'Give our district a chance:' Rally fights DPS closings

Holly Fournier, The Detroit News

Detroit — Hundreds of educators, parents and community members on Friday protested the expected closure of 38 Michigan public schools, which they said is part of a plan to replace the traditional learning spaces with unaccountable and inferior charter schools. 

Hundreds of educators, parents and other community members marched outside the Cadillac Place building Friday afternoon to protest the state's plan to close 38 Michigan public schools as early as this summer.

“They’re trying to shut down public school in this city,” said Robert Muha, a 55-year-old attendance agent at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. “I believe the goal is to close these schools and give the buildings to charter companies.”

The state last month released school rankings that identified consistently failing schools in jeopardy of closing. Those schools have ranked in the bottom 5 percent for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Of 38 schools targeted for closure this summer, 24 are in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Another 25 Detroit schools risk being shut down in 2018 if they remain among the state’s lowest performers for another year.

At least one organization, the Great Lakes Education Project, has expressed support for school closures, calling on the state to shut the “worst of the worst” schools.

At Friday’s protest, teacher Robin Jennings questioned whether the method of scoring schools fairly reflected the students’ progress.

“The kids are learning. They’re growing,” said Jennings, a third and fourth grade teacher at Cook STEM Academy. “A child will come to us testing on a first-grade level, and by the end of the year they’re on a second- or third-grade level.”

Students typically are evaluated against their expected grade level instead of against their own improvement, she said.

“Give our district a chance,” said Jennings, 50. “We’re going to continue to fight until (the state) leaves us alone.”

When charter schools move in, residents are left with inferior education options, said Eddie Hejka, a River Rouge special education teacher and parent to 18 children through birth, adoption and foster care.

“None of these charters would come near my son with autism,” Hejka said. “I started calling around and you would have thought I was saying my son had tuberculosis. (They said) they had no resources, which is the same as saying no.”

Detroit’s Thirkell Elementary School is one of 38 schools on the state’s chopping block. Educators, parents and other community members plan to rally outside the Cadillac Place building Friday afternoon to protest the announced closures.

Services for children with special needs require more funding than those for a typical student, Hejka said.

“The charter schools aren’t interested in children like my son, because there’s no profit in him,” he said.

Detroiter Jean Vortkamp said charter schools are not designed to benefit students.

“The teachers don’t have pensions, they’re not treated right, so you’re not going to attract the best teachers,” said Vortkamp, 40. “Children need art. They need sports. They need public schools, not charter schools.”

Protesters on Friday repeatedly called on the state to support and improve existing schools.

“What we should do is keep them open and intervene, on the both the infrastructure and educational issues,” said Russ Bellant, organizer of the rally. “We basically keep the schools open and rebuild them.”

Bellant, whose children attended DPS schools through 2009, acknowledged that Detroit schools underperform.

“The state has played a destructive role for years in Detroit,” he said about years of emergency management over the district. “More resources shifted to administration and away from the classroom and I think the first priority is to dramatically revisit that.”


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Schools targeted for closure in 2017

The following schools have been in the bottom 5 percent for 2014, 2015 and 2016:

Benton Harbor Area Schools

Dream Academy

International Academy at Hull

STEAM Academy at MLK

Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School District

Martin G. Atkins Elementary School

Detroit Public Schools Community District

Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School

Bow Elementary-Middle School

J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy

Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern

Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

Durfee Elementary-Middle School

Fisher Magnet Upper Academy

Gompers Elementary-Middle School

Henderson Academy

Marquette Elementary-Middle School

Mason Elementary School

Osborn Academy of Mathematics

Osborn College Preparatory Academy

Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy

Sampson Academy

Thirkell Elementary School

East Detroit Public Schools

Kelly Middle School

Education Achievement Authority

Burns Elementary-Middle School

Denby High School

Ford High School

Law Elementary School

Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School

Mumford High School

Pershing High School

Southeastern High School

Kalamazoo Public Schools

Washington Writers’ Academy

Woodward School for Technology and Research

Michigan Technical Academy

Michigan Technical Academy Elementary

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System

Muskegon Heights Academy

Pontiac City School District

Pontiac High School

Whitman Elementary School

City of River Rouge School District

Ann Visger K-5 Preparatory Academy

City of Saginaw School District

Jessie Loomis School

Saginaw High School

Schools in jeopardy of closure in 2018

The following schools have been in the bottom 5 percent for 2015 and 2016:

Benton Harbor Area Schools

Benton Harbor High School

Conner Creek Academy East

Conner Creek Academy East: Michigan Collegiate Middle

Detroit Public Schools Community District

Academy of The Americas

Bagley Elementary School

Blackwell Institute

Brewer Elementary-Middle School

Cody Academy of Public Leadership

Detroit International Academy for Young Women

Dixon Elementary School

Dossin Elementary-Middle School

Edison Elementary School

Ellington Conservatory of Music & Art at Beckham Academy

Emerson Elementary-Middle School

Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School

King High School

John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy

Mann Elementary School

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School

Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody

Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy

Noble Elementary-Middle School

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy

Pulaski Elementary-Middle School

Schulze Elementary-Middle School

Spain Elementary-Middle School

Education Achievement Authority

Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts

Central High School

City of Flint School District

Northwestern High School

Potter School

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Burton Middle School

Michigan Technical Academy

Michigan Technical Academy Middle School

City of Oak Park School District

Oak Park Preparatory Academy

Port Huron Area School District

Cleveland Elementary School

City of Saginaw School District

Thompson Middle School

Westwood Heights Schools

Hamady Middle School