Partnership spares struggling Detroit schools

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Saying it was on a “journey to excellence,” Detroit’s school district has agreed to partner with the state in a move that spares 24 academically struggling schools from forced closures.

The agreement, unanimously approved by the Detroit Public Schools Community District at a special school board meeting Thursday, will enable the schools to remain open for a minimum three-year period as officials attempt to increase performance through partnerships with local universities, unions, businesses and community leaders.

The two dozen schools were on a list of 38 from 10 districts targeted by the state in January for closure. All the schools have performed in the bottom 5 percent for at least three consecutive years, according to the Education Department.

“We’re on the road and journey to excellence,” board of education President Iris Taylor said following the meeting. “... We will not have any external body close any school in the Detroit Public School district. This is a great day for us.”

The agreement involves collaboration with Wayne RESA, the county’s Intermediate School District, as well as four universities: Eastern Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State.

The district in March began discussions with the Department of Education in a bid to stop the closures by the School Reform Office. Thursday’s pact comes after the Education Department reached agreements with school districts in Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights and Bridgeport/Spaulding. Officials also were in talks this week with East Detroit, Benton Harbor, Saginaw, River Rouge and Pontiac.

The district’s first step will be to develop a profile for each school by June 30, which would include performance data. As of July 31, the district will establish districtwide expectations as well as goals and strategies for the partnership schools.

By Jan. 31, the district is expected to have what officials say will be a deep review and discussion that will include staff, students and families to determine the causes of low student performance and how to improve. The district is expected to report on progress at the partnership schools by Nov. 1, 2018.

The district has yet to develop a full strategy for each school, said interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather.

“This is just the beginning work of bringing the community together,” she said. “The agreement opens the door for the work.”

State Superintendent Brian Whiston said the agreement holds promise for the students, educators and the city.

“We will work together to make sure you stay on course and provide support when and where it is needed,” Whiston said in a statement.

It was good news for teacher Mary Jackson, whose school, Gompers Elementary Middle, was slated to be shuttered.

“Our interventions, our strategies, our initiatives are working, and thanks to the partnership agreement we no longer have the threat of school closure looming over our head,” she said.

Terrence Martin, executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers at the schools slated to close were concerned. The partnership, he said, eases those worries.

“There was an uncertainty if they were going to have a place to work,” he said “Now that there’s a decision made on that, it’s a huge relief for our members.”

“We’re the folks that are on the front line,” he said. “We’re going to be responsible for executing these plans.”

Spared schools

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

Former EAA schools

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