Livonia: The rest of the story on Hinoki school


Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, wrote a column about Livonia Public Schools and the Hinoki International School (August 25, “Livonia vs. Hinoki school”).

In that column, Quisenberry was highly critical of Livonia Public Schools’ support of the Japanese language immersion program that the district has fostered, chartered and, when the school fell apart over governance and management issues, preserved as a magnet school. Quisenberry has not spent any time in the classrooms of the school, spoken to the the staff or reached out to check his facts with anyone from the school district. Quisenberry is, instead, conveniently using an issue he knows very little about to promote his own politics.

What he appears to be doing is attempting to create a narrative to assail the state Department of Education’s initiatives related to charters, using our issues for his own political ends.

If that’s not putting adult interests over kids, I don’t know what is.

In late 2009-10 Hinoki’s founder came to us after being told by the other authorizers in the state that they could not charter the small Japanese language immersion program. We took a chance because we believed in its vision.

Over the years, as we oversaw the academy under our charter, we came to the realization that Hinoki was struggling with management and governance issues that threatened its very existence. Board meetings lasted into the late evening and there was high turnover at the board level. The school struggled with the myriad of administrative responsibilities they owned being, in a sense, their own small school district. The issues had become so challenging that the founder of the school was willing to walk away from the school he had created (and worked at without compensation just to make it financially viable). The teachers were working in an environment of intimidation, making their job very difficult. We had to address these issues. That was our responsibility as the Authorizer and we took it seriously.

What became clear is that we needed to act to address the management and governance of the school as a place for children to learn to ensure its best chance of survival into the future. Our school district could address these issues by cutting out a significant level of bureaucracy, such as state and federal reports, human resource needs, policy, budgets, audits, curriculum. We simply could not let the instability ruin the educational opportunities for children.

Quisenberry portrays this as “stealing” the school. Frankly, we could have created the school as a magnet school and no one would be saying a word. We could have refused to charter the school. Livonia Public Schools fostered the school when no one else would.

And what has happened in just the few weeks the school has been operated by us?

Let me outline the changes: an improvement in the school facility, a new computer lab donated by an outside corporation, upgraded safety features such as a working public address system and new safety procedures at the school, a happier and rejuvinated staff, a new school administrator who can now focus on the school and not endless paperwork required before, new professional development opportunities for the staff. The school has a good enrollment and many returning parents and families.

So, why would Quisenberry be upset that a Japanese Immersion school existed last year, and a better school is there for this year? He provides an example of a parent who found the right educational fit at the school and had the “rug pulled out” from him.

Yet a school still is there. Families have access to the same teachers and curriculum. And the school has been improved.

Randy Liepa, superintendent,

Livonia Public Schools