A Time for Change and Opportunity in Detroit Schools

For far longer than today's Detroit students have been alive, the community has struggled with the question of "What to do about the poor-performing schools in the city?" Now, the state of Michigan and Detroit Public Schools have agreed to try something different, starting this fall, that leaders expect will give Detroit's worst-performing schools perhaps their last chance for a turnaround.

These schools, among the lowest performing five percent in the State, are being placed under the State's new Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) rather than under Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Last month, the EAA announced which Detroit schools will now operate under its authority. They are Central High School, Denby High School, Ford High School, Mumford High School, Pershing High School and Southeastern High School. Also, nine elementary/middle schools will be transferred to the EAA: Phoenix, Scott, Trix, Stewart, Burns, Nolan, Bethune, Murphy and Law.

According to the Detroit Free Press, "The EAA intends to improve achievement by providing an 11-month school year, giving principals autonomy and flexibility, high-tech professional development and teacher evaluations, and individualized instruction for students." As DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts has explained, the EAA will give these schools more attention so they can focus on the educational results that will benefit students.

Some parents may feel uncomfortable with the idea of their children attending the "worst performing" schools in Michigan. But, even with new options around the city, they should be reassured that there is now a concerted effort to improve these schools.

Whether their school is run by DPS, the EAA or one of the new charter conversions, it is imperative that all public school students in Detroit be provided with the best possible opportunity to learn and prepare for careers, college and life as adults. Despite a new era of governance, that is one fact that must remain a top community priority.

For parents, students and alumni, the EAA represents a time of change in the city. Many of Detroit's best-known high schools, with traditions dating back generations, are now a part of the EAA. Central High School, for example, is the oldest secondary school in Michigan and has operated in its current location since 1926. But, now should also be a time for the community to reaffirm its commitment to the students who stand to benefit from the EAA, as well as other new options for education in Detroit created out of the changes to DPS.

At our Foundation we had a decision to make in the midst of unfolding change: Should we expand our mission to include former DPS schools? Our Board decided, in the best interests of the students of Detroit, to seize the opportunity to support successful programs that benefit students not only in DPS schools, but also in the EAA and in the schools that DPS will convert to charter schools.

We feel it is important to continue to support Detroit students, particularly at such a pivotal time for the City's future. So, we plan to continue funding science fairs, music programs and athletic programs, as just a few examples, for EAA, as well as DPS, students.

In times of change, it is important to remember what is not changing, and importantly, what should not be changing. The community must not waver on the priority to focus energy, time and funds on Detroit students.