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Charter company faces challenges running public school district in first weeks of class

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

The first two weeks of class have presented some obstacles for Michigan’s first fully privatized public school district.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency financial manager hired Mosaica Education, a charter school company, in Julyto run the K-12 system while he focuses on paying off the district’s debt. Highland Park schools’ EFM took the same option later that month.

Alena Zachery-Ross is the top administrator at the new Muskegon Height Public School Academy System. She’s very positive, but admits the first two weeks didn’t go “as smoothly” as she expected.

“There are all these things that you don’t think of. There are small details that we want to ensure are taken care of immediately but they take time,” Zachery-Ross said. She says these 'day-to-day' details are important but she must stick to a priority list.

The company has been on a tight timeline to re-enroll students in the new district and hire qualified teachers in the weeks before the start of class. Zachery-Ross says she’s very happy with student enrollment; now at 1,148. Mosaica’s target is 1,200 but budget plans include more than 1,400 students.

The amount of money the school district receives from the state depends a lot on how many students are enrolled. Zachery-Ross says they expect to see more students mid school year. But there’s also a chance they could lose a few students initially over Mosaica’s high expectations and new curriculum before that growth, she said.

Zachery-Ross explained there was some substitute teachers in place until permanent ones are hired and go through professional development. There were more students with special needs than the company anticipated. The number of high school students went from 200 up to 300 in a matter of days, contributing to the problem, Zachery-Ross said.

One parent asked how bad “teacher turnover” was and recalled a rumor he heard that the high school principal quit. Zachery-Ross said the former principal resigned for personal reasons before the start of school and she didn’t have an exact number of teachers who have left (but promised to follow up at the next meeting in early October). She guessed “a few” when I asked her after a public meeting Monday night if a dozen or more teachers had resigned.

Zachery-Ross says as much as it "saddens" her, she had to cancel most of the homecoming activities because of fights and insubordination during the first two weeks of school. Two police cars were near the high school before the meeting started.

Shabadoo Waller Sr. has a son in the 11th grade who grew up in Muskegon Heights. Waller says his son and his friends have been talking about the new set up.

“The kids are a little bit, they’re laying back and saying ‘daddy, it’s a little bit unorganized.’ And I said, ‘yeah that’s because it’s something new.’ Five, six weeks ago we didn’t even have a football team,” Waller said with a chuckle.

“I’m not going to judge, condemn or anything like that until everything is up and running,” Waller said. There are demands and questions from some at the meeting, but like most, Waller seems patient with the process. “It’s a work in progress,” he said.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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