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DPS turnaround plan calls for "self-governing" high schools, new accountability standards

Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts laid out his latest plan for how to turn the cash-strapped district around and help students improve.

Here are the three main components of the turnaround:

  1. Turn the DPS central office into more of a business that sells services and supplies to schools.
  2. Transform 10 existing high schools into “charter-esque” schools.
  3. Have all schools follow the same set of common accountability standards

You can read the full DPS Action Plan here.

Steve Wasko is a DPS spokesman. He says the goal of turn central office into a "customer-oriented enterprise" will force DPS to compete for business, since schools will have the option of purchasing their supplies from central office or the corner store.

As for the self-governed high schools, they will still honor union contracts. The schools will remain part of DPS (and therefore per pupil funding stay in the district), but will be run by a five-person board that makes all hiring, firing, and vendor decisions.

Wasko says the schools are part of a pilot.

"If it works, Mr. Roberts is committed to spreading it. If it doesn’t work or needs changes for the following year, then we’ll learn from that as well," explains Wasko.

As the Detroit News reports, the five-person board will consist of a business leader, a parent of a child at the school, and three people appointed by charter school leader Doug Ross. Ross is the CEO of New Urban Learning, which manages what’s widely considered Detroit’s most-successful charter school system.

Ross will be a part of selecting the business and parent board members. Roberts must give final approval. The schools in the program include a set of small high schools at Cody and Osborn as well as the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, Detroit Collegiate Prep and Detroit School of Arts. The Cody schools are Cody Academy of Critical Thinkers, Cody Academy of Public Leadership, Cody Medicine and Community Health Academy and Cody Institute of Technology. The Osborn schools are Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Osborn College Preparatory Academy and Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy. Cody and Osborn were selected because they already operate as "small schools with a school," DPS officials said. The schools have relationships with the business community as well.

When it comes to the common accountability standards, DPS' Steve Wasko says it will apply to all schools - whether they're traditional, charter, or in the new Educational Achievement System reform district. He says by getting all schools to provide the same type of information, it will allow parents "an 'apples to apples' comparison of schools across the city." 

Meantime DPS still grapples with an $83.9 million deficit, down from $327 million before Roberts took over as the district's Emergency Manager.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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