline the plan more definitively and then enact it,” she said. “But we still have 1,000 steps to go.”

Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, praised Meriweather’s appointment in a statement.

“The ability to move our schools forward depends on strong leadership, both managerially and academically. This is why the DFT recommended that an academic expert join Judge Steven Rhodes, and Alycia Meriweather is a good choice,” Bailey said. “We have worked with her in her capacity as executive director of DPS curriculum and look forward to a strong working partnership with her and Rhodes.”

But ousted DFT president Steve Conn dismissed Meriweather’s appointment as more of the same for DPS.

“It is just Rhodes trying to cover up his and Snyder’s plans to dismantle DPS,” Conn said.

Rhodes was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to take over the district March 1 and has final say over financial matters. He presided over the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, and now is steering the district through its financial disaster as it inches closer to running out of money in April.

State lawmakers are debating competing proposals that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the district to restructure and pay off its debt.

Rhodes also must deal with health and safety problems in some DPS schools, including water damage, rodent infestations and a lack of heating, which triggered a series of sickouts that closed dozens of schools between November and January.

Rhodes’ tenure is expected to run through July 1. By that date, the Snyder administration hopes to have won approval from state lawmakers for a $715 million plan to rescue and restructure DPS.

slewis@detroitnews.com

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