Group starts effort to fix schools
A coalition of 31 diverse education, civic, business, religious and community leaders launched a new mission Thursday to improve education for all students in Detroit.
Acknowledging it is a monumental task, their key message is Detroiters are better able to secure a future for children in the city than emergency managers. Members of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren expect to reveal their initial recommendations within the next 90 days.
“We know there is a problem, but we’re not focusing on emergency managers, we’re interested in emergency people and that’s why we’ve formed this coalition,” said the group’s co-chair, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch NAACP and pastor of Fellowship Chapel, where the press conference was held.
“This is an elephant, and the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time,” he said. “You take a bite at academics, parental involvement, finances, transportation security and other issues.”
Other members of the coalition present included co-chairs Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation; David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO; John Rakolta, CEO of Walbridge construction company, and Angela Reyes, executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corp.
“This is a coalition, not of the usual suspects,” Allen said. “We’ve asked people to put down their weapons to fight for our kids. It’s not just about members on the steering committee. It’s about Detroiters in grass roots groups who will be able to talk with us about these ideas.”
Hecker said it’s obvious change is needed. “ ... much is not working. We must build on what is working and implement proven strategies.”
Reyes said she’s ready “to do the difficult work that needs to be done to make lasting changes.”
Rakolta said the stakes include the region’s ability to compete economically.
“Detroit’s children are the future workforce businesses will depend on,” he said. “They will be the absolute key to global competitiveness. I urge Lansing to give our coalition a fighting chance to complete our work before we get into the battle.”
Allen said the first meeting is expected to be held around Dec. 19.
“It will not be an open meeting, but we will be reporting on our progress regularly,” she said. “We need to have time to work through these issues.”
The group will focus on boosting city schools, including those in the Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority as well as charters.
Officials with the city’s two public school systems said they were open to the group’s ideas.
“It’s a good thing to have a broad cross section of the local community involved and we look forward to engaging with them,” DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said.
In a statement, EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme said: “We are happy to work with the coalition to improve education and eager to hear their ideas that will have a positive impact on Detroit’s students and families.”
Its formation comes as Gov. Rick Snyder has been exploring options for the 47,238-student DPS district, which has been operated by a series of emergency managers since 2009. The 18-month term of the current manager, Jack Martin, ends in January.
The city has a decentralized system of 97 schools operated by the district along with 64 charter schools run by a dozen different authorizers throughout the state and 15 former DPS schools under the control of the EAA.
Snyder has said he intends to involve Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council members and other community leaders involved in talks about how to “improve all schools in Detroit.” Following his re-election, Snyder has signaled interest in ramping up discussions regarding education in Detroit.
“With the bankruptcy settled and the mayor and governor being interested in helping come up with a solution to help Detroit schools, this was an opportune time for a coalition to take on this work and to make community-based recommendations,” said William Hanson, chief of staff at the Skillman Foundation. Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said “the governor applauds what this kind of effort sounds like and community engagement in addressing Detroit schools and improving the educational system and outcomes for our kids. Strong public schools are essential to a strong, thriving Detroit.”
A November report commissioned by Excellent Schools Detroit — a nonprofit that publishes an academic score card for all Detroit schools — urged the creation of a uniform guide and application for enrolling in any type of public school in Detroit and “creation of a central administrative body to serve as the point of accountability to families in distributing, collecting and processing applications.”
The report, written by the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, suggested that Duggan’s office could take the lead, though the mayor demurred Wednesday, saying he is focused on meeting the terms of the city’s exit from bankruptcy this week. “I will not be operating the Detroit Public Schools. There is no discussion, no contemplation,” he said.