Welcome 2018

What would make 2018 the best yet for Detroit’s students? Nine leaders who care about education weigh in.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

The year 2017 was a huge one for education in Detroit and Michigan.

After years of being controlled by the state or state-appointed emergency managers, Detroit’s newly elected school board went to work. Its members wasted no time in naming a new superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Thirty-eight of the state’s lowest-performing schools started the year under threat of closure. Under intense political pressure, the state backed off and began crafting agreements that required the schools to improve. (One charter school was closed by its authorizer.) Today, almost half of district schools are in such partnership agreements.

A first-in-Detroit education forum laid bare rivalries, but also revealed ways to work together — and new opportunities for improvement.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s choice of Grand Rapids philanthropist Betsy DeVos for education secretary brought national scrutiny to the state’s education policy. DeVos faced tough questioning during her confirmation hearing because of her lack of public education experience, and because many believed her vision of school choice has left Detroit with some of the worst-performing schools in the country.

As we look ahead to next year, many we talked to are anxious to see more third-grade students proficient in reading. Otherwise, with a few exceptions, in coming years those students will be held back.  Educators are trying to get them ready now.

What would you like to see for Detroit students next year? We asked nine local leaders what they thought.


Jeffrey Robinson, principal of Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy: “To do more to increase education equity in the state of Michigan. And to play a greater part in addressing those inequities and making sure all students in Michigan get the education they deserve.”


David Hecker, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said his organization would love to see a headline that said: “Dems Sweep Elections: Legislation that actually improves education is top priority.”


Carolyn Bellinson, co-founder of Brilliant Detroit, a social service organization, offered this wish: “I would love to see a dedication by parents in underserved populations to really embrace the concept of reading to their children every day for 10, 15 minutes.”


Georgia Lemmons, Detroit district school board member, wants to see this headline in the new year: “Test scores in Detroit Public Schools Community District surpass state averages.”


Cindy Eggleton, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit, wants to see this headline: “Multiple grassroots, private and public partners unite to assure grade level reading is on track by third grade.”


LaMar Lemmons, Detroit district school board member, made this resolution: “To increase the enrollment and drastically move test scores” and “to increase music and art in the schools.”


Brian Calley, lieutenant governor, wants to see this headline: “Student improvement in third grade reading.” “It’s the most important measurement that we can focus on,” he said.


Sonya Mays, Detroit district school board member, wants to read this story: “A feature on specific innovations in Detroit education (partnerships, interventions, etc.) that are working really well.”


Ella Stanley, teacher at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, made this resolution: “To read nightly because not only is it a daily expectation I set for my students, but I know that reading for enjoyment is an act of self care, something many teachers are missing.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”