East Detroit school CEO can start work, with limits

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Mt. Clemens — A former Montcalm County high school principal charged with overseeing the turnaround of four East Detroit schools will finally be able to begin work — with some limits — after attorneys reached an agreement Thursday in Macomb County Circuit Court.

The attorneys representing the East Detroit Public Schools and Gary Jensen, appointed by the State School Reform Office to improve four underperforming schools in the district, drafted an agreement calling for Jensen to work with Superintendent Ryan McLeod.

Under the agreement, Jensen cannot unilaterally control state funds or terminate or modify the contracts of teachers and administrators.

The agreement also states that if there is an impasse between Jensen and McLeod, the two can come to court with reasonable notice to the other person.

“Any action in the district of East Detroit Public schools will only be an action that’s taken by the superintendent of schools and by the board of education,” McLeod said after the hearing.

McLeod said the court case “is not personal” and he doesn’t believe he will have any issues in working with Jensen.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to start working with Mr. McLeod and his team and making a difference for kids in East Detroit,” Jensen said. “They’re already started on some things and I’m excited to join that team. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re getting results for kids.”

Jensen had been barred from taking over the four schools under a temporary restraining order issued in May by Judge Joseph Toia, who conducted Thursday’s hearing.

In addition to fighting Jensen’s appointment in the county court, the district sued the state School Reform Office in the Michigan Court of Claims; that case is pending.

“It would have been great to have been working in June or July, but like many things, we’ll make it work,” Jensen said.

The four targeted schools — Bellview and Pleasantview elementary schools, Kelly Middle and East Detroit High — were ranked in the lowest performing 5 percent of all Michigan schools. Under state law, districts with schools in the bottom 5 percent must submit proposals to the state for improving student performance.

“This may have been an interruption,” McLeod said, “but we haven’t stopped implementation (of district turnaround plans).”

Jensen said he plans to contact McLeod as soon as he is allowed to begin working with him.

“Kids are kids at the end of the day and I just want to make sure that any kid I come into contact with has an opportunity for a great education,” Jensen said.