Major tasks await new Detroit school board

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Beginning next week, for the first time in seven years, an elected board will oversee the academic affairs of the state’s largest school district.

The seven newly elected members of the Detroit Public Schools Community District will be sworn in Wednesday at Cass Technical High School. And then it will be right to work — their first public meeting follows immediately.

Among their major tasks will be to select a new superintendent for the 45,150-student district.

Alycia Meriweather, appointed by the district’s current emergency manager, Judge Steven Rhodes, has been serving as interim superintendent. The district has been under emergency management since 2009. Rhodes departed the office Saturday. District finances, however, will still be watched by the state through a Financial Review Commission.

The new board members include a retired hospital CEO, a former Wall Street investor, a former superintendent and the community relations director for UAW Ford, among others. They all have strong ties to the city, and most are graduates of the school district. Their educational and professional backgrounds are varied, but they all say they want to serve the children in the district.

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The group replaces an 11-member board appointed by the state during oversight by emergency managers and were chosen by voters in November from a field of 63 candidates. Only one of them, LaMar Lemmons, is an incumbent. He served on the previous board, although under emergency management, members had no real power.

The board inherits a reinvented school district, which, after hemorrhaging cash and students for decades, has found much-needed stability. A $617 million state aid package helped the district pay off $467 million in operating debt and provide $150 million in startup funding to begin debt-free.

“The new locally elected board will face the challenge of taking on the operations of a very large district and help to shape the future of thousands of students,” said Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder.

The return of an elected school board opens up the door to transparent dialogue, said Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 3,000 teachers.

“It’s the vehicle that allows the community and DPS staff to voice their concerns without fearing retaliation,” she said. “I think the new school board will help to change the culture and climate of the district.”

Here’s a snapshot of the new board members and what they hope to accomplish:

Misha Stallworth

Stallworth, the board’s youngest member at age 28, is the advocacy, volunteers and planning coordinator at the Detroit Area Agency on Aging. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in psychology and received her master’s in social work from the University of Michigan.

Misha Stallworth, Detroit school board’s youngest voice

Stallworth said she ran for school board for the “100,000 students who are attending schools outside the district every day and whose parents are struggling with the choice to do so and the household logistics of doing so.”

Iris Taylor

Taylor, 64, is a graduate of Detroit’s Central High School. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, and received a fellowship to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She is the retired CEO of the DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital.

Her number one goal is to ensure a strong academic curriculum for mainstream and special education students.

“Further, I will work to ensure that every student has unfettered access to text books, supplies and other materials essential to their education and success,” she said. “Additionally, I will work to ensure that wraparound services are available for every student. This holistic approach will support each student and will ensure that basic needs are being met, serving as a hedge against social determinants, specifically health and welfare services.”

Sonya Mays

Mays, 40, is a graduate of Detroit Renaissance High School. She has three degrees from the University of Michigan: a bachelor’s, MBA and J.D. She is president and CEO of Develop Detroit (, a community-based real estate nonprofit focused on creating opportunities in city neighborhoods. She also was a key member of the team that led Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy process.

“Detroit has been on a remarkable upswing the past several years, with focused mayoral leadership and new, wide-ranging business and economic investment,” she said. “Yet without better schools, the city’s emerging resurgence is at jeopardy of failing.”

Deborah Hunter-Harvill

Hunter-Harvill attended Detroit Public Schools and graduated from Cooley High School. She earned her doctorate in education administration and eventually became principal of Damon J. Keith Elementary School and at McMichael Middle School. She also served as superintendent of the Buena Vista School District, which has since closed. She currently is a national consultant in educational administration.

Among the challenges the board faces is boosting teacher morale, she said.

“In order for teachers to cover our students with rich experiences of learning, teachers must feel that our district appreciates them,” she said. “I look forward to exploring ways to enhance their compensation package.”

Angelique Peterson-Mayberry

Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, 42, is a graduate of Martin Luther King High School. Her two children attend district schools. She expects to earn her master’s degree from Central Michigan University next summer. She currently is the community relations director for UAW Ford.

Asked her number one goal for the district, she responded, “To create effective policies that foster support and involvement from all community stakeholders that will enhance the overall educational experience for those in our public schools.”

LaMar Lemmons and Georgia Lemmons

LaMar Lemmons and his wife, Georgia Lemmons, declined be interviewed. They are believed to be the only husband-and-wife team to ever serve on the school board.

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