Reporting Pat Sweeting
DETROIT (WWJ) - A new plan to overhaul the way Detroit Public Schools operates is part of an effort to improve academics, stem years of plummeting enrollment and bring in more money to educate students, the district’s emergency financial manager said Thursday.
Details of the “2012-2013 Action Plans: Increasing Quality Seats for Detroit School Children” were released by Roy Roberts a day after he discussed the ideas for turning around the state’s largest school district to business and community leaders.
“Over the course of the next year, we must lay a foundation for Detroit Public Schools that will enable sustained progress for years to come,” Roberts said in a statement.
“This will require a relentless focus on accountability and action where underperformance persists, a promise of stability and increased support for schools that are achieving, a fundamental rethinking of the role of the central organization, and a continued laser-like focus on restoring the financial health of this district.”
The plans are composed of four key components, including:
• Implementation of citywide accountability and common assessments to define school success and create an “apples to apples” comparison for parents making school choices, and a clearly defined practice to close programs and schools based on performance.
• A new cohort of Self-Governing schools where decisions about hiring, curriculum and budget will all be made at the school level; and an intensified focus on research-based practices and supports so that Centrally-Supported schools can begin to see real gains in student achievement.
• A reorganization of Central Administration to ensure accountability for performance through an enterprise model to provide services demanded by the district’s customers – its schools and other schools.
• Significant strategies to ensure ongoing financial stewardship, focusing on deficit elimination, operating within the district’s means, right-sizing to accommodate the current student population, and pursuit of revenue-generating opportunities.
Roberts said DPS will participate in the setting of a common citywide definition for school quality and will participate in the administration of a common assessment that will be aligned to the ACT college readiness standard.
DPS will rely on Excellent Schools Detroit, an independent arbiter, to collect data and report out on all schools in the city in an impartial manner.
Using these tools, Roberts said DPS will make internal accountability decisions about the schools in its portfolio, with the goal of increasing overall quality at the center of the decision-making process.
This fall, the district will establish an initial cohort of Self-Governing schools where decisions about hiring, curriculum and budget will all be made at the school level.
Roberts said this builds on the research that local school communities require consistency and stability for school improvements to truly take root and that a “one size fits all” model to educating over 60,000 students does not make sense. By shifting authority to make vital decisions to the school level, DPS offers schools both the ability to maintain consistency in their programs and the ability to make decisions that best serve the needs of their particular students.
While charters are an important part of Detroit’s educational future, this plan calls for keeping the remaining Detroit Public Schools in DPS.
Instead, Roberts will select an initial group of DPS schools to become autonomous or self-governing schools. An Office of Self-Governing Schools within DPS will manage 26 self-governing schools – 16 DPS authorized charters and 10 small high schools – beginning next school year. Together, these schools will educate approximately 7,500 students this fall. Chief Innovation Officer Doug Ross will lead this effort.
Under this innovative model DPS will do the following:
• Set clear academic and financial goals for each self-governing school that must be met if the school wishes to retain its self-governing rights and status.
• Select a governing council for each school that will be made up of civic, community, business, government, and local leaders, along with parents, that will take responsibility for the performance of that school in partnership with the Principal and teachers at the school. These councils will have control over budget, hiring, curriculum, and operations, with DPS providing close and careful oversight.
• Place 97% of state funds at the school level after debt service and fixed cost obligations are deducted, as well as 100% of available federal funds to the schools. Governing Councils and principals will be empowered to make decisions about budgeting, hiring, curriculum and operations to best meet the needs of their schools.
With these actions, Roberts said principals will be required to be instructional leaders, not chief administrative officers, and principals and teachers in self-governing schools will be expected to take advantage of the new autonomy and flexibility at the school level to pursue learning strategies that will work.
If this approach is successful, Roberts said DPS will move more schools under this model in the years ahead.
Roberts also said DPS will maintain a close partnership with Detroit Public Schools’ Police Department to make decisions around safety and security. This, as it has been to an increasing extent this year, will be a major component for schools in both categories.
Already, through participation with the Mayor’s Youth Violence Initiatives and a new multi-agency approach including strong volunteer corps, DPS has reduced school crimes year-to-date by 13% and violent crimes by as much as 40%.
Roberts also outlined additional financial strategies focusing on financial stewardship, including deficit elimination, operating within the district’s means, right-sizing to accommodate the current student population, and pursuit of revenue-generating opportunities such as provision of services to other school operators and districts.
Steps being taken toward those goals include eliminating the DPS deficit in 5 years, managing a balanced budget, identifying opportunities to generate revenue from other sources by repositioning DPS as a potential service provider to all schools citywide, and stem the loss of student membership.
“History judges societies by what they do in times of great struggle,” Robert said. “Let us all be remembered by what we do for our children in this community at this moment.”