Answers

Leaders answer seven questions about Detroit’s new school district

Detroit Public Schools Manager Steven Rhodes answers questions about Detroit's new school district (Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat)

During a raucous public hearing, interrupted by hecklers, State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and DPS leaders Steven Rhodes and Alycia Meriweather tonight attempted to answer some of the questions that are looming over the Detroit Public Schools.

Among them: Will the district get a new name? Will it hire uncertified teachers? Will class sizes get any smaller?

Not all of the answers provided were well received. With the governor’s signature this week on a DPS rescue package that will transfer all of the district’s schools and contracts to a new-debt free district, emotions were running high in the Renaissance High School auditorium during a two-hour budget and legislative briefing attended by more than 200 teachers, parents and community members.

Two hecklers had to be removed from the room while Gay-Dagnogo tried to encourage cooperation in the wake of a tough partisan fight. The bills signed by the governor this week had no support from Detroiters or Democrats in the state house.

“Our feelings – and rightfully so – are very hurt. I cried yesterday,” Gay Dagnogo said. “This has been a struggle … An emotional struggle but at some point for the sake of our kids, we have to use some form of diplomacy so that we can get what’s best for them. No, I don’t like it! … But right now, it is what it is, and so we have to govern ourselves accordingly.”

Much of the presentation from Rhodes and Meriweather will soon be posted on the district’s website, officials say, including a budget for next year that assumes a 1.8 percent drop in student enrollment, but until then, here are some of the answers offered tonight:

On what the new district will be called:

“Many of you may not know that the district now, the Detroit Public Schools, is just its public name. It has a more formal name — “The school district of the City of Detroit.” In legal papers and in law, that’s what you’ll see it referred to as. The new school district also has formal name — Detorit Public Schools Community District. But it’s going to have a public name and we are going to solicit your input into what name to give it. The details of that will come out shortly and we will ask you for your participation.” — Rhodes

On who will run the new district:

“If we want ideal, strong, robust candidates (for school board), we want to make sure they know that the deadline (to file for candidacy) is Friday, July 22nd.”
— Gay-Dagnogo

On school closings:

“Any schools that have been in the bottom five percent of (Michigan) schools for 3 of the past 4 years (could be closed). We did meet with the state school reform office yesterday … They did indicate that the new (school ranking) list will not be out until September however we have talked and discussed about creating a moratorium to insure that we don’t have school closures that will create a financial deficit or interrupt instruction.” — Gay-Dagnogo

On class sizes:

Meriweather says class size targets will remain at 38 kids in middle school and high school, less in lower grades – but teachers in grades k-8 will get four prep periods a week – up from two this year.

On uncertified teachers:

“We’re not going to do that. The whole country would be outraged if a pilot took off a plane with people on board and they had no training. We have 46,000-plus passengers whose life is in our hands. We need the most qualified, most certified, best people teaching our kids.” — Meriweather

On when the money from the state will arrive:

The first checks will start rolling in July 15.

On Rhodes’ future with the district:

“My contract as of now expires on September 30th. There will be a transition manager until the new school board takes over on January 1st so I expect at some point the governor will want to know if I’m willing to stay in October, November and December. This is a conversation we have yet to have and so stay tuned.” — Rhodes

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”

reaction

Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”