detroit public schools

A year after students rallied and, in some cases, got arrested to save their school from closure, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant and parenting teens recently celebrated the graduation of its senior class, capped off with some national media attention.

Rachel Maddow featured the graduates in her "Best New Thing in the World Today" segment (see below).

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported last June, the Catherine Ferguson Academy was one of several Detroit public schools slated to close due to budgetary concerns, but it was saved at the eleventh hour when education officials agreed to turn it over to a charter organization.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

John Bennett Elementary
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Despite last year’s Detroit Public School campaign entitled “Attendance … Every Day, All Day,” the district’s 2010-2011 attendance numbers failed to meet state requirements and will face the loss of $4.2 million in state aid, according to the Detroit News.

Though the lost money will further hurt the state-controlled school district, the Detroit News reports that the damage could have been worse:

In its amended 2011-12 budget, DPS said it expected to pay $21 million to the state for dropping below 75 percent attendance and had budgeted for the expense.

The state informed DPS in March the amount would be closer to $4 million, giving DPS $17 million more money, which was returned to the general fund.

According to its 2011-2012 budget, the district received about $497 million in state funding over the school year, up three percent from the expected amount.

According to the DPS website, each student enrolled above the budgeted number on count days brings $7,550 in state funding.  In order to encourage count day attendance in its 137 schools in the past through ice cream and pizza parties, “dress down” days for schools that require uniforms, and even a 2009 Radio One-sponsored contest in which students attending school could win a plasma TV, laptop computer, iPod nanos, or an American Express gift card.

- Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

After a four-year absence, the Detroit Grand Prix returns to Belle Isle this weekend.

The event officially kicked off Friday—despite steady rainfall--with a “free day” open to the public. It featured practice laps, some qualifying races, and other events away from the racetrack.

Races continue over the weekend, culminating with the Chevrolet Indy Grand Prix race on Sunday.

Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker says he had “goosebumps” when he threw the green flag to kick off racing Friday morning.

WzrdsRule / flickr

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is threatening a lawsuit that could force a legal showdown over Michigan's new teacher tenure law.

The union says Detroit Public Schools' process for re-hiring teachers this fall violates the union's contract.

The district has issued layoff notices to all its teachers. It will re-hire them based in part on performance evaluations.

Union President Keith Johnson says under its 2009 contract, the district and the union were supposed to come up with an evaluation tool together.

But Johnson says instead, district officials are now conducting what he calls "drive-by evaluations."

"It pretty much involves principals or even retired principals going into a teacher's classroom, staying for as little as four minutes, and then determining whether or not that teacher was effective, ineffective, minimally effective or whatever the case may have been."

Under Michigan's new tenure law, teachers are rated on a scale from highly effective to ineffective.

But Johnson says seniority can still be considered. He says if the district ignores that, he'll go to court.

A district spokesman says it's complying with the law and current collective bargaining agreements.

 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Some Detroit Public Schools students involved in the Urban Forest Stewardship Program showed off their work this past weekend.

Eight Detroit middle and high schools participated in the program on Belle Isle this year.

Their projects included beach clean-ups, water quality testing, invasive species control, and clearing a new nature trail.

Tracy Ortiz, a sixth-grade science teacher at Detroit’s Clippert Academy, says the projects have introduced many of her students many of her students to natural world—and taught them science in a way that sticks.

(courtesy of the DIA)

DETROIT (AP) — Paintings, prints, drawings, photography, ceramics and other pieces of art created by Detroit Public Schools students are on display in an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The 75th annual exhibition began Saturday. It runs through June 3. Viewing is free with regular museum admission.

The artists and their parents attended an opening reception Saturday afternoon.

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts said at the reception it was "incredible" to "see these young people express themselves and find their voices."

via ourvoicessouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com

More than 100 students were suspended from Detroit’s Western International High School this week.

Those students were part of a group that walked out of school to protest district policies, and what they say is a poor-quality education.

Now, some of the students are setting up what they’re calling a “freedom school” to attend while they’re suspended.

via detroitgp.com

About 600 Detroit Public Schools students will visit the Detroit Grand Prix in June.

Before their visit, they’ll spend a few weeks learning about racing-related science and math concepts. They’ll then get a chance to apply those skills at the real racetrack, during events at the Grand Prix.

Grand Prix’s event chairman Bud Denker says this won’t just be a “field trip” for the students.

Monday was the last day for parents of Detroit Public Schools students to pick schools for their children.

The district has a citywide open enrollment policy this year.

Parents who want to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhood can rank their preferred schools. The district takes that into consideration when placing kids.

Sonya Smith, a DPS parent who also works at the Parent Resource Center at Osborn High School, says the district has made the whole process easier for parents this year.

user kconnors / morgueFile

Around 4,100 Detroit Public Schools teachers received layoff notices and will have to reapply for their jobs next month if they wish to continue to work for the district.

The Detroit News reports the layoffs are effective just days ahead of the next school year on August 24.

School district spokesman Steve Wasko said the letters were mailed on Tuesday.

"This was done previously; what's different and what parents should be aware of is the process to call staff back," Wasko said. "Based on new state law, all school districts are precluded from making hiring decisions based solely on seniority; thus decisions will be made based on evaluations."

Wasko said this will help ensure that the district brings back "the right number of teachers given its need to downsize andplaces only teachers in the top categories based on objective evaluations" in front of children.

The News reports DPS did the same thing last year "and spent the summer calling back teachers for positions."

The district experienced an attendance spike in September and after many classrooms became overcrowded had to call back additional teachers. All but about 400 teachers were eventually called back.

President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers Keith Johnson said "they are doing this again like they did last year and it's going to be chaos again in September... I'm preparing for battle."

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts laid out his latest plan for how to turn the cash-strapped district around and help students improve.

Here are the three main components of the turnaround:

East Detroit Public Schools

EASTPOINTE, Mich. (AP) - A suburban Detroit school board member warns that his district's participation in a Michigan Schools of Choice program could lead to white students leaving the district.

On Monday night, the East Detroit Board of Education in a 5-2 vote approved opening the district to neighboring Wayne County schools, including Detroit and Harper Woods.

The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens and MLlive.com report board member Jon Gruenberg said Schools of Choice in other districts has caused a "second wave of white flight."

He predicted that could happen in East Detroit, where the number of minority students continues to increase.

East Detroit school officials long had opposed the Schools of Choice concept, but said the district needed to participate in order to survive financially.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is considering a case related to whether the timing of the oath of office should affect the status of Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts.

The court heard oral arguments in the case Thursday.

The case was brought by Robert Davis, an activist who has filed several suits challenging aspects of Michigan's emergency manager law.

The Detroit school district has stepped in to help make sure the Highland Park public schools stay open for the rest of the school year.

But there are still plenty of questions about what happens after that.

The state had to advance Highland Park money last week, or the district would have gone broke.

And the state did—but with the provision that the money couldn’t go to the Highland Park school district, per se.

user mzacha / morgueFile

A new talk radio show hits the airwaves tonight. It's called "Can U Relate?" and it's produced by and for Detroit Public School students.

Ania McKoy is a junior at Detroit School of Arts, and is one of the handful of DPS students working on the new show. She says each episode of "Can U Relate?" will tackle a different topic - like teen pregnancy, bullying, homophobia.

The Detroit Public School system will shrink again next fall, as the district scrambles to revamp itself amidst declining enrollment.

This is just the latest in several waves of restructuring, as the district must constantly re-adjust to a student population that shrinks every year—and has fallen about 60% overall since 2000, from more than 167,000 students to about 69,000.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has signed legislation he says will let financially-strapped school districts guarantee their bond payments—using state school aid funds.

The legislation applies to all school districts with deficit elimination plans or emergency managers. But it was written with the Detroit Public Schools in mind.

Detroit State Representative Fred Durhal, who sponsored the bill, says the new law should help set bondholders’ minds at ease.

Police officials are picking up kids who are not in school around the Detroit area today.

The Detroit Free Press reports Detroit Police are teaming up with local school officials and federal officials to make the sweeps

The program was initiated with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by Detroit Police Officer Monica Evans, who was a teacher for 12 years. Detroit Public Schools officials are also participating. The effort stems from a U.S. Justice Department report that found many of the nation's prisoners listed truancy as their first offense. The task force has also organized patrols before and after classes at a number of Detroit schools to help students arrive and depart safely.

The Free Press reports the effort is part of "an ongoing collaborative effort by federal, state and local law enforcement to reduce crime by and against children."

They write the effort first started last year and "netted 63 truant students" during a sweep in April, 2011.

Governor Snyder has appointed a team to review the Muskegon Heights School District's financial records. That puts the west Michigan school district a step closer to getting an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Heights school district asked for a state review of its finances back in December.

The preliminary review found the school district was in ‘probable financial stress’, due to the district’s $8.5 million deficit.

That set the stage for the governor to appoint a state review team to scour the school district’s books. 

If an emergency manager is eventually appointed in Muskegon Heights schools, it will join school districts in Detroit and Highland Park. Emergency managers are also running things in four Michigan cities.

Ford Motor Company

Talking Points Memo, an influential political blog, is estimating that as much as $100 million could be spent on the recall fight involving Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week parents and educators have one last chance to weigh in on the state’s plans for the new Michigan Education Achievement Authority.

The authority is a new school system that’ll try to help turn around the state’s lowest performing schools. Roughly 100 public schools across the state make that list. The system starts in Detroit Public Schools next fall.

Detroit Public Schools

Some Detroit Public Schools are open part-time over the two-week holiday break.

The district’s Holiday Learning Fest program tries to keep kids engaged in fun academic activities. But it also aims to keep them well-fed.

On Thursday, volunteers handed out food baskets to parents as they picked up their kids. Gleaners and the United Way donated the fresh food baskets.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools is trying to make sure students stay up-to-date on their academics over the two-week holiday break.                                                              

The idea behind the Holiday Learning Fest is to keep kids learning part-time over the break.

18 schools have opted to participate in the program. One is Beard Elementary in southwest Detroit, which focuses on young kids from pre-K through first grade.

Teacher Ann Crowley says once her school found out about the program, they clamored to get on board.

frankjuarez / flickr

A political fight in Lansing could mean tens of millions of dollars in un-budgeted borrowing costs for Detroit Public Schools over the next few years.

At issue is legislation that would have allowed the district to make a new deal with creditors. The deal would have given the troubled school system more time to pay off its bonds. But the measures were tabled after Republican and Democratic leaders had a disagreement over an unrelated measure and adjourned for the year. Now officials with the school system will have to come up with the cash more quickly.         

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court plans to hear a case over whether the state-appointed emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools should be removed from office.

The court announced in an order Wednesday it would hear the case brought by Robert Davis, which was rejected by the state Court of Appeals. It says oral arguments are planned and briefs from those
involved are due within 42 days.

Davis argues that the office of emergency manager should be declared vacant because Roy Roberts didn't immediately take the oath of office earlier this year.

Roberts later took the oath.

The district said in a statement that Roberts "continues to work on the hard daily tasks of strengthening educational opportunities for Detroit students and righting Detroit Public Schools finances."

user steveburt1947 / Flickr

Michigan Radio is giving 2011 a sendoff by taking a look back at some of the year's popular and important stories. As part of this retrospective series, here's a small collection of stories we covered about Detroit. You can also weigh in. Tell us your pick for the most important Detroit story this year (if you want to peruse all the stories we've covered in Detroit, you can find them organized under our Detroit tag):

Leaders of a new statewide school district are looking for citizen input.

The Education Achievement System (EAS) is Governor’s Snyder’s plan to improve the state’s lowest-performing schools. The EAS held input sessions in Detroit and Kalamazoo Monday.

Plans for the EAS have been sketchy so far. It’s set to launch in 2012 with an unspecified number of Detroit Public Schools.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Students in Detroit Public Schools showed slight improvements in the latest round of a benchmark standardized test.

But Detroit students still posted the worst scores of any district in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The NAEP exam tests fourth and eighth-graders in reading and math. When Detroit students took the test for the first time in 2009, they produced the worst scores in the test’s history.

In 2011:

·        Math, 4th grade: proficiency up from 31% to 34%

·        Math, 8th grade: proficiency up from 22% to 29%

·        Reading, 4th grade: proficiency up from 27% to 31%

·        Reading, 8th grade: proficiency up from 41% to 43%

Some experts question whether the posted gains are even statistically significant. But Detroit schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the important thing is a positive trend.

“Detroit had the highest gains of any city in any subject in mathematics,” Roberts says. “Detroit also exceeded the state in gains in reading.”

“Like the budget deficit, it will not be eliminated overnight. But we have demonstrated real progress.”

Roberts says the biggest thing hindering Detroit students’ academic performance has been “instability” in the district.

He says the district will announce in January how many more schools to close, charter, or move to the Education Achievement System, a new statewide district for the lowest-performing schools.

Thirteen years ago, Doug Ross lost Michigan’s Democratic primary for governor -- and that might turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to education in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the district is making headway on its deficit.

The district ended the 2010 fiscal year more than $327 million in the red. Roberts says the district cut that by more than $40 million the following year.

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