Jacques: Detroit charter schools band together

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

There’s no shortage of ideas from high-profile folks about how to fix Detroit schools. Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan and the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren all have plans. But one group has been relatively silent in all these talks, one that could be dramatically affected by proposed reforms: charter schools.

A new nonprofit in Detroit seeks to change that. The Metro Detroit Charter Center is in the forming stages, but already has a board of 15 community stakeholders. The board is a mix of business owners, school leaders, charter management representatives and former charter board members.

“We want to be the voice of charters here,” says founder Karey Reed. “The goal is for each school to provide the best education for students.”

Reed works as the education director for Global Educational Excellence, a charter management company which runs 10 schools in Metro Detroit. Through her work in Detroit, she found there was a lack of communication among charters. There also isn’t enough collaboration between charter schools and the community, Reed says. When businesses and other organizations want to donate to schools, for example, they often just think of Detroit Public Schools. The center plans to change that.

“The community should be more involved with charters, and vice versa,” Reed says.

Reed also believes that charter school leaders in Detroit should be more involved in the school reform plans floated by the governor and mayor. She says she’s already spoken with Duggan’s point-to person on schools, Richard Tao. She also wants to help educate Detroit charters on these respective proposals.

“There’s been a lot of confusion and mixed messages,” Reed says.

As Snyder works with lawmakers to introduce legislation related to Detroit schools, it will be vital for charters to participate in the discussion. Those bills are expected to be introduced by the end of the month.

The governor’s plans for Detroit are two-fold. One set of legislation would address DPS’ longstanding debt by splitting the district into two. The other is focused on the entire school landscape, including charter schools.

Given that more than half of Detroit student attend charter schools, these schools could get hit with a lot more oversight. Snyder envisions creating an “empowerment zone” in Detroit—and other struggling school districts around the state—to be overseen by an education czar with sweeping authority to open and close all schools in the city, and decide where new schools could locate.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state’s largest advocacy group for charters, is aware of the center and president Dan Quisenberry says he’s open to working with the group.

With a concentration of Michigan’s charters in Detroit, the center could create a divide. But Reed doesn’t see her organization as a competitor to MAPSA. Rather, it’s about offering “on the ground” support.

“Detroit is the hot spot for education,” she says.