A group of highly-qualified Detroit Public Schools teachers are creating the vision for a new school that will be operated by teachers and focus on excellent teaching at the site of the former Barbara Jordan School this fall.
The new teacher-led school, located at 3901 Margareta, will have extended hours and a robust curriculum, including arts, clubs, sports, robotics and dance. Foreign languages will be offered to the youngest students in the PreK-8 school, and character development will be woven throughout the curriculum.
Because research has shown having an effective teacher improves student learning, this school will place a heavy emphasis on excellent teaching and high standards in every classroom. The school will not have a principal but will instead be operated by the teaching staff, who will meet routinely to assess and build programming based on the needs of children they see every day in their classrooms.
The teachers will be assisted by an executive administrator, who will be in charge of required reporting, such as budgetary documents and enrollment, allowing teachers to focus on the curriculum. The school also will strive to be staffed by teachers who have achieved National Board Certification, a tough certification process where teachers have met rigorous standards through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment, and peer review. The certification process can take up to three years to complete.
“Where teachers lead, students succeed. That’s the motto,” said DPS teacher Kimberly Kyff, Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2007 and one of the teachers planning the school.
“When the entire building is based around high teaching standards, student achievement will improve,” said Kyff, who also has achieved the rigorous certification. “In a congressionally mandated study, National Board Certification was recently recognized by the National Research Council as having a positive impact on student achievement. Increasing student achievement is the heart of all we do.”
Detroit Public Schools has more Nationally-Board-Certified Teachers than any other district in the state of Michigan. DPS teachers traveled to Milwaukee and Chicago to talk to experts on best practices and to view a teacher-led school. They came away with a concept that will put the needs of each student first.
“This school will be focused totally on the educational needs of every child,” said Ann Crowley, a 22-year DPS teacher who is working on the vision for the school. “Children will not fail. Once you are in this school, you’re in.”
In the first year of operation, the teacher-led concept will be fully in place for grades PreK-4 and will build each year through grade 8. The school will house students through grade 8 this fall, and the students in the upper grades will begin a transition into the program. Valued programs now in place at Barbara Jordan, such as the school-wide recycle program and other successful programs, will remain.
“As part of our academic plan, we understand that a range of programmatic options are necessary to suit our students,” said Robert Bobb, the district’s Emergency Financial Manager. “We expect that this teacher-led school will allow the teaching staff to cut through the bureaucratic layers that can delay necessary programmatic changes from reaching the classroom and children quickly. Instead, this school will strive to have a lightning-speed response to the meet the needs of children.”
Other concepts to be included will be team-teaching and grade looping. Under the grade-looping concept, teachers will stay with their students for more than one grade in order to build relationships with students. As part of the team-teaching concept, teachers will work in large and small groups to evaluate students, assess their needs and alter teaching accordingly.
Teachers involved in the program development also intend to build strong relationships with the neighboring community and will bring multiple partnerships to the school, including a connection to a local college or university.
“We are wholly supportive of this program and will do everything in our power to assist the teachers in building a successful school because we know that teachers know better than anyone what their students need to succeed,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chief Academic and Accountability Auditor. “And this school and the professionals working there will be held to the same high standards and achievement goals that we have set for all schools.”
For their students to be admitted, parents or guardians must sign a Parent Contract to ensure they support the concept of the program.
“The teacher-led school presents a unique and unprecedented opportunity to DFT and DPS,” said Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. “This school will allow teachers to take ownership and direct responsibility for the educational destiny of the children to be served through implementation strategies for the curriculum, selection of staff, budget management, supplemental educational support and tutoring programs, and student/staff accountability.
“As a community-based school, there is also the opportunity for parents and community members to enlist their services and expertise to insure the school is an academic success,” Johnson said. “We are grateful for the challenge and the opportunity to make DPS the standard by which other urban school districts can be measured.”