Schools can avoid closure under new ‘partnership’ model

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Thirty-eight Michigan schools targeted for possible closure could avoid that fate for at least 18 months under a new “partnership model” created by the state Department of Education that would retain local control but require outside support.

Brian Whiston, state superintendent of schools for the Michigan Department of Education

Superintendent Brian Whiston informed the Detroit Public School Community School District of the new option this week in a letter also sent to seven other districts with buildings flagged for potential closure because of perpetually poor academic performance.

The districts have 60 days to enter into a partnership agreement with the Michigan Department of Education, which would allow them to maintain “total control” of their schools while receiving outside assistance from partners, including the local school board, intermediate school district or a charter authorizer such as a public university.

If the district adopts a partnership plan, the Michigan School Reform Office “has agreed to delay” any next level accountability actions, which include closure, Whiston told the Detroit district. It would “give the partnership model an opportunity to be successful,” he wrote in a Wednesday letter.

The new option for local districts comes one week after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delayed any potential school closures until at least May. The governor ordered his School Reform Office to work with the state Department of Education on new plans.

The School Reform Office first published the possible closure list in January, listing 38 schools that have fallen in the bottom five percent of academic performance for at least three consecutive years. The list included 24 schools in Detroit.

“The letter that was sent is part of the process of getting SRO, MDE and the local districts to form a meaningful partnership to get kids educated appropriately,” Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said. “This letter helps Superintendent Whiston spell out some parameters so everyone knows what’s happening going in.”

Under the new partnership model, if the school does not meet progress goals within 18 months, the state could still close it or force an alternative accountability measure described in the partnership agreement. If progress is being met, the school would continue operating under the partnership model for another 18 months.

The state is encouraging districts to form partnerships with third-party groups such as the Michigan Association of School Administrators and the Michigan Association of School Boards. Other recommended partners include parents, community organizations, local business leaders, foundations and “any others who are positioned to help the district.”

Whiston’s letter was sent to the Metro Detroit districts of Pontiac, Madison Heights and River Rouge as well as Benton Harbor, Bridgeport-Spaulding, Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights and Saginaw, state Education Department spokesman Martin Ackley.

It was also sent to the Central Michigan University Charter Office, authorizer of the Michigan Technical Academy, the lone charter to make the list of 38 target schools.

The letter was not sent to East Detroit Schools, Ackley said, because the School Reform Office has already taken accountability actions by appointing a chief executive officer.