Focus on fresh start for public education in Detroit, not blame for past
On July 1, 2016, a new school district was born in the City of Detroit. Sixty-eight days later, on Sept. 6, 2016, our new school district will begin its first semester of responsibility to educate its students. We will be ready.
As a community, we can choose to focus our time and energy on questions such as who bears the responsibility for the problems of the old Detroit Public Schools, whether it was necessary for the Michigan Legislature to launch a new school district to solve those problems, or whether the Legislature should have done more.
As leaders of the new school system, however, we choose to focus on the task of creating the best school system that we can for the city of Detroit. We make that choice because it is in the best interests of the students. All other questions are merely distractions from the goal of excellence in academics to which we aspire. We ask the community to join us in that choice.
In a larger sense, this new beginning for education in Detroit is a part of the larger fresh start that the city and the community are working so hard to achieve following the City of Detroit's bankruptcy. School leadership and staff, the city and the community will work equally hard to achieve a fresh start for the new school district.
Our goal is excellence in academics. That is why we are creating a new academic plan for the district. This spring, we launched the Academic Advisory Council. We requested anyone interested in assisting with the creation of our new Academic Plan to respond. We have more than 160 participants. The council utilizes research and best practices models to make recommendations for improvement in 15 categories.
The council’s work is not complete, and the door to participate remains open. The council will continue to meet quarterly to provide a forum for dialogue and critique of the district’s academic plans moving forward.
At the same time, we recognize our logistical challenges in creating excellence in academics. Our budget must be balanced. Our school buildings must be fixed. Our students must have the necessary books and supplies and must feel safe and secure. We are working hard on these challenges. But they are only the means to the end.
We also recognize the opportunities that community involvement creates for excellence in academics. To the great credit of our community, many have volunteered. Beyond that, everyone we ask wants to help. The sense of responsibility for the education of our children that so many in Detroit are willing to actively support is growing. We are working on new and innovative ways to harness that energy.
Our definition of “community” extends beyond Detroit’s geographic boundaries. In our view, everyone in the state of Michigan has a stake in the success of education in Detroit, just as everyone has a stake in the success of the city itself. This means that we must bring an end to the “us vs. them” view that some hold, both within the city and elsewhere in Michigan.
Ultimately, excellence in academics comes down to two interactions. The first is what happens in the classroom between the teacher and the students. We take full responsibility for the quality of our students’ classroom experiences. The new academic plan addresses the multi-faceted issues of teaching and learning in our schools.
The second is the support that the adults in our students’ lives create for their education. We are committed to facilitating that support and to providing innovative tools to assist with that support. The new academic plan also addresses this key challenge.
The birth of our new school system is a fresh start for public education in Detroit. It is to be cherished for the gift that it is. We look forward to its future with great hope and expectation.
Steven Rhodes is transition manager and Alycia Meriweather is the interim superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. To volunteer, for the district's Academic Advisory Council contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Focus on fresh start for public education in Detroit, not blame for past: