Greetings DPS Family,
I want to take this opportunity to welcome everyone back from spring break, and to share some thoughts about how this new season relates to Detroit Public Schools and our important work at hand. Please read below or listen.
The last several years have been extremely challenging for Detroit Public Schools, leaving many of us feeling discouraged and frustrated. A culture of distrust, fear, and retaliation has been prominent in this District making it very difficult for people to feel good about our working environment. However, because of our love for our students and a deep desire for them to have what they deserve, we have stayed dedicated to the mission of providing not only instruction, but also multiple other elements of support to our students, parents and each other. I want to thank each of you for your sincerity and your sacrifice, consistently placing the needs of our students ahead of your own, and withstanding conditions that have been very difficult. In many ways, I feel that what we have experienced as a district has parallels to the negative traits often affiliated with the winter season. Usually, Michigan winters are harsh, unforgiving, and seem to last too long. We all wait with anticipation for spring.
As we observe the current seasonal change, I am struck by the fact that this district needs spring now more than ever, and we have been waiting for a very long time. We are in need of new growth and life, additional light that provides new perspective, and the time-honored tradition of Spring Cleaning that allows us to sort, retain, and remove.
Just a couple of days ago, the daffodils in my front yard bloomed. I took a picture and shared it here. Significant to me is not only the green of the leaves and the yellow of the flowers, but also the contrast between those colors and the dreary brown of the dead leaves left over from the winter. Interestingly enough, the dead leaves provide compost, nutrients, and insulation for the bulbs hidden underground, but we don’t usually celebrate dead leaves. There are some DPS traditions and embedded culture that we need to put to rest, and in a very strange way, those decaying experiences have provided a very clear outline of how not to do business, and also allow us to celebrate new beginnings all the more. There are certainly some things that we have done traditionally that remain beneficial but it is also time for DPS to come from the space that has confined us and move into new ways of thinking and doing business. I also want us to consider the daffodil as a symbol of a new District culture — a culture of positive and servant leadership, integrity, respect, kindness, and compassion — and to really strive to be what we want our students to see and to become.
The second feature of spring that is important for us to consider is around light. Once we pass the vernal equinox, the number of minutes of light per day continues to increase. The additional light allows us to get more done, see things we haven’t seen in recent months, and simply makes us feel better. Additional light is important for DPS because we need to see things we haven’t seen before, and we need to shed light on issues and concerns that have previously been ignored, hidden, or denied. The only way for us to improve is to use the light to our advantage, and have honest dialogue about what should and can be changed, without threat of retaliation or consequence. Specifically, I want to challenge us to consider what ideas have been abandoned, dismissed or ignored, and placed into the category of “that won’t work here”. These ideas need to be revisited and where appropriate given life. This applies to every level of the organization, from central office to the school level, to the individual classroom. As a secondary note, just having more light doesn’t automatically cause us to change our perspective, or become honest. Those are intentional choices. My second challenge to the DPS family is to be intentional around using the light to call things out that are not correct, to expand our perspective, and to contribute solutions.
Finally, probably one of the most necessary events during this season is Spring Cleaning. While there may be a few of you reading this who really thrive on this tradition of washing windows, dusting, scrubbing, sorting, and discarding, most of us do not enjoy the process but do appreciate the results. Detroit Public Schools must do a figurative and literal Spring Cleaning. We must take an unapologetic approach to examine every angle of our District’s operations; this includes personnel, programs, policies, and personal interactions, both at central office and throughout the district. Every decision made must be well informed, and be in the best interest of students, staff, and the district as a whole. I need to be transparent here and say that this Spring Cleaning process, although necessary, will not be easy and may result in decisions that everyone will not like. However, I am committed to a more inclusive process, so that when major decisions are made, they are not completed in secret by small groups of people. We need everyone’s help in order to understand the educational ecosystem in Detroit including the assets and liabilities of the current Detroit Public Schools and the creative solutions that may exist with both internal and external partners. My third challenge to the DPS family is to actively participate in the Spring Cleaning process individually within the arenas where you have direct control, to provide honest feedback when asked, and finally to be an active listener when others are sharing their understandings and insights.
In the last few weeks I have received several hundred emails, mostly from current DPS teachers. The majority of the emails were well wishes, encouragement, and commitments to pray for me and for our district, all of which are much appreciated sentiments. The other common theme in most emails was around hope; people stating that for the first time in a very long time, they have hope for our District and who we can be in the future. As the spring season brings hope, it is my intention that we learn some lessons from this natural phenomenon that will provide new life, new perspective, and a time of Spring Cleaning for Detroit Public Schools. Embracing this process will allow us to become a District that we can collectively be committed to-and proud of-moving forward for the benefit of our students, staff, and this city. I invite each and every one of you to join me on our mission as we usher in a new beginning for Detroit Public Schools. As you know, no one person can do this work alone. I’m looking forward to working alongside you as we undertake this historical transformation in Detroit Public Schools. Just as the daffodils are transforming my yard’s gloomy space left over by winter, we must do the same for our District, providing both our students and ourselves hope for a bright and successful future.
In gratitude for your faithful service and with hope for a better future,