Bottom-rated Pontiac schools to state: ‘Leave us alone’

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The Pontiac Public School District has a message for Lansing: “Leave us alone.”

The president of the district’s teachers’ union says Pontiac High School remains in the bottom five percent of the state’s schools academically, but slowly is improving. Pontiac educators have not received official notice that the high school is in jeopardy of closing, but stakeholders are trying to ensure it does not happen.

“We have an outstanding school district with very dedicated employees and we want control over our own goals and objectives and don’t want to be dictated to by the state with threats over our head,” said Pontiac Education Association President Aimee McKeever.

The Michigan Department of Education will release a new top-to-bottom list of academic performance by the end of January. School Reform Officer Natasha Baker will then lead a review of the bottom 5 percent of schools and make recommended actions for the 2017-2018 school year, spokesman Kurt Weiss said Wednesday.

The Republican chairman of the Michigan Senate Education Committee has called for the repeal of the state’s “failing schools” law.

The district’s attempt to head off a school closing gained the attention of Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association who flew in from Washington, D.C., to participate in a Wednesday afternoon rally in front of the high school.

“We are putting people on notice that this is not just about Pontiac,” said Moss. “The concern for the NEA is about Betsy DeVos and what is happening to the whole concept of public education. What do you do with students when a school is closed?” said Moss of the nation’s largest teachers union. “Most likely they will be sent to a charter school, which seems to be the trend in Michigan and is a Betsy DeVos way of thinking.”

DeVos is a longtime charter school proponent and President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary. The NEA opposes her.

District Superintendent Kelley Williams called the rally premature.

“The high school has been on the priority list for several years, but no one has shown me a list saying the high school is going to be closed,” said Williams. “We have shown some improvement and will continue to work on our plan to improve academically.”

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