Ex-principal to oversee East Detroit schools turnaround

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Eastpointe — A former high school principal will be charged with overseeing the turnaround of four chronically underperforming East Detroit public schools.

Gary Jensen

State school reform officer Natasha Baker appointed Gary Jensen on Friday to immediately improve education in the schools.

Jensen previously replaced the principal at Lakeview High in Montcalm County in 2010, when the school was named a Michigan Priority School. Each subsequent year, Lakeview’s student performance improved. His efforts at Lakeview earned him Michigan Principal of the Year honors in 2014.

“I am excited about working with this former principal of the year,” said Baker during a conference call Friday. “He has character, integrity and a proven track record to turn around schools.”

The intention to appoint a CEO to oversee Bellview Elementary, Pleasantview Elementary, Kelly Middle and East Detroit High schools was announced in February.

Each of the four schools have been identified in the lowest performing 5 percent of all Michigan schools in at least one cycle, with the high school identified for improvement eight times. Student proficiency has declined in all subject content areas since each school was identified as a Priority School. Beginning in the 2008-09 school year, the district has seen enrollment decline in all four schools.

However, the appointment of a CEO for the schools has not been without controversy.

In late May, East Detroit Schools obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the State School Reform/Redesign Office from appointing a CEO.

Macomb Circuit Judge Joseph Toia ruled there was a risk the school district could “suffer irreparable harm” if a CEO was appointed.

According to Caleb Buhs, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, that order expired Monday.

A request for comment from the district was not returned.

Asked how much Jensen will earn in his new job, Baker said the base salary will be $160,000, but “the contract is for $240,000, which allows for fringe benefits, reimbursements, fees and other things,” she said. Baker added Jensen’s contract is for three years.

As CEO, Jensen will have full authority over personnel and curriculum along with the responsibility to work with the district superintendent to create change. He will be held accountable for rapid turnaround by Baker, with student achievement reports being submitted and reviewed every six to eight weeks.

“But if we don’t see progress, we reserve the right to make another decision. We will make a course correct in the event we see things that need to be changed,” she said.

The fiscal year 2017 state budget awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder includes $5 million for the school reform office to provide additional financial resources to chronically poor performing districts and hire CEOs to take control of one or more schools.

After moving to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget in May 2015, the school reform office began analyzing academic data for schools on the priority list to determine which required another level of accountability beyond the oversight it already had.

The school reform office was created in 2010 to establish policies and procedures for turning around struggling schools. Snyder issued an executive order in March 2015 moving the school reform office to the budget department to put a renewed focus on this effort, helping turn around the state’s lowest achieving schools.

Per state law, the office’s focus is on the lowest performing 5 percent of the state’s schools, with interventions that target student achievement as measured by student proficiency and standards mastery.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

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