Local Control.....Means Local Leadership

By Brian L. Love

The new Detroit Public Schools Community District board begins its tenure this month. Detroit Schools Rock has written about the new board recently as we hope they help correct and steer the district into better times.

One of the issues board members need to address immediately is creating permanent and steady leadership at the superintendent position. Since 1999, the district has gone through major and multiple leadership changes. A series of emergency managers, emergency financial managers and superintendents have either been local people appointed by a governor who is an outsider or an outsider who was appointed by a governor or previous district school board.

During this time period, the community has not had the connection to their school district that DPS alumni have sorely missed. I’m a DPS graduate and talk to DPS alumni everyday. What made this district great was its portfolio of community-centered schools, with their distinctive identities and with the long-standing school rivalries that made Detroit what it is today.

For instance, I miss the rivalry between my alma mater, Murray-Wright High School and Cass Tech from the 1980s and 1990s. We competed against each other academically as well as in athletics. Once upon a time our elementary schools fed into our middle schools and they fed into our high schools. There was a connection between our community and its schools.

That connectivity is lost now. There has not been any leadership with any institutional knowledge of Detroit education to connect the community to its schools while navigating the competition created by the charter schools that educate nearly half of Detroit’s children.

The next DPSCD superintendent needs to be a person who is a Detroit educator who has institutional knowledge of the district and can navigate the new dynamics of Detroit’s education landscape. Someone who exudes the love and compassion for our kids that has not been seen for some time. A leader who can work with the mayor, the labor unions, ed reformers, charter schools and the community. It is a tall order, but is a tall job that has to be done--and finally done right!

We have seen signs of this kind of leadership and sense of connection with DPSCD’s interim superintendent, Alicia Merriwether. Although she was appointed by the state, she came on board as an insider with support from the district’s teachers. There were a couple of superintendents/managers who came to manage DPS from other communities who had some success, because they understood the importance of knowing and understanding this community. The district still has a lot of problems, but so far and compared to recent years there has been less drama this school year. 

The new school board is a smart, energetic group with the potential to make great change to improve education in the city of Detroit. We hope their first change is to create a process to establish strong permanent leadership at the superintendent position. This will set the stage for other productive changes for Detroit’s public schools. 

Let us know what type of superintendent you think should run the new Detroit Public School Community District. Send your thoughts via Twitter, @DSchoolsRock, or our Facebook page at Detroit Schools Rock.  #Voices4Ed #ChoiceIsOurs #Allkidsmatter