Multiple East Detroit schools to get state CEO

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 15, 2016


EASTPOINTE — Gov. Rick Snyder announced Feb. 2 that an academic CEO will be put in charge of four schools in the East Detroit Public Schools district.

Bellview Elementary, Pleasantview Elementary, Kelly Middle School and East Detroit High School will have someone appointed from the Michigan School Reform Office, or SRO — an offshoot of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget — to oversee academic improvements in the buildings. All four schools have been designated “priority” schools by the state, meaning they are — or were — among the lowest 5 percent in top-to-bottom academic rankings throughout the state.

According to a state press release, the CEO will have full authority over the schools’ academics and will have reports and updates on student achievement sent to the state every six to eight weeks as an accountability measure. The CEO will be required to work with the superintendent to “create lasting change.”

Priority schools already are required to send updates every quarter about student achievement and plans to improve it.

The press release said that the SRO analyzed all of the priority schools in the state in May 2015 to determine which ones needed  “another layer” of accountability beyond the state’s existing oversight.

Michigan State Reform Officer Natasha Baker said that the CEO will be focused on the “academic turnaround” of the schools, which includes having autonomy over school finances toward that goal.

“The SRO is going to work collaboratively (with the district) to identify a mutually agreed upon CEO,” Baker said. “This person in their roles and responsibility is charged to work collaboratively with Dr. Ryan McLeod, the (East Detroit) superintendent.”

Baker said that the CEO selection process will last through the rest of the school year, and once appointed, the CEO will serve in the roles for three years. Baker reiterated that the CEO will not simply be waiting a year or two to see if there has been any progress; rather, the CEO will use the reports every six to eight weeks to see if course corrections are needed.

Principals will still be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the schools, with the CEO playing an overarching role dealing with East Detroit High School and the other buildings that feed into it.

Baker said the CEO approach has been used successfully in Massachusetts, a state with high-performing schools.

McLeod said in a statement that the district had just emerged from an $8.5 million debt this past year, and the “financial struggle” left the district with serious academic concerns that are still being “aggressively addressed” with assistance from the Macomb Intermediate School District.

“We have implemented a strong, deliberate turnaround plan districtwide to address our academic deficiencies,” McLeod said in the statement. “We are already seeing significant improvements in increased student achievement, increased graduation rates and decreased discipline rates.”

He added that as of Feb. 4, he did not know the details of what an academic CEO would entail, but he believes that no one is more suited to improving academics in the school district than the local staff.

Baker said the most recent data the SRO has is from 2014, when East Detroit High School reported just 12 percent of all students proficient in math.

“I would like to see them on target to have 85 percent proficiency by 2021,” Baker said. “We will share the proficiency targets once we get the most recent data.”

Michael DeVault, Macomb Intermediate School District superintendent, has criticized the CEO plan, saying that the ISD is on the record as opposing CEOs being appointed for any school district in the state.

“We have been in conversation with the school reform officer for several months about possible options for schools and districts that are struggling academically,” DeVault said in a statement. “The outside management CEO in Michigan has not proven to be successful and will add another layer of bureaucracy to the reform process.”

Judith Pritchett, the ISD’s chief academic officer, said in a statement that the East Detroit district’s poverty rate is 84 percent, and she said research has suggested that poverty can have a major, direct impact on academic success. She added that roughly 30 percent of the students in the district came there from Detroit Public Schools.

“Many times, these students who transfer into the district do not have grade-level skills and must receive intense remediation, which takes time and resources.” Pritchett said in the statement.

Baker dismissed that concern, saying that the goal in Michigan is to educate all children, regardless of where they live. As such, if the district is going to get resources via Schools of Choice by taking Schools of Choice students, the schools are responsible to make sure those kids succeed.