By Vickie Thomas

Detroit public schools emergency financial manager Roy Roberts started the first day of classes at Nichols Elementary School on the city’s east side Tuesday morning.  As the school bell rang, he told staffers to, “have a good year.”

roy roberts 0111 Detroit Schools Chief Focuses On Student Count
Roy Roberts hits the classroom

He went to the office which was jammed with parents trying to get their kids enrolled.  A sight for sore eyes to the man charged with keeping the struggling district afloat as student enrollment continues to slide.

When I began covering the school district in the late 1980’s there were well over 180,000 students in the state’s largest school district.  During the 2010-2011 school year that number had dropped to 73,000.  This year the district is banking on 65,834 students.

Can Roberts, a retired General Motors executive, stop the bleeding?  He says if he can slow down the mass exodus, he can turn the district around by doing the best job academically of any other school district in the region.  And also he says by solving a troubling attendance problem in the district.

Roberts says attendance agents were called in early to pound the pavement and knock on doors to get students signed up.  The district’s “I’m in” campaign also includes the big blue enrollment van tooling up and down city streets to recruit students.  We’ll know the first week in October if the efforts pay off.  The state’s annual student count day is scheduled then to determine how many students are actually in the seats.


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