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Erin Einhorn

Week in Review: An emotional fight and a school that aims to be a jewel

The fate of struggling schools in Detroit’s main school district appears destined for an emotional legal battle. The question of whether a new law requires the state to shutter low-performing schools in the city pits two of the state’s top officials against each other and leaves Detroit families in turmoil, wondering if their local school will continue to exist. We have answers to many of the questions you’re probably asking about the issue — as well as a list of the schools that could be in danger of closing in June.

We also spent some time this week at Spain Elementary-Middle School, which became an international symbol of Detroit’s problems last year but now has grand ambitions of becoming a “jewel of midtown.”

“We have a new principal. We have a new fresh gym and now everything is brand new … Last year, we started out pretty lopsided. This year, we’re starting out nice and straight.”
Antonio Overstreet, fifth-grade student, Spain Elementary-Middle School

What other schools should we visit? Contact us anytime at detroit.tips@chalkbeat.org. Read on for this week’s headlines.


The growing rift

Supporters of as many as 27 schools in Detroit’s main school district will be watching anxiously to see how Gov. Rick Snyder will respond to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s assertion that the state must close persistently low-performing schools in the district — even though Snyder asserted weeks ago that the law protects district schools until 2019. A Detroit News editor called the dispute the “latest example of the growing rift” between Schuette and Snyder.

Schuette’s office says his official legal opinion is binding on state agencies, meaning that the state school reform office must proceed with the closures. But a lawyer who tracks state policy says it’s not clear whether agencies are required to use Schuette’s interpretation. That means a judge will likely end up interpreting the law.

Schuette, who explained his views in an op/ed in the News, won praise from charter-school supporters who were alarmed that, for a while, it seemed like charter schools could be closed while district schools got a stay of execution.

The state Republican leaders who requested the opinion praised Schuette’s opinion, saying it would put students in low-performing schools “back on the path to success and address the crippling problem presented by the worst of the worst schools in the city.”

The decision sparked anger in Detroit, with one critic saying Schuette timed his decision to hurt Detroit schools just a week before the crucial day when student attendance determines how much state funding schools will receive. (Click here for a good explanation of Count Day and the state’s school budget formula.) The president of the state board of education called the opinion “pandering toward right-wing forces that want to see DPS fail.”

A progressive advocacy organization noted that Schuette, a likely gubernatorial contender, got $140,000 in campaign contributions from the pro-charter DeVos family and its affiliates.

In Detroit schools news:

  • Months ago, this midtown school was a symbol of everything that was wrong with Detroit schools. Now it’s launching a PR blitz and restoring performing arts programs as it tries to attract families that live and work in the trendy neighborhood. The Detroit News has a slideshow of school’s spiffy new look. And the Atlantic republished our story on the school under the headline “Reinvesting in Detroit’s Public Schools.”
  • A scholarship program that aims to give Detroit high school students a tuition-free path to college is expanding beyond community colleges to include four-year institutions.
  • Mayor Mike Duggan is pitching an ambitious “community schools” plan that would put a single government entity in charge of helping students with problems like hunger and homelessness. Currently a mix of local, state, and federal agencies are responsible for providing that kind of assistance.
  • Detroit’s top schools official says Detroit teachers deserve a pay raise.
  • Two of the attorneys behind a federal civil rights lawsuit that accuses the state of violating the rights of Detroit children by allowing schools to deteriorate explain what the suit aims to accomplish — and how it’s different from earlier legal battles over school equity.
  • Here’s how some Detroit families say they made decisions about where to enroll their children in school.
  • A former city councilwoman is continuing to lead a Detroit charter school even after state officials fined the school for allowing her to work without proper certification.
  • A powerful Detroit business group has endorsed seven candidates for the new Detroit school board.

Detroit’s main school district increased security in all of its schools after the district receiving a faxed threat that police believe don’t believe is credible.
Across the state:

  • More than half of the state’s public school students attend classes in buildings without a school nurse.
  • The education director for a pro-school-choice think tank argues that the fact that Michigan charters enroll fewer children with special needs than traditional districts is more complicated than it seems.
  • The Detroit News praised legislation now headed to the governor that would make it harder for third-graders who are behind in school to advance to the fourth grade. The paper said the tougher new rules “could make a significant difference in ensuring more children don’t leave elementary school without adequate reading skills.”
  • The Michigan Department of Education has launched a multimedia “Proud Michigan Educator” campaign to recognize and celebrate Michigan educators.
  • This commentator says Michigan schools are suffering because we’re spending less money on more schools.
  • A blogger explains why Michigan should invest in extracurricular activities in schools.
  • An influential publisher called the discussion around replacing the M-STEP “silly and likely to cause no end of trouble.”
  • Thirteen Michigan schools won national blue ribbon recognition. Here’s a list.
  • The state’s first-ever study of head injuries in high school athletes found 4,452 head injuries at 750 high schools last year among boys and girls who played sports.
  • A new “global scholars” program at an elite suburban school exposes students to foreign languages, world literature and history through travel and specialized courses.
  • A Detroit private school celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday by dedicating a historic marker in front of its building in Indian Village.
  • A suburban teacher is restoring a local cemetery with his students to teach them about the area’s past and the people who were buried there.
  • This suburban district is in a dispute over whether a homeschooled student can attend the school’s Homecoming dance.

The Michigan Education Trust has raised $334,134 for 500 former foster youth to attend college.
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