DPSCD interim superintendent addresses district's fresh start

Alycia Meriweather responds to fresh-start announcement

DETROIT – With the school year kicking off after the holiday weekend, Detroit Public Schools Community District interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather held a news conference Thursday morning to address the district’s fresh start.

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Meriweather responded to the State School Reform Office’s three-year fresh start announcement by re-enforcing the district’s commitment to becoming the best public school district in Detroit.

First steps of the reform include focusing on addressing chronic absenteeism, hiring high-quality certified teachers, providing more intentional academic support within the network structure, and connecting parents and teachers to accurate data about student achievement and enrollment.

The district will classify schools that are on the state’s priority list as progressive schools to reflect its goal of boosting student growth levels.

"The students of Detroit have a fresh start for a new educational opportunity as a result of this decision. I’d like to thank the governor’s office, state legislators and the SSRO for recognizing DPSCD as a new district as it relates to data, in the same way we are recognized as a new district legally and financially. These combined actions offer the new district a unique opportunity to take ownership of our challenges and begin repairing Detroit’s public school district," Meriweather said. "We will need the help of the entire community."

Areas of focus

DPSCD has an intense focus on "Every Student, Every Day" to increase awareness of chronically absent students. Missing even two days per month can mean that a student is less likely to graduate, officials said.

Students will no longer attend classes for half-days, because attendance was traditionally very poor on half-days, DPS said. Officials said the newly reworked academic calendar reflects consistent instructional time to avoid unnecessary disruptions, and has been released in a family-friendly version that is posted on the website and was delivered to students’ homes.

School starts Tuesday, and DPS is asking the entire community to assist in communicating the message that every day matters.

The district said it is committed to hiring certified teachers to provide instruction. In addition, the network structure was reconfigured to provide improved support to principals, instructional specialists and teachers.

"Our teachers are on the front lines, and we are planning to support them with professional development, teaching tools, frequent feedback and identifying best practices," said Leenet Campbell Williams, the Progressive Schools Network leader.

DPSCD said schools will continue to administer the NWEA MAP test three times a year. The nationally recognized adaptive test is used to help identify learning gaps throughout the school year. In addition to the test, absenteeism data and behavioral data will be used to provide interventions.

Teachers will be able to quickly address gaps and adjust how instruction is administered. Additional support programs to help address the unique learning needs of students, including blended learning models, project-based learning, programs such as My Brother’s Keeper and The Flying Classroom, also are expected to make a difference.

"We will be streamlining our data with a data dashboard to give more accurate snapshots of student progress. The dashboard will be ready later this school year. In addition, we encourage parents to access our parent portal that provides student information such as grades, attendance, and behavior," Meriweather said.

Learning tools will be underscored, including options to take district-issued netbooks home, access to free licenses for Microsoft Office Suite, including district email addresses, unlimited cloud storage for homework and projects, reduced cost access to the internet and more.

"We are excited and have spent the summer preparing to get students on the pathway to their future careers," Meriweather said.

The district was recently split into two separate districts – the old DPS to pay down the debt, and the new DPSCD focused on educating students. The changes came with a controversial $617 million state-aid package. The law also restored control to a school board and added additional financial oversight.