Opinion: School improves for Flint children
Despite the irreversible and ongoing impact of the Flint water crisis, we at Flint Community Schools have not forgotten what our principle mission must be: growing and developing healthy children who can think creatively, problem solve and work collaboratively in the thinking and reasoning economy.
The road is long, but the journey towards accomplishing that goal in the Flint Community Schools district has begun.
In August, we became one of the first urban school districts in the state to implement a balanced calendar year, spreading out the same number of school days over a lengthened period.
The balanced calendar is a fundamental change in the way Flint Community Schools approaches teaching and learning to best meet the needs of our students. It allows us to promote mastery of learning to ensure students fully understand the material before moving through curriculum, giving all students a better chance to succeed.
During each school session, students will be in class for roughly 30 academic days or six weeks where they study defined units. If they have not mastered the units by the end of the session, the intersession — the week-long period between each session — will offer time to master the content before moving on to the next unit with a more complete understanding.
We have been enacting transformative change. We recently approved a new teacher contract in partnership with The United Teachers of Flint and Michigan Education Association designed to attract and retain teachers in Flint. We raised the starting salary for entry level employees by approximately $3,000 per year and included, on average, a 2% raise for every teacher in the district. The student numbers in each classroom were codified and the contract was ratified by the UTF membership with 96% of members in favor.
We implemented a new, standards-based curriculum in the 2018-19 school year. We are investing in classroom relationship-building by avoiding unnecessary teacher transitions after each count day, and by shrinking classroom sizes.
Under the Community Schools Model, we are cementing wrap-around services using the state-adopted Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development strategy of the “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child.” With the help of state, federal and private grants, we have Community School Directors, Social Workers, Nurses, Community Health Workers, Parent Engagement Facilitators, Attendance Agents and Safety Advocates in each of our buildings.
As a result of this work, the Michigan Department of Education’s recently released test scores show incremental but measurable movement towards proficiency in English language arts (ELA) and math scores at the majority of schools throughout our district.
The proficiency improvements are aligned with our 2018 MDE Partnership Agreement, which called for FCS to strengthen the implementation of the K-12 math and literacy curriculum and increase proficiency by at least 10% over the course of three years, improve attendance to 90% and decrease out-of-school suspensions by at least 5%.
We have also committed to improving our aging infrastructure by way of a long-term, energy efficiency study of our existing facilities. The savings that will be realized from the upgrades will be utilized to fund the renovations, thereby making the improvements self-funded.
The “self-funded” renewal includes $12.9 million in renovations in Phase 1 and $6.6 million in Phase 2. The nearly $20 million investment will cover heating, cooling, lighting, air, water, energy and other renovations needed in the lion’s share of the buildings that serve the children of our district.
With the support of our skilled teachers, staff and partners, the work continues. We are pleased with our forward progress, and thankful for the undying support of individuals across the city, state and country who wish to see our students succeed.
Let it be known: Flint residents are resilient. Flint students are strong. Soldiering on, we will continue to lift each other as we climb to a brighter collective future for our children, our families and the larger Flint community.
Derrick Lopez is superintendent of Flint Community Schools.