Detroit high schools will get own academic focus

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Public Schools Community District plans to transform the district’s high schools under a plan to create a targeted field of study for each.

The so-called “cluster career” schools are part of the a new long-term academic turnaround plan unveiled by district officials Friday.

Interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather said the plan also includes goals of having a 10 percent increase in the number of students meeting their individual student growth targets, 100 percent of instructional staff to be offered professional development and coaching focused on increasing student literacy and a 10 percent decrease in the number of students who are chronically absent.

Meriweather discussed the changes inside Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine, which is a career cluster school focusing on science and medicine. It is where she said stakeholders have been meeting to offer input to the plan over the past several months.

The announcement comes just days before voters in Detroit will select seven school board members from a field of 63 and who will for the first time in seven years have power over a district that has been under the oversight of four emergency managers since 2009. The new board, smaller than the current 11-seat board, will have power over academics and will choose a superintendent, but finances still will be watched by a Financial Review Commission.

Emergency manager Steven Rhodes will leave office in January when the board is sworn in.

Meriweather said she’s hoping the new board will be in favor of the transformative academic plan.

“It is my hope that the school board to be elected Tuesday will recognize that the plan is based on research, and that 160 people participated and were involved, and that they would stand behind it, but I’m sure there will be some discussion,” she said.

Under Meriweather’s plan, students would need to decide, well before high school, which of the career cluster schools they would like to attend.

“By seventh grade, students need to make a decision about high school,” Meriweather said. “In the seventh and eighth grades, we would drill down to make sure they’re aware of the possibilities.”

Student Oluwakemi Dauda, 16, who is in the 12th grade at Ben Carson has decided she wants to go to medical school and to become a behavioral development pediatrician.

“I chose that in my sophomore year,” she said. “But you should expose yourself to different careers to make the decision easier.”

Meriweather said the goal is to provide all students with an excellent education, and “we will no longer accept small, incremental growth.”

She also addressed her remarks to students from Ben Carson seated in the room. Many of them were dressed in scrubs, as though they were ready to go work in the medical field.

“If one student fails, we all fail,” she continued.

Some of Detroit’s high school, such as Ben Carson, already have an academic focus. Among them is Cody-Detroit Institute of Technology College Prep, Cody Medicine and Community Health Academy, Communication and Media Arts High School, Davis Aerospace Technical High at Golightly, Detroit School of Arts, Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology and West Side Academy Academy of Information Technology and Cyber Security.

If a student lives near a career cluster school where they’re not interested in that particular career, they still can receive a general education at that school, according to Robinson.

The plan is organized around five Pillars of Excellence tied to specific objectives. The pillars include literacy, career pathways, innovation and family. The programs are expected to cost about $1.9 million, according to district spokesperson Jacqueline Robinson. She did not have total figures for other areas of the plan, including curriculum changes.

The academic plan was created with input from the Academic Advisory Council, comprised of 160 district students, parents, teachers, principals, community members and faculty from the state’s leading universities.

“We have a lot of ground to make up for, and don’t have time to waste,” Meriweather said.

The plan is expected to guide the district for the next eight to 10 years, which the district says is the length of time needed for a systemwide turnaround.

The academic plan will be available online next week at www.detroitk12.org.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

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