Detroit Schools: Can New Emergency Manager Turn the Tide ?

Detroit Schools: Can New Emergency Manager Turn the Tide ?
A new EM has come to Detroit, but time will tell whether this new ringleader will be able to make a positive impact on the schools in the city that have failed to pass muster.

Detroit Public Schools have been struggling with a myriad of problems for many years, from budget woes to dismal graduation rates. In 2009, the district was subjected to a state takeover, which resulted in the appointment of an emergency manager to turn the failing school district around. Recently, the third emergency manager was appointed to the beleaguered district, with ideas for a turnaround that incorporate both old and new concepts.

Introducing Jack Martin

The Blade reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently announced the appointment of Jack Martin to the post of an emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools. Martin boasts an impressive resume, serving as both the CFO for the U.S. Department of Education and more recently, as the chief financial officer for the city of Detroit. He has also run his own accounting firm and served under three U.S. presidents in various posts.

A product of DPS himself (he went to both Thurgood Marshal Elementary and Cass Technical High School), Martin has firsthand knowledge of the public education environment in the city. He also has a personal stake in seeing his own school system succeed. To that end, Martin brings in plenty of ideas for transforming Detroit schools into the bustling halls of academia they once were.

“The opportunity will allow me to continue offering leadership and making a positive impact in the Detroit community,” Martin was reported as saying on NBC News. “Fixing education in Detroit is foundational to addressing the myriad of other critical issues facing our community – locally and statewide.”

This video reports on the appointment of Jack Martin.

Following in Big Footsteps

Martin will be the third emergency manager to be appointed to DPS since the state took over the district in 2009. Prior to Martin’s appointment, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts had been at the post. Roberts made a number of positive changes to the school district, including making a significant dent in the large budget deficit. Under Roberts’ direction, graduation rates across the district also increased by five percent.

Despite those gains, DPS is still in dire straits by most standards. Academic performance is still some of the lowest in the country. Tight budgets restrict teachers and administrators from meeting all the needs of students in the schools. Safety concerns have become a constant worry for many Detroit parents, many of whom have moved their children out of traditional schools and into charter schools in the area.

This video reports on the previous Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts.

The Biggest Problem Facing DPS Today

Martin’s plan will be to capitalize on the good work started by Rogers and expand on the forward progress made. According to Martin, the biggest challenge still facing DPS is declining enrollment. According to the Detroit News, the district boasted a robust student population of around 300,000 during the 1960s. Since that era, enrollment has slowly dwindled to just 50,000 students in grades K-12.

“You have to get the deficit down without borrowing,” Martin told the Detroit News. “You do that by increasing enrollment. You can only cut so much. The financial challenges will be fixed if we increase enrollment.”

One reason for the dropping enrollment rates is a general population decrease in the city. The Blade reports that between 2000 and 2010, the city’s population dropped by more than a quarter-million people. However, Martin believes that there are still enough students in the district to significantly increase enrollment in DPS and improve the budget problems at the same time.

Jack Martin’s Plan for DPS

To reach that end, Martin has set a goal to increase enrollment in DPS by 5,000 students. He knows that to reach that goal, he will be tasked with showing parents in the district that DPS offers high-quality education. He also needs to be able to assure both students and parents that students are safe when they are inside a Detroit school. That’s not an easy task as Detroit and its school system have developed a reputation as a crime-ridden area.

To tackle this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, Martin has begun reviewing crime statistics within the public school system. He has also met with Roderick Grimes, the Public Safety Officer for the school district. Martin is studying specific problem areas in the city, to ensure sufficient parent volunteers and police offices so students will be safe walking to and from school each day.

In addition, Martin plans to bring a service attitude to the school district. He has partnered with Target Corp., which is developing a customized service training program for DPS. He is also considering a dress code for teachers that would help them to look more professional while on the job.

“They are professionals and they should dress like professionals,” Martin was quoted as saying of DPS teachers in the Detroit News. “They should be role models,” Martin added.

Other Plans in the Works

Another new initiative to be launched this year is a universal pre-kindergarten program that will add 46 pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout the district. The initiative was started by former manager Roberts but will be implemented during Martin’s tenure as emergency manager. According to CBS Detroit, the preschool initiative is designed to expand enrollment in DPS, while more effectively preparing children for a successful academic experience.

Detroit Public Schools may still be far from “fixed,” but there has been plenty of positive progress in the district in recent years. With Jack Martin now at the helm, it is possible this struggling school district may be able to regain some of its academic prowess and become a high-quality district sought after by students and parents once again.

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