Livonia vs. the Hinoki school
After just three years, the Hinoki International School in Livonia was showing every sign of becoming a charter school success story.
The school started small in 2011 with just 14 students, but as more parents learned about its innovative Japanese immersion program, Hinoki began to blossom. Families were moving to the Livonia area just so they could be closer to the school, and enrollment swelled to 130 students this past year. Kids were thriving and parents were thrilled.
Johannes Cawood was one of those parents. He was featured in a recent Detroit News article about Hinoki, and he said that his son had been enrolled at the school since it opened. After just three years at Hinoki, Johannes’ 8-year-old son was fluent in Japanese — able to read, write and even think in a totally different language. How cool is that?
Johannes, like charter school parents across the state, was elated that he had found the right educational fit for his child.
And then, the rug was pulled out.
Hinoki’s authorizer, the Livonia Public Schools district, had been seeing its own enrollment decline, so when it saw a thriving charter school in its midst, it decided to essentially steal the program away.
The Livonia school district was acting as both authorizer and landlord for Hinoki, so it was an easy move to kick the school out of its building. And then, because Hinoki didn’t have a place to call home, Livonia officials revoked the school’s charter.
In its place, Livonia decided to start its own Japanese immersion program. The $8,019 in state funding for each student that had been going to Hinoki would now be going directly to the Livonia Public Schools.
A charter school had been stolen away, with apparently no thought to Johannes Cawood’s son and the other students at Hinoki.
If you were thinking that this sounds like truly awful authorizing, then you’d be right. Livonia Public Schools has acted unethically and recklessly, looking out for their balance sheet and not their students. The adults involved should be held responsible.
State Superintendent Mike Flanagan had people in the education community scratching their heads recently when he released a list of 11 charter school authorizers “at risk of suspension” for supposedly questionable practices and results. Flanagan used a metric that nobody had ever seen before to compile the list, and the names on it came as a surprise.
Two of the authorizers on the “at risk” list – Grand Valley State University and Lake Superior State University – had been ranked as the top two authorizers in the state last year in a report issued by this same superintendent. Last year they were the two best, and now they’re suddenly two of the worst? It made no sense.
What also made no sense is that Livonia Public Schools wasn't on the list. As it showed in the Hinoki situation, Livonia is the worst charter school authorizer in the state — by a country mile. Grand Valley and Lake State never would have engaged in the unethical practices that Livonia has displayed.
MAPSA has asked Flanagan to immediately investigate Livonia Public Schools, but thus far, indications are that he won’t.
That’s a shame, because parents like Johannes Cawood and students like his son deserve better.
They deserve to live in a state where the adults in control make decisions that are in the best interests of students. That isn’t happening, especially not in this election year, where charter schools have somehow become a political football. When the grown-ups start playing football, the kids get kicked around. That has to stop.
We need an educational system that’s all about kids, not adults or politics. We need genuine accountability. Charter schools are held accountable by their parents, their school board and their authorizers.
Nobody, it seems, wants to hold the Livonia Public Schools district accountable. And that’s a shame.
As for Johannes Cawood and his son, after this school year is over, he’s leaving Livonia. “I can’t trust them, so I’m moving and pulling my son out next year,” he told The News.
He had found a school that was working for his son, but the grown-ups decided to do what was best for them, instead of what was best for the kids.
Where’s the accountability in that?
Dan Quisenberry is the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state charter school association.